SERMON FOR THE FEAST OF ALL SAINTS, 11-4-2018
LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL, SHOREWOOD, WI
Rev. Michael Larson
Perhaps the saddest problem we face in the society and culture in which we live is this: that we live among a people that have forgotten their story – the story to which we all belong. And frankly a culture that loses its story is really no culture at all. The truth is we belong to the story of the Bible in which we have a genesis, a beginning, when God created us from clay, gave us flesh and bone, and breathed into our nostrils the breath of life. This Lord crowned us to live as vice-regents over His creation, to enjoy friendship with God, and to live eternally before Him in utter splendor and everlasting joy.
Even after man’s sin and rebellion, God loved man all the more, and promised to send his only begotten son into the flesh, to crush the serpent’s head, to die our death, and more wondrously restore our human nature – by the power of his Son’s resurrection. This was no emergency plan B! No back up plan! It was the Lord’s will from all eternity to become flesh and tabernacle among us. To unite us to Himself in love through the blood of the cross, that we would be God’s children and that he would be our God.
So, we have a Genesis – a beginning – a story to which we belong through our baptisms into Him who loved us and gave himself for us. And therefore, we also have a telos – an ultimate aim and goal, a destination – to take up residence within the very life of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – among saints and angels – and all the company of heaven.
Today we celebrate the feast of All Saints. We remember those who have been translated from the church militant to the church triumphant. Translated from the church at war to the church at rest. We honor those who have fallen asleep in the Lord not so much for their own sake but also for ourselves. To remember that we’re not alone.
Today’s celebration of All Saints includes the church triumphant – those who rest from their labors – but it also includes you – a saint – a holy one clothed in the white robe of your baptism. Made white in the blood of the Lamb. Foreheads still splashed with the holy name of Jesus.
In the reading from Revelation this morning, St. John is lifted up and sees a glorious vision of heaven. He sees the story to which you belong. He looks and beholds a great multitude that no one can 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, and singing a hymn to God. Well, who are all these people that John is seeing in this heavenly vision?
They are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. Men, women, and children, baptized into Christ, sanctified by the Spirit of God, and loved by their Father in heaven. But still striving, struggling, working out their own salvation with fear and trembling. Still engaged in spiritual battle – against the accuser, the sinful flesh, and this wicked world. St. John in his heavenly vision sees you. You are in that processional of pilgrim travelers. Your face is among them. And it’s no easy road. But the Lord’s Word is a lamp unto your feet, and a light unto your path. He calls you, and like lambs listening to their good shepherd you follow his voice. He leads you beside still waters, he restores your soul. Through the valley of the shadow of death, even then He is with you, His rod and staff, they comfort you.
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 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.
And this is our hope, to serve God day and night in his temple. As St. John records in his heavenly vision. That Christ on that day would shelter us with his presence. Hunger no more, neither thirst anymore, the sun shall not strike nor any scorching heart. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be your shepherd, he will guide you to springs of living water, and he will wipe every tear from your eyes.
So, while we were turning back the clocks last night, this morning in God’s Word we are actually looking forward – peering into heaven – beyond all time where there’s nothing but happiness. This is your story. You are part of the crowd. And not just another face, but one who is named and beloved of your Father.
The beatitudes which you heard read this morning are also looking forward. Jesus is speaking about his present and future work in and for us.
The beatitudes are blessings pronounced on his disciples – promises that he bestows upon his baptized children. Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. If you are mourning sin and evil in the world. If you are mourning sin’s destruction and power in your body – it’s devastating effects on your family, and you are filled with grief. The Lord promises you that He will comfort you. This comfort reaches beyond your death to the blessed fullness of the Last Day – when we will finally be free from all sin.
If you are mourning the deaths of loved ones, sainted fathers or mothers, husbands or wives, or little tiny babies, taken away from you, blessed are you, for you will be comforted. He will swallow up death forever, and like Job that which we’ve lost will be returned to us. Jesus said “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.
So, who are all these saints? Perfect, professional do-gooders only? Oh no! They too were ungodly like you, unholy, unrighteous, full of regret sinners like you. But the Lamb’s blood covered them and made them saints. So, it’s no wonder that’s all they sing about in heaven. But above all, just follow their eyes – the eyes of those saints in heaven, looking with complete joy upon the Lamb upon his throne.
Look at heaven and earth converge here this morning as the story continues to a more glorious end. You, saints with eyes also fixed on Christ, old and young, children and babies, singing, and worshiping the Lamb enthroned upon this altar. With angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. You walk to the altar, some holding hands, others with bare feet, wearing baptismal robes made white in the cleansing blood of Jesus – rejoicing in a procession to the heavenly Jerusalem. Eating and drinking His body and blood – being joined to Him and He to you.
He is coming again on the Last Day to rouse his children to a great and more glorious end. What we will be has not yet appeared, but we know that when Christ appears we shall be like him. The righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.
Your tears in some ways will remain, at least in this life of labor, sadness will still strike you, but despite the tragic stories of this life, the good things you’ve known and loved are not gone forever. All that is lost will be found. All will be restored. All will be perfected. And our stories will find a blessed and happy end. In the name of Jesus. Amen.