Heaven is for You

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.

Jesus’ death and resurrection have opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. Thus, all believers have the promise that they will be included in that great multitude that no one can number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb in heaven. Jesus’ death and resurrection are the reason we will be there.

The great tribulation will be over. No more hunger or thirst. No more tears. No more war or bloodshed. No terrorism. No riots or murders. No heresy or prejudice. No sadness, pain, illness, loneliness, or death. No more sin.

Heaven is perfection, with nothing bad, only everything good.

We will again see our loved ones who died in the faith.

Even more, God will be there. We will be before His throne, sheltered by His presence. We will be with God forever.

This doesn’t mean much to most people. They spend their lives running away from God. They flee His presence. They avoid the place where He has promised to be here on earth. They deny Him by their words and their deeds, and want to silence anyone who would dare so much as mention Jesus’ name.

Those who flee God’s presence seek to build their own heaven here on earth – perhaps with thoughts of some kind of communist utopia. Steal from one group and give it to another. Force other people to “share.” They use lies and prejudice, rioting and terrorism, war and bloodshed, to quiet those who oppose them to bring this “heaven” about. But it never comes. There is no other heaven than the one created by God. There is no utopia that worldly governments can create.

Those who have sought to build their own heaven have always and will always fail. The only thing that has ever come out of such attempts is more suffering, hunger, thirst, and death than you already had. There is only God’s eternal heaven which is good and perfect with nothing bad. Fleeing God’s heaven to make your own just doesn’t work.

Fleeing God’s presence here on earth results in not being in God’s presence in heaven. Avoiding the presence of God, where He has promised to be and give forgiveness here on earth, is rejecting God and His heaven for eternity. Rejecting Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper – the places where God is present with forgiveness – is rejecting the eternal presence of God in heaven.

Being in the presence of God in heaven will be everything to us. We cannot quite understand that now because we love God so little. We have so many things that we allow to compete with our love for God. We cannot image how we would ever be content just by the presence of God, but we will be.

In heaven, we will love God perfectly and completely. We will love Him so much that we will desire nothing else. He will be our everything. He will be our joy, our glory, our comfort, our contentment.

We cannot really grasp this now. That’s why it might sound odd to us that part of the description of heaven includes us serving God day and night in His temple. Day and night? Twenty-four hours of service a day? That doesn’t sound so great to me!

That’s because we don’t love God like we will love Him when we are in heaven. In heaven we will love Him so much that we will love serving Him, even though we failed to serve Him faithfully on earth. We will love to serve Him, worship Him, and sing His praises. There will be nothing that we would rather do. God’s desire will be our desire. God will be our life, our strength, our wisdom, our happiness. What more is there? It is far better than anything human words can express or human thoughts can understand while we remain here below. As Scripture speaks of it, it is “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him” (I Cor. 2:9, citing Is. 64:4).

We will love God then as we are commanded to love Him now but cannot. We will love Him as He loves us. Only then can we fully comprehend the words of the hymn, “Lord, Thee I love with all my heart… Yea, heaven itself were void and bare if Thou, Lord, wert not near me” (LSB 708 st. 1). The presence of God will be everything to us and we will lack nothing.

Jesus’ death and resurrection have opened the kingdom of heaven to you. He has promised you that He will bring you out of the great tribulation and bring you to Himself in heaven. He will take you from this vale of tears and wipe away your tears.

Jesus will bring you into heaven because you are clothed in robes made white by the blood of the Lamb. You will get into heaven because your sins have been washed clean by Jesus’ blood. His suffering and death were for you. He has taken the punishment for your lack of love.

No amount of your own washing will wash your sins away. Water by itself cannot wash sins away, but only water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word. No blood can wash away your sin, but only Jesus’ blood, given and shed for you washes your sin away – that blood which flowed for your sins.

Through Baptism and His holy Supper, Jesus washes you and makes you clean. He makes your robes white, with all your sin forgiven, so you are ready to enter heaven whenever He takes you home.

The kingdom of heaven is open to you, and Jesus will bring you through the great tribulation to the eternal joys of heaven. Your tears will be wiped away. You will be before the throne of God, sheltered by His presence, and you will love God as He loves you. God will be your everything and you will lack nothing. You will desire what God desires, and never again will you have any tribulation. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

[A note to readers: We will be following the One-Year Lectionary beginning in Advent.]

All Saints’ Day

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.

In the New Testament Church, God has not appointed certain days or periods of time for His people to observe. There are no particular days or festivals which we are commanded to celebrate.

Nevertheless, in Christian freedom, the Church does celebrate various festivals through the church year. These celebrations are important reminders to us of central articles of the Christian faith. We follow the Old Testament precedent of structuring the year around the great acts of salvation that God has done for us in Christ.

Thus, the Church celebrates Christmas. It is not mandated that the Church celebrate Christmas on December twenty-fifth, nor that we have Christmas trees, or manger scenes, but it is necessary that we recognize and celebrate the virgin birth of Jesus, when God took on our flesh and became man.

