Only Beggars go to Heaven

Sermon for the First Sunday after Trinity based on Luke 16:19-31

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

Only beggars go to heaven. This does not mean that the poor and sick Lazarus went to heaven because he was poor and sick or that the rich man went to hell because he was wealthy and well-dressed. Rather, Lazarus went to heaven because he recognized that he is a beggar before God. The rich man went to hell because he didn’t want anything from God.

You either approach God like a beggar, asking for Him to mercifully give you everything, or you think you have all that you need and ask God for nothing.

The rich man’s god was his belly. He lived for himself. He lived for pleasure. He thought that everything that he wants and desires is the greatest good. He loved himself so much that he had no love for God and no love for Lazarus lying at his gate.

The world would have judged the rich man as blessed and Lazarus as forsaken by God. Man judges by what his eyes see. One man is rich, the other poor. One lives well and feasts sumptuously every day, the other suffers need and dies of hunger. One is clothed in purple and fine linen, the other is clothed in sores. The world would insist that the rich man has God’s favour, while Lazarus has His displeasure and wrath.

God judges differently. God made the beggar rich, and the rich man He sent empty away to suffer for eternity.

Don’t misunderstand – you can be poor and live for yourself and make an idol of your belly, and you can be rich and love God and your neighbour. It’s not your earthly riches that determine if you go to heaven or hell, but whether or not you approach God as a beggar.

What does it mean to approach God as a beggar? It means that you go to Him with nothing to offer Him, asking Him for everything. It is asking God for forgiveness and everlasting life, not because of what you have done and merited, but because of what Jesus has done and merited for you. It means praying for mercy, that God would not give you the eternal punishment you deserve, but instead, out of His great love and mercy, give you eternal life for the sake of Christ.

God makes beggars rich. He gives us overflowing forgiveness and mercy. He brings us to Abraham’s side in the eternal joys of Paradise. He gives us eternal comfort after this life of suffering and evil.

We don’t know exactly what heaven will be like. The Bible gives us glimpses of it. We know there will be no sin, sorrow, or pain. The Bible describes it as a feast, but it won’t be a gluttonous, drunken affair, like the rich man’s feasts. It will be a place of joy and bliss eternal.

One thing that is for certain is that the only reliable information we have on heaven comes from the Bible. Don’t believe the scammers and shysters who say they have been to heaven. No one has died and gone to heaven and come back.

Abraham said to the rich man, “Between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.” There is no more jumping between earth and heaven than there is jumping between heaven and hell.

You can’t talk to anyone who has actually been to heaven or hell to get a firsthand account. People sell books about dying and going to heaven and coming back again. What these books prove is the truth of the old adage that there’s a sucker born every minute. Religious hucksters make money off of naïve Christians who forget that the only source of reliable information about heaven and hell is the Holy Scriptures.

What this also means, is that hell is real. That’s what the Bible says. The world says, “How can a loving God send people to suffer eternally in the fires of hell?” They thus do not believe in hell. Neither do they believe in God.

The world also looks at Christians and says, “You Christians obviously don’t believe in hell either. If you did, you would be giving your wealth to support pastors in your communities and missionaries around the world so that more people would be warned about hell and be saved. Instead, you feast sumptuously like the rich man and spend this earthly wealth on yourselves.” The world has a point.

However, hell is real. Scripture tells us. But hell was not created for man. It was created for the devil and his angels. No man needs to end up in hell. God sent His only Son into the world to take on our flesh, take on our sin, and die in our place so that we would not receive the eternal punishment in hell that our sins deserve.

Christ offers forgiveness freely to all. Those, like the rich man who say they have no need of it, will end up in Hades, in torment. Those, who like Lazarus approach God like beggars, will be carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom, in the joys of Paradise.

