Sermon for All Saints’ Day based on Revelation 7:9-17
Dear saints: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our loved ones who have died in Christ are not lost to us. We know exactly where they are. Their graves are marked so we know where their bodies lie. The Church has always made an issue of showing care for the bodies of the dead and marking their graves. We don’t just dump the bodies of our loved ones into a landfill or cremate them and scatter their ashes indiscriminately here and there.
We lay the bodies of our loved ones to rest in cemeteries and mark their graves. We can visit their graves and we know that the bodies of our loved ones remain where they were laid to rest. Their names appear on the headstones. The headstone confesses that this is not the end of the body. God isn’t done with this body yet. God will raise this body up on the Day of Resurrection.
We confess the Day of Resurrection even in calling these places cemeteries. The word cemetery comes from a Greek word which means dormitory. We confess that everyone who dies in Christ will rise again when Christ raises them as easily as if they were in peaceful sleep.
However, we don’t just know where the bodies of believers lie, we also know where their souls are. Their souls are with Jesus in heaven. To the repentant thief who died on the cross beside Jesus, Jesus promised, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Today; right at the moment of death believers go to be with Jesus, while they await the Day of Resurrection and the soul being reunited with the body. So once again, our loved ones who have passed away in Christ are not lost to us. Their souls are with Jesus and we will see them again.
When one of our members dies in Christ, we report it to synod as a membership loss, but it is really a membership gain. A member of the Church on earth is transferred to the Church Triumphant, the Church in heaven. The Church in heaven gains a member. That is our goal also, to be members of the Church in heaven.
Since last year’s All Saints’ Day, Linda, Frank, Edna, Yvonne, and Elmer have joined the ranks of the saints in heaven. They have joined the angels and archangels in singing praises to God.
That is another reason why our loved ones who have died in Christ are not lost to us. Hebrews 12 tells us that in the Divine Service, where God Himself is present, innumerable angels also join us in festal gathering, along with the assembly of those who are already enrolled in heaven; with the spirits of the righteous made perfect (Heb. 12:18-24). So when we assemble here to receive God’s gifts and sing His praises, our loved ones who are with Jesus join us here.
That is the reason the altar rail has traditionally been a semi-circle, even though it is sometimes squared as ours is. We, the Church on earth, kneel around the semi-circle with the image that the other half which would make the circle complete is filled with all the faithful who have died and with all the host of heaven. Common in Lutheran churches in Scandinavia, the circle is actually completed with a similar stone semi-circle rail continuing outside against the sanctuary outer wall in the church graveyard. This confesses the truth that when we commune with Christ, we also commune with those who belong to Him, whether on earth or in heaven.
Our liturgy also confesses this truth with the words, “Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify your glorious name, evermore praising you and saying…” Then we sing the Sanctus, “Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might: Heaven and earth are full of your glory.”
Why do we sing the Sanctus? Because that is what is sung in heaven. Isaiah 6 tells us of his vision in the throne room of God where angels call to one another with the words, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Is. 6:3)
The Sanctus is one of the oldest parts of the liturgy, possibly in use already in apostolic times. The Sanctus is a hymn of praise that is sung by angel choirs, and we the saints on earth join them in singing praise to God. For a time, the division between heaven and earth is gone. Christ comes down to earth in His body and blood and the saints in heaven and on earth join in communion and in singing His praise.
Is this the best time to be counting the offering? While this is going on, when heaven is coming down to earth, when our loved ones in heaven are singing with angels and archangels and the saints on earth join them in singing, is this the time that we should be sending our ushers out of the Divine Service to count money? Not to mention the other parts of the service that are missed such as the Lord’s Prayer, Christ’s Words of Institution, and the Agnus Dei (another ancient liturgical hymn). Our practice must change and we will talk about it at our Council Meeting on Tuesday.
But back to our main point: our loved ones who have died in Christ are not lost to us. We know where their bodies rest awaiting the Day of Resurrection. We know where their souls are – in heaven singing praise to God. We know also that we are in communion with them in holy Communion and we join them in singing praises to God in the Divine Service.
We also will join them and all the saints in heaven in that great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and the Lamb, clothed in white robes that have been made white in the blood of the Lamb.
This seems like a paradox because blood doesn’t normally make things white. But white is the colour of purity. All saints in heaven and on earth are pure because they are covered by the blood of the Lamb. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world shed His blood to make us pure. Jesus took all our filthy sin and died on the cross for us and in our place and His blood makes us pure. Jesus takes away our sin and covers us with His purity.
That is why we will join our loved ones who have died in Christ. We may have to go through tribulation in this life; we may even have to go through the great tribulation of the end times, but because Jesus’ blood has made us pure, we will join all the saints in heaven before the throne of God where we serve Him day and night; where God shelters us from every evil; where we will hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; where the sun shall not strike us nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be our shepherd, and He will guide us to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.