The Church celebrates Palm Sunday as Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Holy Thursday when He instituted His Supper for us, in which He gives us His body and blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins. The Church celebrates Good Friday, the day that our Good Shepherd gave up His very life for us sheep who love to wander. The Church celebrates the resurrection of our Lord on Easter, and indeed on every Sunday. Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday is after all the reason the Church gathers together on Sunday. We have no command for worship on this specific day either, but out of Christian freedom we have chosen to worship on the day our Lord rose from the dead.

While we don’t have specific commands from God to celebrate these festivals, it certainly is necessary that Christians celebrate the institution of the Lord’s Supper, and His death and resurrection. How could we not? They are a reason to celebrate with joy the great acts of salvation God has accomplished for us.

This is the same reason the Christian Church celebrates All Saints’ Day. It doesn’t have to be on November first. In fact, we observe it today, the closest Sunday after November first. We could celebrate it in July if we really wanted to do so.

As with the other holy days, we do not have a command that we celebrate this festival, but every Christian certainly must celebrate what this festival is.

All Saints’ Day does not just commemorate a particular saint, but all believers of all times and places; the great multitude that no one can number. On Easter we celebrate Christ’s resurrection, on All Saints’ Day we celebrate our resurrection. We celebrate the fulfilment of God’s promises to us in our inheritance of eternal life. We celebrate the eternal joys of everlasting life which are ours because of Jesus’ death and resurrection for us.

We celebrate Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the patriarchs of old who are enrolled in heaven. We celebrate the apostles, the witnesses of Jesus’ earthly ministry who are now enrolled in heaven. Yet, we also celebrate our beloved friends and family who died in Christ and now rest from their labours.

All the saints, from the beginning of time who died believing in the Saviour who was yet to come, to the saints who have died today believing in the Saviour who did come are remembered and celebrated today.

We remember the saints who have gone before us that we might imitate their faith and good works. However, we do not pray to them or worship them. Scripture sets Christ alone before us as mediator, atoning sacrifice, high priest, and intercessor. He is to be called upon, since we have both the command to pray to Him and His promise that He will hear us (cf. AC XXI). We have no such command to pray to saints, nor do we have any promise that they hear our prayers. Thus, we pray to God alone, even though we commemorate and remember the saints.

All Saints’ Day is special in that we celebrate not just the saints whose lives are recorded in holy Scripture, but also the lesser known saints who kept the faith through daily griefs and joys that no one has recorded. We commemorate the loved ones we miss dearly who died with Christ and thus now live with Him, and we are comforted by God’s promises to them and to us.

All Saints’ Day is consolation to those who find themselves in the loneliness of a Siberian prison camp or suffering the inner alienation within church bodies that have abandoned the truth of the Gospel. It is consolation to those who feel alone, for those who suffer for the sake of the Church, for those disheartened about the evils they see taking place in the church. It is consolation for all whose loved ones died with faith in Christ.

We are not alone, but are part of the Church. We are part of the great multitude that no one can number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages. We will be reunited with our loved ones who died in the faith. We will be in the presence of God forevermore.

Then there will be no more church militant that is attacked from within and without by false teachers and heresies, by abuses and persecutions. There will be no more church militant that is despised and hated by the world. There will be no more church militant that the evil one seeks madly to overthrow.

There will only be the church triumphant, where we will be in the presence of God for eternity, protected and sheltered from every evil. There we shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore. 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.

How could the Church not celebrate this great festival? It celebrates the promises of God that have been fulfilled for every believer who has died in Christ. It celebrates the promises of God that will be fulfilled for us when the times comes for us to depart this life. It is a celebration that because Jesus died for our sins, we will never die, and because He rose from the dead, we will live forever.

The Christian Church celebrates even in midst of suffering and loss, abuse and persecution because we have our eyes set on the promises of God which will be fulfilled. We too will be in the church triumphant, whether it is today or tomorrow, next year or decades from now. That is reason to celebrate. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

All Saints

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.

 

 

Remembering Saints

Sermon for All Saints’ Day based on Revelation 7:9-17

Dear saints of God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Death is real. Most of us have come face to face with the reality of death as we have lost friends and family. Some of us have seen death recently and still struggle to come to grips with its reality. But death is real.

In the face of death, the world has no answers. You know this from reading sympathy cards, watching movies and television shows, and listening to eulogies. “Your loved ones are in your heart.” How nice and tidy. The world tries to sterilize and sanitize death: There is no afterlife. The body in the grave is just a bunch of cells not your dearly departed. In fact, let’s sterilize that as well and just cremate the remains so there is no body that gives witness to the reality of death.

Trying to hide the reality of death and sanitize it is an attempt to hide the reality of sin which is the cause of death. If death is sterilized, then maybe sin which is punished by death is sterilized as well.

