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All Saints’ Day and the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed
“The Saints—Blessed Now and Forever”
Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus
St. Matthew 5.1-12
06 November 2022
SOLI DEO GLORIA!
After this observance of All Saints’ Day there remain only three more Sundays until the conclusion of the Church Year. All Saints’ begins a wrap up of Christ’s saving activity and work in his Church. This observance shares things with feast days already celebrated. With Easter it celebrates the resurrection of all those who have died in Christ and are raised in Holy Baptism. With Pentecost it celebrates the harvest of the Church catholic,
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!”
With the last Sunday in the Church Year All Saints’ Day focuses on the Church Triumphant, the life everlasting and the confession that whatever the people of Christ suffer in this life will be transformed into the bliss and glory of heaven.
European Lutherans used to decorate the graves of their loved ones on this day, thinking about the “resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come” [Nicene Creed, Third Article]. Today, then, we talk about heaven and the blessedness of that place. I want to call your attention to the November issue of The Lutheran Witness, our Synod’s monthly magazine. The cover has the triumphant Lamb of God and the words, “On Eternal Life.” It speaks of “Christ, the Center of Our Eternal Life.” If you have not subscribed to this periodical I strongly urge you to do so because of the many excellent articles, many devotional in nature, which come to you each month. You can subscribe for an online edition or the print edition. Copies of the magazine are put on the table in the entrance to the Parish Center. This month’s edition is particularly fitting and comforting.
So today is about the saints but only in relation to Christ, the true Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The Gospel reading is always from our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount. St. John Chrysostom wrote: “In every Beatitude the blessed are receiving the kingdom of heaven” [Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, vol. Ia, p. 80]. And yet, they are so paradoxical, so contrary to human wisdom that only those in Christ can see the blessing.
What our Lord Jesus describes in these Beatitudes is our life under the cross, our life in him. He describes our lives as blessed by God, that is, those who are receiving the kingdom of heaven, as
- the poor in spirit,
- those mourning because of their sins,
- those who are meek,
- those who are hungering and thirsting for righteousness,
- those who show mercy,
- those who have purity of heart,
- those who are peacemakers,
- and those who are persecuted for the sake of Christ.
These conditions aren’t seen by the world as something to be welcomed, but as curses to be avoided. We often don’t feel blessed in this life under the cross of Christ. We mourn for ourselves and for others. We mourn the separation from our loved ones. We are often abused, persecuted, and lied about because we don’t live like the rest of the world. We are often materially poor in a society that extols riches as the ultimate goal in life. Christians don’t demand their rights. Christians do not exalt themselves at others’ expense.
Jesus summoned us to himself when he said, “Take up your cross and follow me.” [Luke 9.23]. The’s really what the Christian life is. It isn’t just one happy moment after another. One preacher, I think it was Robert Shuller of the Crystal Cathedral, called the Beatitudes [Blesseds] the “Be Happy Attitudes.” That man was a fool. That’s a fraud to tell people that their connection to Christ will be all happiness. These fools disregard the sorrows of life that come to those who follow Jesus.
Christ has not promised to fix everything in our lives. That will not happen until we die. Some think that fixing everything in life is the goal of the Christian faith. It isn’t. The purpose of this life is to be in Christ by faith. It is to live in him in the horrible things that happen to us. The saints in heaven cry out to God,
And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” NKJV [Rev. 6:10]
Christ is the center of our eternal life. No human being earns sainthood. To be a saint is not based upon human perfection because that is impossible for any human being to achieve. No one should think that those who are not alive in Christ get heaven. You see it when some beloved prominent person dies. Society rewards him or her with heaven, yet it is not public opinion which decides it. It is only Christ. Eternal life comes only from Christ who grants it through the forgiveness he has earned on the cross. This forgiveness is apprehended only through faith in Christ. There is no other way. We are baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ. It is in him, from him. There is no eternal life apart from him.
Life in this world, then, is not a series of events which have no meaning. God is at work in us to complete the work he began in Holy Baptism. And he will bring it to completion on the last day when we shall be raised to eternal life. Unbelievers, too, will be raised, but not to eternal life.
So, why do we observe All Saints’ Day? What’s the point? The writer of Hebrews tells us:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. [Hebrews 12.1-2]
We see what God has done in the saints. They are those who have believed in Christ and were faithful to the end of their lives. They are those who are around the throne of the Lamb chanting their praises. Therefore, our delight today is to celebrate God’s faithfulness in the lives of the saints who are in the nearer presence of Christ as well as to celebrate God’s faithfulness in our lives, saints that we are! This celebration encourages us because we see the faithfulness of God throughout the many centuries of the Church’s existence, in all kinds of circumstances and places. From the very early days of the Church when many made a good witness for the faith by dying for it down to the present day where still more Christians make the good witness for the faith by dying for it, we find encouragement because God has been faithful in bringing them to eternal blessedness. It stuns many people to hear that more Christians have been martyred for the faith in the past century than in all the centuries leading up to it.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
In times past people left epitaphs on their grave stones. Epitaphs are memories of the person buried there. Christians often left Bible passages on their tombstones as a reminder to those who viewed them of the glory of heaven. They are dead and yet they speak! They are this “cloud of witnesses” who testify to Christ and what he has promised those who depart this life in faith in him. These saints are truly alive in Christ in glory. We wait with them for the resurrection of our bodies on the last day when we shall join them in a happy reunion before the throne of the Lamb. And how we wait! Our bodies die and decay, returning to the dust from which they came. Some are buried at sea, burned in fires, placed in unknown graves. There are difficult circumstances which some of us have faced, things about which we would rather not speak. But I can say that God knows, and how he is toward us is not determined by that moment in our lives, because if it were, then none of us would ever know if we could be saved. It is a mystery but one comprehended in our Lord Jesus Christ who gives us eternal life and who holds us in his hands where no one is able to snatch us from his hand. [John 10.27-28].
Eternal life is in Christ. Your names were written in the Lamb’s book of life at your Baptism. God is faithful and he will keep you safe until that day when we shall join them around the throne of our Savior.
A closing note. In that Lutheran Witness issue noted earlier, Synod President Matthew Harrison’s article was titled, The Promised Comfort of Heaven. He wrote it in response to his 98 year-old father-in-law’s question about what heaven will be like. Two full pages of Bible passages and short comments came into print. One in particular stood out for me, Matthew 26.29.
“I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
Here is Harrison’s response, [and one has to know him to appreciate his wit]:
“At the institution of His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins, Christ lets us know clearly that there will be celebratory drinking in heaven.”
We do that even now in the Sacrament when we sing together in the grand Sanctus of the Divine Service with the angels, archangels, and all the saints—the whole company of heaven!—although not with the same gusto that there will be in heaven. That chant is the musical highlight of the Service of the Sacrament. Let us rehearse it well as the saints accompany us, these same saints who have sat in the same pews in which you sit.
As to that celebratory drinking of wine in heaven, it will be so happy because there will be no more sin, and no more mourning, and no more sorrow, and no more hunger or thirst, and no more accusation of sin, and no more death; only life, life with the Holy Trinity and blessedness forevermore. I’m very much looking forward to it!
In the Name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit.