Festival of All Saints – Commemoration of Faithful Departed
“Soldiers, Faithful, True, and Bold”
Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor
St. Matthew 5.1-12; Revelation 7.9-17
01 November 2020
+ In the Name of Jesus +
All Saints’ Day is a day to remember and give thanks for all those whom God has set apart as His people by grace.
This day’s origin begins with the story of the ancient Roman Pantheon, still standing to this day in the middle of Rome, built by Marcus Agrippa around 27 AD to celebrate the victory of his father-in-law Caesar Augustus at the battle of Actium over Marc Antony and Cleopatra. So Caesar Augustus tangentially enters the Church Year again, and not just on Christmas Eve. According to a history of the church year’s festivals complied by Pastor Wilhelm Loehe, blessed father of our Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, Agrippa built the Pantheon in honor of Jupiter and Augustus and called the temple the “Pantheon” either because the design of the building imitated the form of heaven, which according to pagan thought was the seat of all the gods, or because the building was supposed to have pictures on all the columns of all the various Roman gods. It was intended to be a vision of the pagan “heaven” and those who “lived” there.
Over the next four hundred or so years, as Christianity ascended in the Empire, this monument to an historic Roman military victory and their gods was changed into a house of the living God through liturgical cleansing and consecration, set aside as a sanctuary in which to remember the victory of Christ and his soldiers. Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon under the new name “St. Mary and all Martyrs” – the Christians saints who live in the real heaven with a real Savior. Pope Gregory III consecrated another chapel in Rome in the year 731 to the glory of “All Saints” – so this feast day dedicated to All Saints and the idea behind the naming of these two sanctuaries made it onto the church’s calendar every November 1st. The Lutheran fathers saw the blessing in celebrating such a day and kept the tradition.
The holy apostle and evangelist St. John was allowed by God to see the heavenly vision of all the conquering heroes of the faith, all of Christ’s soldiers, faithful, true, and bold. He wrote:
9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:9–10; ESV)
This multitude is dressed in the signs of victory. They have won the battle. They have the victor palm branches waving – just like the crowds on Palm Sunday in Jerusalem. And like the Palm Sunday crowds, they ascribe their praise to the Lamb of God who sits on the throne. They are dressed in the white robes for those found faithful, true, and bold for their king.
Revelation doesn’t say it but our hymn For All The Saints echoes St. Paul’s encouragement to St. Timothy: they each have the victor’s crown of gold. These have finished the race, having picked up their cross and followed Jesus, they have kept the faith through high and low, thick and thin, hence there was laid up for them the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge awarded to them on that great day, the award given to all who have loved the appearing of Jesus. (2 Tim. 4.7-8)
So, St. John certainly sees the victory celebration of the great saints of the Church whom we remember with feast days – like Sts. Simon and Jude this past Wednesday, or St. Andrew coming up at the end of November. Mary and Joseph. John the Baptist gets two days every Church year. The great fathers of our Christian faith are there who followed after the Apostles. Ambrose. Augustine. Athanasius. Martin Luther is at “Row 1, Seat Three” in heaven, and Johann Sebastian Bach leads the choir from the heavenly organ console. Here stand the unabashed salters of the earth, preachers of the light of the world to a sterile, dark world, often antagonistic to what they preached – yet they fought the good fight of the faith. (Mt. 5.13-16)
St. John also sees the Old Testament believers who died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar – they soldiered on while yearning for the greater, heavenly country to come, going totally on faith alone, not seeing the promises hoped for come to fruition in the promised Savior. These humble saints are the meekest of the meek – inheritors of a Promised Land that was a mere shadow or hint of where they now stand in the new heavens, the new earth, the new Jerusalem.
St. John sees the noble martyr throng of God’s faithful and bold soldiers – from the prophets of the Old Testament killed for their preaching, to those killed in the coliseums of Rome by fire, gladiator, and beast, to the three Christians murdered Thursday by a Moslem terrorist who invaded the Notre Dame Church in the city of Nice, France, looking to disrupt and destroy the daily mass and prayers of the Christians gathered there. Or think of the thirty Coptic Egyptian Christians beheaded a few years back by the Isis Terrorists, confessing the name of Jesus to the end. All these died in the faith for the sake of the Gospel. Blessed are they, persecuted for righteousness’ sake, reviled, evil uttered against them falsely on Jesus’ account. They rejoice and are glad for their reward is great in heaven.
There’s more. St. John also sees yet more faithful and true soldiers in bright array. All the saints, who from their labors rest. All who by faith, before the world, confessed the holy Name of Jesus with their mouth and believed in their heart that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. Men and women of every tribe and nation who were often poor in spirit under sin’s crushing load, who mourned at times in this life with great pain and sadness, who hungered and thirsted for Christ’s righteousness, who by grace, through faith, and by the power of the Spirit learned to show mercy, act with pure hearts, and make peace with those who wronged them and with those whom they wronged in this mortal life.
There stand all the faithful Christian soldiers who we loved and cared for and who loved and cared for us in this life, all of our family and friends who lived and died in Christ. There stand all the baptized who God has set apart for His own people by His grace and mercy, on account of His Son.
There’s your father and mother who taught you to pray, who protected you and nourished you and raised you to live according to the Ten Commandments. There’s your grandmother or grandfather who made sure you attended Sunday School, Divine Service, and catechism class, who encouraged you and showed you by example how to live out your Christian faith no matter what the circumstances are. There’s your faithful spouse who stood by you in this life as a blessing to you. There’s your friends and relatives – those who died too young, earthly plans left unfulfilled; and those who lived a long life and longed for their heavenly home. None of these were perfect, none without sin on this side of heaven. But all were faithful soldiers, made true to Jesus in Baptism by grace, and made bold for Him by the Holy Spirit’s work in them.
These are all there in heaven, all the multitude of victorious soldiers in the Christian ranks, faithful, true, and bold. They have the victor’s crown of gold. To these faithful warriors has come rest, the sweet calm of paradise the blest.
There’s yet more there. All saints are in St. John’s vision. Not just those who have already died to this life. This is a timeless, eternal vision given to the Apostle. It means you’re in view there too. We confess one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. That vision of heaven and all the saints is meant for your comfort, your joy, your peace. You are there. Where Jesus is, there you are.
We hear from John that heaven is no disembodied place where spirits blow about over green meadows and babbling brooks and aimless things are done. The triumph song of the feast of victory for our God by the Lamb who once was slain is sung. The saints stream through in triumphant bright array through the gates of pearl, as the cemeteries of this earth, where faithful warriors found rest, have been opened up for an unimaginable and uncountable procession behind the King of Glory. We even practice such marching – we are supposed to march out the door of this church at the final hymn, together, blessed and forgiven, united in Christ, ready to take on this world. Ready for the glorious day when we march into heaven’s pearl gates.
Be comforted, soldiers of Jesus, in John’s vision of the Lord’s promise fulfilled. Through this comforting vision, God gives you the boost needed to soldier on in the face of grief, persecution, and hearts broken by sin, regret, and many sorrows. You belong to Christ, you have been bought and paid for – the devil has lost, the victory has been won. He cannot have us. God did not abandon our forefathers in the faith, and He will not abandon you. Your place in the eternal feast of victory is secured, and you’re already there, in that your Savior has ascended there first, and where He goes, you go too.
Soon – soon, faithful warriors, rest will come but that yet more glorious day will come too, when we will see all things fully in the joy of heaven’s light.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +