Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Last Sunday of the Church Year

Last Sunday of the Church Year (B—Proper 29)
November 25, 2012
Text: John 18:33-37

            It is a timely reminder for us, hard on the heels of an intense election season, that our Lord’s Kingdom is not of this world.  My kingdom is not of this world,” says Jesus to Pilate, as He endures this trial before the Roman governor of Judea which will lead to His crucifixion.  If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews.  But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36; ESV).  Oh, Jesus rules the world, to be sure.  Make no mistake about that.  In His Kingdom of Power, He is the King of everything, on earth and in heaven, visible and invisible.  He’s God, after all.  He rules all things and all creatures, even unbelievers, even the devil.  In fact, He rules Pontius Pilate, there, at the trial in the Praetorium.  He rules President Obama and the other leaders of the world, including wicked dictators who refuse to acknowledge Him.  But His is not a worldly kingdom.  His authority does not come from the world.  And His servants will not fight for His Kingdom with worldly warfare.  His servants fight for His Kingdom as He fought: by weakness, by suffering, by submission even to death.  For at Pilate’s command, our Lord Jesus was lifted high upon a cross.  There, gripping the spikes that fasten Him to His wooden throne, crowned with thorns, the official Roman proclamation preaches the truth to all: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (19:19).
            Our King Jesus does not come to establish an earthly Kingdom of Israel, something even His disciples were confused about until the Holy Spirit enlightened them at Pentecost.  We, too, have to get rid of our false notions of some sort of worldly reign of Christ.  America, God love her, is not the Kingdom of God.  Republicans won’t usher in the Kingdom.  Democrats won’t bring it, either.  You can’t legislate God’s Kingdom upon people, nor can you make them citizens of heaven at the point of a sword.  That’s not how the Kingdom works.  That’s not how Jesus works.  Because this is a different kind of Kingdom than the kingdoms of the earth.  Our Lord’s is a Kingdom that comes about through His love poured out for sinners, His blood and death to free us from our sins (Rev. 1:6).  He purchases us by His blood to be His own and live under Him in His Kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.  He gains us for His Kingdom by painting us red with His blood, applying His blood and death to us with weak things like words and water and bread and wine.  He gains us for His Kingdom by preaching us to death and back to life.  It’s not how any other kingdom does it. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6).  That’s how the Lord Jesus wins His Kingdom.  By His Spirit, active in words, words of death and life, gracious words of peace that reconcile us to the Father, who has cancelled our debt of sin by nailing it to the cross.
            So what does this mean for the life of the Church in the world?  The Church on earth will always appear to be weak.  She will always appear to be dying.  She will suffer.  The world will mock her and disdain her and persecute her.  In other words, the life of the Church on earth will look pretty much like our Lord’s earthly life.  The unbelieving world will hate us on account of Christ and because of our proclamation of His Gospel.  The devil will relentlessly pursue us and aim his fiery darts at us, seeking to deceive us and mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice.  That’s why the Church on earth is called the Church Militant.  Her enemies are relentless in the fight against her.  It will always appear to earthly eyes as if the devil and the unbelieving world are winning, as if the Church is doomed to defeat.  But Jesus reigns.  He is risen from the dead.  He sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  He’s the King.  And we have His sure and certain promise regarding the Church, that the gates of hell shall not prevail against her (Matt. 16:18).
            That means that as bad as things look for the Church, there will always be a band of faithful believers in Jesus, a number known only to the Lord, all those who have not bowed the knee to Baal, nor kissed him.  The Church’s hope is not for an earthly kingdom, a millennial age of peace, a utopia in this world.  Our Kingdom is not of this world.  Our Kingdom is Jesus Christ.  (O)ur citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Phil. 3:20-21).  Jesus is coming back to deliver us.  When He comes again, visibly, to judge the living and the dead, He will not come in weakness and lowliness, as He came the first time.  He will come with power and great glory, with the holy angels.  Every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him.  He will raise up all the dead.  Everyone will know that Jesus is the King.  The Church will be vindicated.  Justice will be served.  Those who believed in Jesus in their earthly lives will live forever with the Lord.  Those who did not believe in Him will depart into everlasting death in hell with the devil and his evil angels.  What we know now only by faith on that Day will be visible to the naked eye.  Jesus is King.  And the Church that was persecuted to death on earth will reign with Him in everlasting life in heaven, the Church Triumphant.
            So the Lord Jesus has a claim upon you.  He redeemed you by His innocent suffering and death.  He purchased you to be His own.  He calls you now to take up your cross and follow Him.  That means repentance, a daily death to self, death to sin, death to the old man, the sinful flesh.  That means a daily arising to new life in Christ, in His resurrection, by faith, in His Word.  All of which is to say, daily living in your Baptism.  And it means suffering in this life, at the hands of the devil to be sure, and at the hands of the world, whether it be a subtle persecution such as we suffer now in America, or full-fledged persecution such as the early Church suffered and such as many Christians suffer throughout the world today.  Do not fear it.  You belong to Jesus.  God’s Name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is written upon you in Baptism.  Do not fear those who can kill the body.  They cannot kill the soul.  And Jesus will raise you, body and soul on the Last Day.  He won the victory by His cross.  He is risen, and imparts His victory to you complete by His Word and Sacraments.  Suffer joyfully.  Rejoice and be glad.  This earthly life is not all there is, and your physical death is not the end.  You have eternal life now, already, hidden in your Baptism, and a glorious and eternal future in Christ.  Live now in the reality of what will be made manifest on the Last Day.  In other words, live to love and serve and give yourself up for your neighbor, knowing that Christ is coming to restore all things, including you, and that all things are yours in Christ Jesus.
            As our Lord was led, bound and bleeding, to Golgotha, to be nailed to the cross and lifted up, the disciples thought all was lost.  Jesus was condemned, dying, dead.  The Jews thought they had won.  Nothing would come of Jesus now.  The Romans thought they were finished with this “pretender to the throne.”  The devil and the demonic hoards rejoiced with every drop of blood and twinge of bitter pain.  Mary wept as a sword pierced her own motherly soul.  No one could have guessed that God was here doing a new thing, making all things new, bringing about the Kingdom by the death of His only-begotten Son.  No one could have guessed that in this death there was victory, light, and life for the whole world.  Then Jesus declared, “It is finished” (John 19:30), and it was: sin was finished, death was finished, hell was finished, the devil was finished.  The thorn-crowned corpse on the cross had won the victory.  Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”  Jesus of Nazareth, your King.  If you don’t believe it, just look at the empty tomb.  Christ is risen, and He lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  He’s coming back to get you, to raise you from the dead, and take you to be with Him and reign with Him.  His Kingdom is not of this world, thank God.  His Kingdom is eternal in the heavens, and He gives His Kingdom to you.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.               

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving Eve

Thanksgiving Eve 2012
November 21, 2012
Text: Luke 17:11-19

            “And what do you say?” your mother always said to you when someone gave you something nice.  “Thank you,” was the expected response.  To say “thank you” is to acknowledge the good that has been done for you by someone.  It’s more than simply good manners.  It confirms in the mind of the good-doer that you recognize the good that has been done.  This is not only gratifying to the good-doer, but it encourages them all the more to do good for you and for others.  Your mother was right.  “Thank you,” is a very important phrase.  And yet, it doesn’t come naturally, because we ungrateful sinners take the good others do for us for granted, and, in fact, we feel entitled to that good.  So we have to be trained, from a very young age.  “And what do you say?”  Thank God for mothers who teach us gratitude. 
            And while those mothers are absolutely right, that’s not the point of our Gospel.  Jesus is not moralistically teaching us to remember to say thanks, as important as that may be.  Rather, Jesus is teaching us how to thank God.  Of the ten lepers who were cleansed, only one gets it right, and he’s a Samaritan.  All ten were thankful.  Who wouldn’t be after healing from this debilitating disease, leprosy, that destroys the body and leaves the sufferer as an outcast from the community and in physical agony?  The nine who went away were just following Jesus’ instructions: “Go and show yourselves to the priests” (Luke 17:14; ESV).  It’s what Moses commanded, after all (Lev. 13-14).  What this Samaritan got, though, that the others didn’t, is how to thank God.  You thank Him by coming to Jesus as God in the flesh and as your High Priest, the one who makes the sacrifice for your sins.  “Go and show yourselves to the priests,” Jesus commanded, and the Samaritan comes to Jesus, the High Priest who offers Himself in sacrifice for the sins of the Samaritan, and for you, and for the whole world.  The Samaritan falls down before the flesh and blood feet of Jesus and worships God.  Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:18).  You worship God by worshiping Jesus.  He is God and the only way to the Father.  Rise and go your way,” says Jesus to the Samaritan; “your faith has made you well” (v. 19).  You give thanks to God by believing in Jesus, by trusting Him, by asking Him for help and salvation, by receiving from Him the gifts He longs to give you as your God and Savior: the forgiveness of sins, eternal life and salvation, and every good gift besides.
            “And what do you say?”  We should give thanks to God for all that He gives us.  But it isn’t thanking God to think that we’re doing Him some kind of favor by remembering to tell Him what a good God He is.  That’s just patronizing.  That puts us above God and makes us His judge, which is precisely what our old Adam wants to be.  Repent.  Of course we should thank God.  But the question is how?  Dear Christian, you know.  The answer is the same for you as it is for the Samaritan.  By thanking God in the flesh of Jesus Christ.  By believing in Him and receiving His gifts with joy.  You thank God by receiving.  You thank God by receiving the forgiveness of sins and divine teaching in the Word of Christ.  You thank God by living in the new birth He has given you in Holy Baptism.  You thank God by coming to His Table to feast on the Sacrifice Your High Priest has given for you, His true body and blood, Jesus Himself the Host and the Meal.  You give thanks to God by receiving Jesus.
            It’s always interesting, some might even say “heartwarming,” to watch children open presents on Christmas morning.  It’s often a scene right out of A Christmas Story: Ralphy and his brother, little Henry, tear into the presents, take a brief glance at the contents, before tossing whatever it is aside and ripping into the next one.  We smile.  Kids.  But it’s not very thankful, is it?  Even if Mom chides, “And what do you say?”  The fact is, if the kids were really thankful for the new Christmas socks, they’d say, “Alright!  Socks!  Just what I needed!  Thanks Mom and Dad.  Thanks and praise be to God.  I can’t wait to try these babies out!”  You see, true thankfulness would receive the socks with joy, hold onto them as a precious treasure, and make use of them, remembering with each use the love of the giver who bestowed the socks.  Incidentally, my wife’s first Christmas gift to me… you guessed it!  I still have a couple pair in circulation 9 Christmases later.
            You’re the Samaritan, beloved.  Not even one of the Jews, the other nine, our Lord’s own people.  You have no right to expect anything from Jesus.  You’re a Gentile, a sinner.  You just confessed it a few minutes ago.  But your Lord Jesus also said to you a few minutes ago: “I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.”  Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”  How do you thank God for His indescribable gift in Jesus Christ?  Not to mention every other good gift besides?  You do as the Samaritan did.  You praise God in the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth.  You believe in Him.  You receive from Him.  You receive Him in His flesh, in His body and blood in the Supper.  In fact, the Greek word for thanksgiving is ε͗υχαριστία, Eucharist.  You give thanks to God by coming to the Eucharist, receiving the Lord’s body and blood, for the forgiveness of all your sins, receiving it with joy, holding onto it as a precious treasure, making use of it for that which Jesus gives it, and remembering the love of the Giver who here bestows it, His love that took Him all the way to the cross and bloody death for you.  Thanksgiving to God doesn’t begin with your efforts to please Him or your assurances that He’s doing a good job.  Nor does it consist chiefly in gorging yourself on turkey while watching football at home with the family.  It begins at His Church, at His house, receiving Him as He comes to you in His Word and Supper.  It consists of holding Him in faith as God’s most precious gift to you, never tossing Him aside for other stuff, even if it be good stuff.  You want to give thanks to God?  Receive Jesus in faith, as the Samaritan did.  It’s a Eucharist, a thanksgiving marked by receiving more and more gifts. 
            And this leads to your whole life becoming a sacrifice of Thanksgiving.  Having received all from God in Christ, you give yourself for others, for your family, your friends, your brothers and sisters in Christ, and everyone else with whom God places you in relationship.  The love of God in Christ flows to you in His gifts by faith and through you to your neighbor in love.  God loves your neighbor through you.  Your neighbor gives thanks to God because of you.  And this service God has given you to do, this sacrifice of the self, this, too, is His gift.  It’s all His gift.  Every good gift and every perfect gift comes from Him.  “And what do you say?”  Simply this: “Amen,” as once again you open your mouth to receive His body, His blood, for your forgiveness and life. 
            Of course, we Christians know it is good, right, and salutary for us at all times and in all places to give thanks to God in Christ.  Our mother, the Church, taught us that.  But now as our country calls upon us to come together on this National Day of Thanksgiving to give voice to our nation’s gratitude, we gladly oblige.  We sing hymns of praise as we come and kneel at the altar to receive.  It’s what the Church does.  She receives what God does for the Church and for the world: He gives His Son.  Thanks be to God.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.    

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 28)
November 18, 2012
Text: Mark 13:1-13

            Jesus is talking about the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in our Gospel this morning.  The disciples were bragging about the Temple architecture.  It was an impressive display, built by Herod to gain the favor of his Jewish subjects.  It was the place of sacrifice.  It was the place of God’s dwelling with His people, Israel.  It was also big business, though that was never what God intended.  Wonderful stones, wonderful buildings to be sure, a house of prayer, a place of grace and forgiveness for those looking to God for salvation, those anticipating the Messiah.  Just look, Jesus.  Be impressed.  And Jesus responds, “Do you see these great buildings?  There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” (Mark 13:2; ESV).  It’s a prophecy, and it was fulfilled about 40 years later, in AD 70, when the Romans utterly destroyed the Temple.  But, you see, there’s no need for these buildings anymore.  Because Jesus is here.  There’s no need for the sacrifices of bulls and goats and sheep, because Jesus is the once for all sacrifice for sin offered on the altar of the cross.  There’s no need for the Temple curtain concealing the Holy of Holies as the dwelling place of God with men, because now God dwells with men in the flesh of Jesus Christ.  He dwells with His Israel, His Church, in the flesh.  His Church, His Body, is your place of prayer.  His Church, His Body, is your place of grace and forgiveness.  The Messiah has come, Jesus Christ.  God in the flesh is your salvation.

            So there is an end to the Temple of Jerusalem, and it is that of which our Lord speaks.  And yet, in speaking of the end of the Temple, He speaks simultaneously of another end, the end of the world, the end of time, Judgment Day, of which the end of the Temple is but a foreshadowing.  When will these things be?  We all wonder. The disciples voice our question: “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” (v. 4).  Jesus doesn’t give them a direct answer.  Instead, He gives a warning and an admonition.  The warning: Do not be deceived!  See that no one leads you astray” (v. 5).  There will be false teachers aplenty in these grey and latter days.  They don’t come with flashing neon signs saying, “I’m a false teacher!”  They come “in Jesus’ Name”.  They come saying, “I am he!” (v. 6).  Some are more easily identifiable, those that claim to be Jesus or the Messiah, the cult leaders.  We have no problem pegging them for what they are.  But most false teachers are not so easily identified.  They talk a good talk.  They walk a good walk.  They use the Bible a lot.  They give practical advice and a “relevant” message.  They make you feel good, inspired, uplifted.  But for all their God-talk, they do not preach Christ crucified.  They do not kill you with God’s crushing Law and preach you back to life with the Gospel of our Lord’s death and resurrection for sinners.  They do not drench you with the blood of the Lamb.  They are mere ear scratchers.  And the snake oil they’re peddling is poisonous.  While they distract you with the shiny objects of their meaninglessness, the Lord will come like a thief in the night, and then what?  Do not be deceived.  That’s the warning.  See that no one leads you astray.

            Instead, read the signs.  Wars and rumors of wars (v. 7).  Nation against nation, kingdom against kingdom, earthquakes, famines (v. 8); are these things not happening?  What does it mean?  As surely as these were signs of the end for the Temple and Jerusalem, just as surely they are signs of the end of the age.  Jesus is coming.  Be prepared.  Repent.  Cling to Christ.  Cling to His Word.  He is your only help in that Day.  He is your only Savior.  In Him you are safe.  Outside of Him, you are doomed.  You see, all these disasters Jesus mentions He says are “but the beginning of the birth pains” (v. 8).  There’s more to come, and much worse.  But if you’re in Jesus, this pain will be like that of a woman in labor.  The pain will not compare to the joy of the delivery out of this vale of tears into the blessedness of heaven.
            The Lord does not promise an easy life to His Christians.  Quite the opposite.  He promises persecution and difficulties.  He tells His apostles they’ll be delivered to councils, beaten in synagogues, and bear witness before governors and kings, most of them by dying for the Name of Christ and His Gospel (v. 9).  But such is their office, their calling.  They are to preach the Gospel to all nations (v. 10).  The Holy Spirit will be with them as they testify before the hostile world powers.  He will give them His Word to speak (v. 11).  But it won’t be easy.  Even family members will betray them to death on account of Christ (v. 12).  They will be hated by all for the Name of Jesus (v. 13).  But here’s the promise: “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (v. 13).  The one who is not ashamed to call Jesus his Lord, to confess Him as Savior and God, the one who believes in Jesus, even to the point of death, will have eternal life.  Because the Lord Jesus purchased such a one with His blood, and has sustained such a one by His Spirit. 

            This is hard to hear, and perhaps hard for us to imagine here in our American context, but if this is how the unbelieving world treated the apostles and the early Christians, beloved, can we expect to be treated any differently?  It is an indisputable fact that we in America enjoy unprecedented religious freedom, for which we should give thanks to God.  We dare not take it for granted.  It is an indisputable fact, attested by our founding fathers, that our religious freedom is always in peril, and the trend in our society today is to place more and more limitations on religious liberties.  And if you don’t believe that, it’s time to wake up.  This is not a partisan statement.  This is not a commentary on the recent election.  It is simply a fact that mandates on religious institutions in the United States are increasingly burdensome for the Christian conscience, the birth control mandate, for one, which includes mandatory coverage of abortion inducing drugs, not to mention proposed legislation which would make it a hate crime to preach that homosexuality is sinful.  Christianity is openly mocked by the entertainment industry, and openly silenced on university campuses.  We’re called bigots and haters.  It is just as Jesus said it would be: “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.”  What is a Christian to do?  Certainly we Christians bear some responsibility in our vocation as citizens to fight against the trend.  But ultimately what does Jesus tell His disciples?  Don’t be afraid.  Bear faithful witness.  Confess the Lord Jesus.  And then suffer it.  Just as He suffered it for you, and for your salvation, all the way to the cross.  Suffer it, to death if necessary.  Because the promise is also for you: “the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

