Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, November 02, 2014

All Saints' Day

All Saints’ Day (Observed)

November 2, 2014
Text: Matt. 5:1-12

            What is a saint?  An appropriate question on this All Saints’ Sunday.  Most people probably think a saint is someone who has little or no sin, who is always doing good things, helping the poor, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and therefore earning merit before God.  A saint is a shoe-in for heaven, so the thinking goes.  Characters from the Bible, early Christians, those canonized by the Pope.  We certainly are all for doing good things, and we do call many of those in the Bible and the early Church “saints,” like St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Mary, St. Augustine.  But that is not the biblical definition of a saint.  What is a saint, according to the Bible?  We heard in in our First Reading: “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. 7:14; ESV).  A saint is a sinner whose sins have been washed away by the blood of Jesus Christ, who has been clothed with the righteousness of Christ, a baptized, believing Christian, who is therefore in that lineup coming out of the great tribulation here in this life into the eternal and visible presence of Christ and of God before His throne.  Well, by that definition, you are a saint!  And so are all your brothers and sisters in Christ across the centuries and from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages (v. 9).  So are all your loved ones who died in Christ and already stand before the throne of God and of the Lamb, with palm branches in their hands, who serve God day and night and are comforted by Him as He wipes every tear from their eyes (vv. 15-17).    
            Saints, then, are not what most people think they are.  Saints are simply those redeemed by Christ the Crucified.  It is a great paradox, but a very important one: In this earthly life, saints are at the same time sinners.  Simul iustus et peccator, is the Latin phrase, you may remember from Catechism class.  According to your flesh, you are 100% sinner.  There is no goodness, no merit, no worthiness in you before God.  But by virtue of your Baptism into Christ, whereby He raised you up as a new creation, you are 100% righteous, 100% saint.  Because your righteousness before God comes from outside of you.  It is Christ’s own righteousness, applied to you in His Word and in Baptism and the Supper, credited to your account, as if you did what He did, as if you are what He is.  That means God looks at you and sees the perfect righteousness of His Son.  And He declares you a saint, sinless, righteous, perfect, holy.  Christ took all your sins away and paid for them with His blood on the cross.  In exchange, He gives you His righteousness as a gift, and you are free.  You receive it by faith.  You will be rewarded for it in heaven and in the resurrection of your body on the Last Day.  
            And so you are blessed.  The Beatitudes, the blessings pronounced by Jesus in our Holy Gospel, are themselves paradoxical.  Blessed are the poor in spirit?  Blessed are those who mourn?  Those who hunger and thirst?  Those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake?  These are strange sayings, and much like the concept of saints, they are more often than not misunderstood.  We get them backwards.  We make them conditional, “if/then,” blessings.  If we are poor in spirit, then we shall be blessed and the kingdom of heaven will be ours.  If just mourn enough, in a pious and godly way, then we will be comforted.  If we’re meek enough, if we hunger and thirst enough, if we’re merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, sufferers for Christ, then we’ll be blessed by God.  And that’s wrong!  That’s not it at all.  That would make the Beatitudes Law when they are, in reality, the most comforting Gospel for those who live in this fallen world.  It is not the case that Jesus is here giving you more works to do so that you can earn your blessings from God, earn your sainthood.  He is rather pronouncing you blessed even in the midst of your sufferings, in spite of them, because you are in Him, and it is His good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.
            The Beatitudes are first of all a description of Christ, and then of you in Christ.  It is Christ, the Son of God, who becomes poor in spirit for your sake, clothing His divine majesty in the humility of flesh and blood, suffering for your sins on the cross.  Now, baptized into Christ, you recognize the poverty of your own spirit, your utter helplessness and inability to save yourself, the fact that you bring nothing to the table in your dealing with God except sin and death.  And you are blessed, because you are filled with all the riches of Christ.  The Kingdom belongs to you.  Salvation, eternal life, the resurrection, these are all yours.  Christ is the One who mourns over your sin, over the fallen-ness of His creation, over the suffering and death of His people.  He weeps over Jerusalem.  He weeps at the tomb of His friend, Lazarus.  He cries out for you from His cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).  And you also mourn, you who are in Christ.  You have a tremendous sense of the fallen-ness of the world, and of your own flesh.  It grieves you.  Death grieves you.  Your sin against God grieves you, because you love Him, and you don’t want to grieve Him.  But Christ is your comfort.  He has taken away your sin, and given life to you and to your loved ones, even those who have died.  So you are blessed.  Christ came in meekness, gentle and lowly, that you might be gentle and lowly toward your neighbor, counting others better than yourself.  And so you shall inherit the earth, the new earth that Jesus gives you on the Last Day.  And so with the rest of the Beatitudes.  They are true of Christ, and they are true of you in Christ.  Christ hungers and thirsts for your righteousness, and so do you, so He gives you His, to count as your own.  He is pure in heart, true, clean, and so are you, in Him.  He has made peace between you and God, reconciling you to the Father by His cross and death.  And so you now make peace with others.  And of course, He was persecuted unto death for you.  And you will be persecuted, too.  That is the promise.  But in that persecution you are blessed.  You can rejoice and be glad.  They persecute you only because you are in Jesus.  It is Jesus they hate.  But again, yours is the Kingdom of Heaven.  So what is the worst they can do to you?  They cannot take you out of Jesus’ pierced hands.  They cannot take away your eternal life.  The Kingdom ours remaineth!
            Blessed are you, beloved.  Though you suffer now, in the great tribulation, you will come out of it, for your robes have been washed white in the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ.  His blood has been poured out upon your sin-parched lips, to quench your thirst for righteousness.  His body has been placed on your tongue to satisfy you with that which alone can fill your emptiness: the Bread of Life, Christ Himself.  And what of those who have gone before, who have come out of the great tribulation and are with Christ?  They are happy.  They are in bliss.  For they see Jesus now for themselves.  They see God, and stand before His throne with their palm branches, and they sing: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!... Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever!  Amen” (Rev. 7:10, 12).  They understand the Beatitudes.  They know that they are blessed in spite of the tribulation they suffered here.  For Christ has taken away their sins, and He is their comfort and their joy.
            Now when the tribulation becomes too much for us, when we are weary and burdened by sin and sadness, when the peaccator (the sinner) overshadows the iustus (the saint) in us, when a loved one dies, when the devil accuses, when “the fight is fierce, the warfare long,” then, as some of us heard at Nancy Erickson’s funeral a couple days ago, then “Steals on the ear the distant triumph song” (LSB 677:5).[1]  Through God’s holy Word, and here in the Divine Service, we can actually hear that song the saints are singing.  Because Jesus is here, with angels and archangels, and with those very saints, all the company of heaven, gathered around the altar, where the Lamb is enthroned.  They join us here around the Body and Blood of Jesus.  And we join them in singing the heavenly triumph song.  “And hearts are brave again and arms are strong.  Alleluia!”  “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” (Heb. 12:1-2).  And since that is true, we are blessed, indeed… sins forgiven, saints in Christ Jesus.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.          

[1] Rev. David Fleming, Our Savior Lutheran Church, Grand Rapids, MI.


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