We can certainly speak of our loved ones being in our hearts in that we remember them. But if they only live in our memories, what does that mean for those who died a long time ago? What does it mean for our great, great grandparents? What does it mean for those who are starting to forget the face of their dear child who passed away or what their dear spouse’s voice sounded like? Living in our memories and hearts is no consolation to the reality of death.

But still, it is a temptation to think this way. That’s why eulogies have even crept into some Christian churches. If we can just speak well of the deceased and talk about all the good things that he did during his lifetime then he will be remembered not just by his family but by everyone at the funeral. Then he will really live in our hearts. If we can convince those attending the funeral that he was a good man, maybe we can also convince God that he was a good man.

But if our loved ones are only in our hearts as we remember them and we only remember them for the good that they did then they are all in serious trouble. Then we all are in serious trouble. Perhaps Saint Peter and Saint Paul are okay – we remember them still two thousand years later – but what about me? What have I done that will be remembered for years to come? What significant good and memorable things did our loved ones accomplish before they died? We better be pretty creative and allow some artistic license in the eulogy!

Of course, none of this is what Scripture teaches. Scripture teaches that our loved ones are not only in our hearts. Their bodies are also in the ground waiting for the day of resurrection. Our loved ones who have died in the faith will be raised to eternal life just as Jesus was raised from the dead after His death on the cross. While they wait for the day of resurrection, their souls are already in heaven with Jesus now. Jesus told the thief on the cross who repented and believed, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise”! Today, not someday! Everyone who believed in Jesus and has died is with Him even now.

And they didn’t get to heaven by being remembered by us or by doing some good things that are memorable. Our text from Revelation doesn’t say that the people in heaven made their robes white by doing something good or memorable. Our text doesn’t say that they washed their robes in their good works and the sweat of their brow. Our text says, “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” They have been washed clean by the blood of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:29). Jesus’ blood, given and shed for them for the forgiveness of sins has washed all their sins away and brought them into heaven with Him. This is the great consolation in death. Not that our loved ones are remembered by us, but that they are with Jesus now in Paradise because they were cleansed by His blood.

But we certainly do remember our loved ones. And in fact today, you have come to the perfect place to do exactly that. You have come to where God is graciously present in Gospel and Sacrament. As the writer to the Hebrews puts it, “You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Heb. 12:22-24)

The blood of the murdered Abel cried out for vengeance, but the blood of Jesus cries for our pardon. The cup of the new covenant in Jesus’ blood gives us pardon for our sins, and also joins us in communion with the innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect. The assembly of saints gathered here is in communion with the assembly of saints gathered with Jesus in Paradise. That’s why in the communion liturgy we hear, “Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify Your glorious name, evermore praising You and saying” and then we sing “Holy, holy, holy” which is the song that Isaiah tells us is sung in heaven (Is. 6:3).

We sing here what is sung in heaven. In receiving Jesus’ true body and blood, we are in communion with our loved ones who have died in the faith. In Holy Communion we have a foretaste of the feast to come. Our hearts are lifted up to the Lord as we gather around the communion altar.

Communion is not limited by time or space. We join the saints who have gone before us in their ongoing heavenly worship of the Lamb who was slain. We have been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb just as they have been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb.

The difference is that we hunger; they hunger no more. We thirst; they thirst no more. The sun and the scorching heat strike us but not them. We cry, we mourn, but God has wiped away every tear from their eyes.

We do remember our loved ones who have died. We remember that they have been cleansed by Jesus’ blood as we also have been. We remember Jesus’ promises to them that have now been fulfilled as they are with Him in heaven. And we remember that those same promises are for us. Jesus’ death on the cross was also for us. The payment of His blood for all sins was for our sins.

Unlike the world, we don’t have to be afraid of death. We don’t have to try and sterilize and sanitize death. We don’t have to be afraid of seeing a dead body. We know that Jesus has promised the resurrection of the body. We don’t have to be afraid if our loved ones are just ashes, because in the resurrection He who created man from dust will raise them up whether they are dust or ashes.

We also know that the existence of our loved ones is not up to us remembering them in our hearts. They exist with Jesus. Their souls are with Jesus even as their bodies await the day of resurrection. This is the comfort to you who mourn.

Finally, we have communion with our loved ones who have died in the faith. Since they are united with Christ and Communion unites us with Christ, we are thus also united with them as we receive the body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins. In Communion we receive the same cleansing blood of the Lamb that has cleansed all saints. Saint Peter and Saint Paul were also cleansed from their sin by the blood of the Lamb because even their good works counted for nothing. In Communion we are united in the same forgiving blood of Christ.

Yes, death is real, but so is eternal life. And we have the promise of eternal life when we die from this life. As the saints before us, we will then worship the Lamb in heaven away from this world of tribulation and tears. Upon our death, we will also realize the perfection of heaven away from tribulation and tears. We will be united with all saints – those who went before us and those who are still to come – all who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.