            See that no one leads you astray.  Heed the signs.  Confess Christ.  Trust Him.  Be in Him, beloved.  Be in Him, by being in His Word and at His Table.  He is the sacrifice.  He is the Temple, the dwelling place of God with men.  He is God in the flesh, for you, and for your salvation.  The end is coming.  That is the focus of these last couple Sundays in the Church year, and it’s one of the major themes of Advent.  Christ is coming again, visibly, to judge the living and the dead.  It will happen just as the Prophet Daniel describes it in our Old Testament lesson (Dan. 12:1-3).  Those who are in Christ by Baptism and faith will be judged innocent, righteous, on account of the suffering, blood, and death of Jesus Christ, and His resurrection from the dead.  They will shine like the brightness of the sky above, like the stars forever and ever.  Those who are not in Christ, who do not believe in Him, who reject Him, will be judged guilty of all their sins, and will have to bear them for all eternity in the God forsakenness of hell.  Jesus is the Judge, because He has conquered death and the devil and hell and every other authority which could make a claim on us.  Jesus is King, because He created us and redeemed us and has made us His own by faith.  So these things will happen, as surely as the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in AD 70.  There will be false teachers.  There will be wars and rumors of wars and earthquakes and famines and every other kind of disaster.  There will be persecutions.  These are the signs, the beginning of the birth pains.  But do not fear and do not be deceived.  Because the Lord Jesus is coming to deliver you and me and all who believe in Him.  Fight diligently.  Confess boldly.  The end is near.  And in that day, when Jesus appears for all to see, every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:9-11).  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.           

Sunday, November 04, 2012

All Saints' Day (Observed)

All Saints’ Day (Observed)
November 4, 2012
Text: Rev. 7:2-17

            What is All Saints’ Day, anyway?  What do Lutherans do with the saints?  Who are the saints?  All very important questions.  According to the Bible, a saint is anyone who believes in Jesus.  You, beloved, are the saints of God here in this place called Epiphany Lutheran Church.  You are saints because your sins have been washed away by the blood of Jesus Christ in Holy Baptism, because you believe in Jesus Christ, you are united to Him by faith, and so you possess all of His righteousness and holiness, and He has taken away all your sin and shame.  The word “saint” simply means holy one.  You are holy in Jesus.  You are a saint.  Now, to be sure, we also use the word “saint” in a technical sense to describe the heroes of the Christian faith in the Bible and throughout the Church’s history.  There is St. Mary, St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Jerome, and any number of other saints.  We call them “saints,” not because they were sinless.  They weren’t.  They were saved by the grace of God in Christ in the same way we are.  But we call them “saints” in this technical sense because they are held before us as examples of holy faith and life.  We should imitate them.  That’s what Lutherans do with the saints.  We don’t pray to them, nor do we worship them, which would be idolatry.  The saints can’t hear our prayers, and even if they could, they couldn’t help us.  And anyway, we don’t need to pray to them, because we can and should pray directly to God through Jesus Christ, our Savior, the one mediator between God and men.  We don’t pray to the saints, though we have the blessed comfort of knowing they pray for us and the whole Church on earth.  As Lutherans, we give thanks to God for the saints, and we hold them up as examples of faith and life, to be imitated, because as we imitate them, we imitate Christ.
            And that brings us to All Saints’ Day.  This morning we observe a combination of All Saints’ Day, which was November 1st, in which we give thanks to God for all those we call “saints” in this technical sense (heroes of the faith), with what we call the “Commemoration of the Faithful Departed,” which was November 2nd, in which we give thanks to God for all those saints who have died in the faith and are with Christ.  In other words, today we give thanks to God for His faithfulness to all the saints who have gone before us, for His faithfulness to our loved ones who died in the faith and are with Christ, and especially for His faithfulness to those from our congregation who have died since last All Saints’ Day: Gladys Stuifbergen, Stan Urias, Zack Moushegian, and Carl Borck.
            There is this beautiful procession going on in our text from Revelation (7:2-17).  There is a description of the Church on earth, the Church Militant, the new Israel, described as 12,000 from each tribe of Israel, though in reality, it is a great multitude that no one can number from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.  And we see them in our text marching through the wilderness of this fallen world through the portal of death into the very throne room of God in heaven.  Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” … “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation.  They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:13-14; ESV).  These are the saints who have died, and yet, they live.  They stand before the throne of God and of the Lamb clothed in the white robes of Christ’s righteousness, the robes given them in their Baptism, with palm branches of victory in their hands.  And they sing!  They cry out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (v. 10).  And the very angels join them, for where the praise of God is sung, the angels cannot remain silent: “Amen!” they sing in worship of the Triune God.  Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever!  Amen” (v. 12).  So we really mean it when we sing here on earth that we laud and magnify the Name of God “with angles and archangels and all the company of heaven.”  That includes all the saints who have gone before.  We’re together with them here at church in a very real way as we gather around the altar of God to hear the Lord’s Word and feast on the very body and blood of the Lamb.