We come before God as Lazarus came: as beggars. God makes beggars rich. That is what the rich man learned, but he didn’t learn it until he was in hell. He would never leave hell. He would never enjoy true wealth. Everything he trusted failed him. Death destroys all of our idols. We brought nothing into this world and it is certain we can carry nothing out. If you trust in the treasures you have in this world you are not trusting in the God who gives them. You will be broke the moment you breathe your last and you will spend eternity in hell regretting the false faith to which you clung in this life. You will be an eternally poor beggar who never gets anything good from anyone. Only beggars become rich. But begging in hell is in vain.

The rich man begged Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers. Then they will repent, he said. If someone were to rise from the dead, then they would believe, he claimed. But even Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead, of itself, converted no one. Only the Word of God can do that. Conversion or repentance entails two things: that you are sorry for your sins and that you believe the Gospel. Sorrow over sin means that you are sorry you have broken God’s law. You have offended God. You have not loved him with your whole heart, soul, strength, and mind. You have not loved your neighbor as yourself. Faith in the Gospel means that you believe God when he tells you that he freely forgives you all your sins for the sake of Christ’s vicarious obedience, suffering, and death. God works repentance through his Word. There is no other way. Only the Word of God can work genuine sorrow over sin and sincere faith in Christ the sin-bearer and Savior of sinners. God converts sinners through His Word.

The rich man went to hell because he despised the Word of God. He kept on despising it in hell, as we see from his conversation with Abraham. Lazarus went to heaven because God helped him. The name Lazarus means “God is my help.” The whole world ignored him. He was a nobody. He did nothing important. Important people didn’t notice him. But he trusted in the Word of God. He lived on every Word that comes from the mouth of God. He received everlasting wealth, even when he was suffering want, sickness, and hunger. When his body died, the angels carried his soul to heaven. He was taken to Abraham’s side to enjoy perfect fellowship with God, pure and eternal joy, peace, and contentment.

You don’t earn heaven by being poor. You aren’t kept out of heaven by being rich. The only way to heaven is through faith in Christ, our God and our brother, who has won heaven for us unworthy sinners by his perfect obedience to God’s law and bitter suffering and death on the cross. Heaven is God’s gift. God gives it to beggars. If you won’t be a beggar you cannot be saved.

Let us pray:

Lord, let at last Thine angels come,

To Abr’ham’s bosom bear me home,

That I may die unfearing;

And in its narrow chamber keep

My body safe in peaceful sleep

Until Thy reappearing.

And then from death awaken me

That these mine eyes with joy may see,

O Son of God, Thy glorious face,

My Savior and my fount of grace,

Lord Jesus Christ, my prayer attend, my prayer attend,

And I will praise Thee without end. (LSB 708 st. 3) Amen.

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

[Some concepts and portions of this sermon are borrowed from a sermon by Rev. Rolf Preus.]

 

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.]

God is Jealous over You

Sermon for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost based on James 2:1-10, 14-18

Dear spirits for whom God yearns jealously: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saint James, for the third week in a row, hammers us with the Law. He is unrelenting. Two weeks ago he told us faith without works is dead and cannot save us. Last week he accused us of setting the entire course of our lives on hell fire with our tongues. Today he is calling us adulterers. Not because of breaking the Sixth Commandment, but the First Commandment. He is saying we’ve been unfaithful to God in the love we have shown to the world.

How much time have you spent hearing God’s Word compared to how much time you have spent listening to the world? How much time have you spent pursuing worldly activities compared to how much time you have spent pursuing spiritual activities? How much money have you spent on worldly things compared to how much you have given to God? As Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matt. 6:21)

We are either following the wisdom that comes down from above, or the wisdom that is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. There is no other wisdom. We are either serving God and our neighbour or we are serving ourselves. We are either following God’s will for our lives, of we are following the will of our flesh, the world, and the devil.

We think we can have it both ways. We think we can be friends with the world and still be friends with God. Scripture says, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” A life that is devoted to selfish ambition, selfish gain, and selfish passion is a life that has no room for God. It is a life that makes us enemies of God. Yet, we are jealous and covet what God hasn’t given us and we get upset with God because we don’t have all our desires. We covet the things of this world. We are jealous of those who have more worldly things than we have.

