Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, November 07, 2010

All Saints' Day

All Saints’ Day (Observed)
November 7, 2010
Text: 1 John 3:1-3

Beloved in the Lord, All Saints’ Day was this past Monday, November 1st, followed the next day by the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed on November 2nd. If we really want to get technical, I suppose All Saints’ Day is the celebration of all those heroic saints whose faith and life serve as Christian examples to us, whereas the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed is more general and includes all those who have died in the faith, and so now live with Jesus in heaven. Be that as it may, the Church has set aside this Sunday as the combined celebration of both, and so this morning we remember all the saints from the Bible and throughout the Church’s history, our family members and loved ones who have died in the faith, the members of our congregation who have entered the Church Triumphant in heaven, and especially those who have died since last All Saints’ Day. This morning we read seven names of the faithful who have departed to be with Christ since this time last year. That is a significant number for our congregation. And so this day has important significance for us. In the very midst of life, death has us surrounded. We can pretend it doesn’t exist, but that really isn’t helpful. We can’t escape it. It is the sentence pronounced upon all of Adam and Eve’s sinful children since the fall into sin. Unless our Lord returns first in His glory, every one of us must pass through the valley of the shadow. Try as we might to indefinitely extend our lives, we cannot finally cheat death. But there is One who has engaged death in mortal combat, even our Lord Jesus Christ, and through His death on the cross and resurrection on the third day, He has won the victory. If that is so, beloved (and it is!), then all who are united by Baptism to Christ in His death, are likewise united to Christ in His resurrection. Our risen Lord will not leave us in death. He will raise us from the dead. And in the meantime, as we live our lives in the midst of death, He gives us His sure Word.

The Son reveals the love of the Father to His disciples. This is what kind of love the Father has given to us: He calls us His children. He calls us His children because we are united to His Son by Baptism and faith, God’s own child I gladly say it! In Baptism He calls us His children and He makes us His children. He calls us by His Name, the Christian family Name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He washes our sins away and creates faith in our hearts by His Spirit. We are reborn. We are born into eternal life. In fact, contrary to popular belief, eternal life starts not when we die and go to heaven, but when we come to faith in Jesus Christ, which for most of us happens as infants when we are baptized. Yes, you have eternal life now, you who believe in Christ. It may not be apparent yet. In fact, it is most certainly not apparent. John says as much in our epistle lesson. The world does not know us (1 John 3:1). It does not recognize us as the children of God that we are. And this shouldn’t surprise us. For of course, in this earthly life, we still have the old sinful flesh hanging around our necks. We still sin, and even though we are saints by the blood of Christ, in our flesh we are still sinners. And the fallen creation itself doesn’t recognize us, either. A tornado does not distinguish between the house of a Christian and that of a non-Christian. Cancer afflicts believers and unbelievers alike. But the biggest reason the unbelieving world does not recognize us is that it did not, and does not, recognize Jesus. To the world, Jesus was just a man. Maybe a good man. Maybe a wise man. But He was just a man all the same. A man who died on a cross. And to the world, that is the end of the story. All of this resurrection stuff is nonsense to the world. It should not surprise the disciple of Christ that if the world does not recognize Christ as the Son of God, neither will it recognize us as children of the heavenly Father.

The truth of the matter is that “we are God’s children now” (v. 2; ESV). But it does not appear so. And that is the problem. Living in the eternal life of Christ, we appear to be dying, for that is precisely what is happening to our sinful flesh. Our life is, as St. Paul says, “hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). So we must live by faith, not by sight. We don’t yet know what eternal life looks like, even though we possess it even now in Baptism. It is a great paradox: We have it, but we don’t see it. The seven names we read are the names of the living, but they have died, and we do not see them now. They live though they have died. They live in heaven with Christ. But they have not yet been raised from the dead. And so we mourn. This is precisely the paradox St. John points out to us this morning: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared.” But faith has something to say about this situation, too. For John continues, “we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” Faith knows that one day we will see, with our own eyes, what eternal life looks like, even as we see with our own eyes the risen Christ. On the Day He returns to judge the living and the dead, He will raise up all the dead, reuniting their bodies and souls, and He will give eternal life to all believers in Christ in their bodies. And our lowly bodies will be transformed to be like His glorious body (Phil. 3:21), perfect, holy, complete, risen. Death will no longer have mastery over our bodies because death no longer has mastery over Him. Then we will live no longer by faith, but by sight, for we shall see Him as He is!

But that is then. This is now. And so in the meantime faith must live by the Word of the Lord. Faith must live by the promises. Therefore St. John writes that “everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:3). The one who believes in Jesus has the forgiveness of sins and lives in hope for the life to come. And this is not an uncertain hope where there is any question that it will not be fulfilled. This is a hope that looks expectantly toward a sure and certain future in the Lord Jesus. You have the forgiveness of sins in Jesus. Now you hope for His deliverance from a world of sin and death, knowing that your deliverance will come. And so as St. John points out, this shapes how you live in this world that does not recognize you as a child of God. You purify yourself, which is to say, you seek that which is holy and right, and you shun evil things. You avert your eyes from things that make you covet and lust. You do not walk according to the wisdom of the world. You do not determine right and wrong according to the world’s measure, but according to the holy standard God has revealed in the Scriptures. You live in love and service to God, which means loving and serving your neighbor. You purify yourself with Christ as your model, as He is pure. You become a little christ to your neighbor by loving and serving him and sacrificing yourself for his good.

Why can you do this? Because you know that this life is not all there is. This earthly life is nothing in comparison with the eternal life won for you by Christ on the cross and given you in your Baptism. You have it now, and it will be manifest on the Day of His coming. So you live now from the perspective of eternity. You are God’s children now, even though what you will be has not yet appeared.

And this also makes all the difference in terms of how you face death, both the death of a loved one and your own impending death. Death is not the end. For the believer, death is but the peaceful slumber of the body while the soul lives with Christ, awaiting the resurrection of the body. For the believer, death is the portal to heaven and the manifestation of the eternal life you already possess in Baptism. So those seven names we read, we can say with confidence, are the names of the living. We have not lost seven members of the congregation. They are still members of the Church! Only now they are members of the Church Triumphant, and they join us at the Supper from the other side of the altar. When we confess that at the Lord’s Supper we join the feast with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, we mean them! This is the communion of saints. We are part of this communion already, for even though we are sinners, by the blood of Christ we are saints, literally “holy ones,” declared righteous and made holy on account of the innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Christ, and given new life by His victorious resurrection from the dead.

All Saints’ Day is a celebration and confession of our ongoing fellowship, communion, with the dead in Christ who still live. We do not see them now. But we join them here. And we will see them again. We long to see them again. For we know what they are doing. “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 7:15-17). We don’t need to pretend death doesn’t exist. We need not fear. For whoever lives and believes in Jesus, though he die, yet shall he live. Indeed, O Lord, bring us at last into your heavenly kingdom. And come Lord, Jesus. Come quickly. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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