            You see, the saints stand before the throne of God, and of the Lamb, in heaven.  And we stand before that same throne of that same God from this side of the veil.  We join in the same heavenly feast.  We enjoy the same redemption.  It is the same Lamb whose blood has won for us eternal life.  The only difference between us and them is that they see for themselves what we behold only by faith.  And we still suffer here in the great tribulation.  They have come out of the great tribulation, and no longer suffer.  Instead, they are before the throne of God day and night and worship Him in His temple.  They are sheltered with His presence.  They hunger no more, neither thirst anymore.  The sun does not strike them, nor any scorching heat (vv. 15-16).  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” (v. 17). 
            This is heaven of which we get a glimpse in our text.  This is where the souls of those who die in Christ go to await the resurrection.  What happens at death is the separation of the soul from the body.  At your death, your soul is carried by the holy angels to heaven, to be with Jesus, to behold your Savior face to face in perfect bliss.  Meanwhile, your body is laid to rest here on earth.  What will  happen on the Last Day is that your risen Lord Jesus will reunite your body and soul, and call you forth from the grave in your resurrection body, to live forever with Him in a new heaven and a new earth.  You’ll live again in your body, just as the Lord Jesus even now lives in His body.  We don’t yet know what this will be like.  But that’s okay.  It is enough for us to know, as St. John writes in our epistle, that “when he appears,” when He comes again in His glory to judge the living and the dead, then “we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). 
            So these clothed in white robes, coming out of the great tribulation, are the saints we celebrate this morning.  There is Noah and Moses and Father Abraham and King David, Elijah and Isaiah and the great saints of the Old Testament.  There is St. Mary, the mother of our Lord, along with St. Peter and St. Paul, St. Andrew and St. James, Timothy, Titus, and all the saints of the New Testament.  There are the Church Fathers, St. Augustine, St. Chrysostom, St. Jerome, Martin Luther, C.F.W. Walther, and countless Christian pastors.  And there, there are our loved ones who died in Christ.  There is Gladys, and Stan, and Zack, and Carl.  Behold a Host, arrayed in white.  They join us for the feast this morning.  And there is a place for you, beloved.  Now, here, at the altar, on this side of the veil.  Then, when the Lord calls you out of the great tribulation, with the rest of the saints, to await the resurrection in heaven, as the Church sings her praise for God’s faithfulness to you on All Saints’ Day and each day of the year, joining with you and the holy angels in lauding and magnifying the saving Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

            What a comfort!  This is our future, beloved.  Because we are in Christ.  We’re baptized into Christ, into His death, into His resurrection.  Because He died, our death is but a slumber and a rest in Him, the reality we see in our text of those standing before the throne and singing their praises.  Because He rose again from the dead, we know that we, too, will rise on the Last Day.  We will see our loved ones again, those who died in the faith.  Most importantly, we will see Christ.  And God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.