God is jealous for us. Our text says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us.” God wants us, but we want the world. God wants us, but we want our passions. God wants us, but we want selfish things of the world for ourselves.

God’s jealousy is not wrong, but ours is. God’s jealousy can be compared to a husband’s jealousy when his wife spends all her time with other men and is unfaithful to him. That’s why James uses similar language as the Old Testament prophets, calling our unfaithfulness adultery.

God created us. We are His people. He has redeemed us with the blood of His own Son. But we are chasing after the things of this world. We want all kinds of things other than God. When we don’t get them, we get upset with God. What kind of backwards people are we?

James calls this double-mindedness. It’s like the wife who comes home from other men every once in a while to tell her husband how much she loves him. It is double-mindedness to try and be friends with the world and friends with God. It is spiritual adultery.

Our Scripture lesson hammers home the Law, but James also continuously also tells us that it is impossible to fulfil the Law. Last week he said man can tame all kinds of wild animals, but no one is able to tame the tongue. This week he says we are double-minded, which we cannot stop being until we are dead. We cannot remove our sinful minds from our heads. We cannot rip out the sinful desires and jealousy and covetousness out of our brains.

So what then? Why did the Holy Spirit inspire James to write these things if we cannot do them? Why is God commanding the impossible?

First, it is because He wants us to know His will for us as His creatures. He wants to teach us what is holy and righteous and good (Rom. 7:12), and He wants us to strive for them.

Even more, God wants to impress upon us our sinful nature and the impossibility of us saving ourselves so that we would humble ourselves and mourn over our sin.

“Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.” Humble yourselves before God because of your sin, and He will forgive you your sin and raise you up.

Humbling ourselves is what we do when we confess, “I, a poor miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment. But I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them, and I pray You of Your boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor sinful being.” (Public Confession in Divine Service setting three, LSB 184)

This is humility. It is confessing our worthlessness before God and begging Him for mercy. It is drawing near to God, for He draws near to us. It is being wretched and mourning and weeping over our sin. It is humbling ourselves before God because we know He will exalt us. It is knowing that God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

Grace. God gives you grace. He does not leave you in your wretchedness, mourning, and weeping because He does not leave you in your sin. He gives you grace. He exalts you. He forgives you all your sin in Absolution and takes your sin away from you. He cleanses your hands and purifies your hearts. He does this all on account of Jesus fulfilling the requirements of the Law in your place. He does this on account of Jesus’ suffering and death for your sins. He does this on account of Jesus taking the punishment that you deserve.

God is jealous over you and does not want the world to get you, so He gives you the forgiveness of sins and takes you exclusively for Himself as His pure, holy, forgiven child. He doesn’t just do this once. He does it again and again until you need no more forgiveness, that is to say, until He takes you home to be with Him to the sinless perfection of Paradise.

In Paradise, we will not sin any more. This is one of the greatest joys to which we look forward. We will never again sin against our Creator. We will never again have desires that are contrary to His will for us. Long forgotten will be the selfish ambitions, selfish gains, and selfish passions of this world. Long forgotten will be the world that will be burning along with all those things we used to care about. We will no longer be double-minded, but we will want everything that is holy and righteous and good. We will no longer have the wretchedness, mourning, and weeping of sin, but only laughter and joy forevermore. And we will be faithful to God, as He is faithful to us. 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: beginning in Advent, we will begin using the One-Year Lectionary.]

Christ’s Letter to the Church in Philadelphia

Sermon for Midweek Lenten Service based on Revelation 3:7-13

Dear people with an open door: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Patient endurance. Jesus commends the church in Philadelphia for their patient endurance. They had but little power, yet they kept the Word of Christ and did not deny His name. They were persecuted, but they held fast to what they had.

Patient endurance is waiting for God while holding fast to His promises. It is bearing up under suffering without complaining, trusting that all things are in God’s hands and that He knows what He’s doing. It is quietly waiting for the salvation of the Lord (cf. Lam. 3:26). This is easier said than done.

