Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

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.    


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