We see how wicked the world is. It is filled with senseless violence and murder, corruption and dishonesty. We see our authorities implementing policies that are anti-Christian and harmful for our nation. We see our courts perverting the course of justice and criminals receiving all the rights instead of their victims. We see children being brainwashed in schools and led astray but their celebrity idols. Christ’s name is blasphemed in the world and even in places that call themselves the church.

We are tempted to say that God is slow to fulfil His promise to make all things new (Rev. 21:5). We are tempted to say Christ is taking too long to return. Such temptations lead us away from patient endurance.

It is the scoffers who say such things. As we heard from Second Peter, scoffers will come in the last days and say, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” (II Peter 3:3-4) Such scoffers think that this world will never end because they deliberately overlook the fact that God created the world with the power of His Word and the only reason it still exists and is preserved is because God has so commanded and ordered it.

Many such scoffers have misplaced their trust by putting it in government, as if the government can save us. Scripture says, “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.” (Ps. 146:3-4)

With a godless government like ours in Canada, we are often made to wonder how they can be so foolish and stupid. Yet, we have our answer in Job, where we heard, “[God] makes nations great, and He destroys them; He enlarges nations, and leads them away. He takes away understanding from the chiefs of the people of the earth and makes them wander in a trackless waste. They grope in the dark without light, and He makes them stagger like a drunken man.” (Job 12:23-25)

For those leaders of men who reject God and His Word, God takes even their understanding of natural things away. Then, in their stupidity, they don’t even know what a man is or what a woman is. They don’t know what a family is. They don’t understand justice or truth or beauty in anything, and they punish the righteous and reward the wicked.

This is related to what Romans chapter one tells about those who did not honour God or give thanks to Him. Claiming to be wise, they became fools. It says God gave them up in the lust of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves. God gave them up to dishonourable passions and to a debased mind.

They rebelled against God, seeking to be free of Him, so God gave them up to the slavery of sin which they pursued. Giving them over to sin is their punishment in this life. Sin degrades and brings shame and disgrace and leads to its inevitable goal, eternal death in hell, their eternal punishment.

Scoffers are going to scoff. Corrupt leaders will do corrupt things. This is no reason for us to lose hope. In fact, this should increase our hope because God told us that these things would happen. They should be no surprise to us.

Christ will return and the world and everything in it will be destroyed by fire, as it was destroyed by water during the Flood. God is not slow to fulfil His promise, but He is being patient so that people are given time to repent.

When Christ returns, it will be too late to repent. Every day that goes by without Christ returning is another day of mercy and grace given to mankind to repent before the world is destroyed. God does not want anyone to perish eternally, but that they would come in through the open door of heaven.

Christ is after all the one who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens. To His Church, Christ says, “I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.”

The door of heaven is open for you, and no one can shut it. The nations can rage, and the people plot in vain, the kings of the earth can set themselves and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His anointed, but He laughs at them (Ps. 2). They cannot close heaven for God’s people. They cannot close what Christ has opened.

Violence and murder, corruption and dishonesty will not stop in this world until Christ returns and burns it all up. Wicked rulers will continue implementing policies that are anti-Christian and harmful for our nation. Godless courts will continue perverting the course of justice and giving criminals all the rights instead of their victims.

However, we will patiently endure. We will wait for God and hold fast to His promises. We will bear up under suffering, trusting that all things are in God’s hands and that He knows what He’s doing.

We will patiently endure because our sins are forgiven and the door of heaven is open to us. We can patiently endure because our hope is not in earthly government or judges or lawmakers or anything on the earth. We will patiently endure because our hope is in heaven, and no one can shut the door that Jesus has opened for us.

Jesus promises that the door of heaven is open for us. We trust Him because He gave His life for us. He died to save us from our sins and has a place prepared in heaven for us. He has done everything for us, and has the door of heaven wide open, waiting to receive us when we die or when He returns, whichever happens first.

Christ Jesus is the one who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens. To you, Christ says, “I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.” 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.