11/5/2017 All Saint Sunday The text is Rev 7:9-17.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
A few years ago, I watched a series of videos on liturgy. In those videos, the presenter told a story about a family in his congregation that I will never forget.
This family was torn apart by grief as their 11-year-old son contracted a rare disease and died. At the child’s funeral he preached what he thought was a comforting sermon. He said: “Do not be afraid. Your little son is in heaven with the Lord and he is perfect and whole,” and the like. Afterwards the father spoke with the pastor and said: “Pastor, I know you were trying to comfort us by telling us our son is in heaven, but I am sorry, that really doesn’t comfort us, because our greatest pain comes from him not being here.”
The pastor listened and nodded and went home. He felt deeply for the family and longed to be able to find some way to help them. He thought and prayed about how he could comfort them in their loss. And as he was flipping through his hymn book that week, his eyes fell on a passage in the Holy Communion liturgy that he had sung and read literally thousands of times before, but had not really understood. There, in black and white, was not his comfort for the grieving family, but the Lord’s comfort for them. The words he read were these: “Therefore with angels and archangels, with all the company of heaven…”
With these words ringing in his ears and embedded in his heart, he went to visit the grieving family again. He said to them: “I know you are separated from your son and this hurts you very much, but when you come to worship and you come to receive Holy Communion and you kneel at the altar you are joined together once again with him, because there, at that moment, heaven meets earth and we are in communion with all the saints, those who are still in this life and also those who have gone on before us and are in heaven already. Every time you come to Communion you will be with him and he with you. And you will get a little foretaste of that heavenly reunion you will one day have with him, when you will never be separated from him again.” As the pastor poured this out of his heart, the mother and father, and that pastor, too, wept. But this time the tears were a mix of grief and joy.
That following Sunday, the parents of the boy came to Holy Communion. As they came to the front of the church, they were shaking and the pastor was shaking. As they came out at the end of the service the parents were too choked up to say much to the pastor, but the father grabbed hold of his arm and managed to say to him: “We are comforted.”
That is what today, All Saints Sunday, is all about. Today is a day of comfort as it reminds us that we are part of the Church, not just Emanuel Lutheran Church or the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America or the Episcopal Church or the Roman Catholic Church, but THE CHURCH – the Holy people of God everywhere, from all ages, in heaven and on earth; Christians of all times; our parents and grandparents, loved marriage partners, children, dear Christian friends – all those who have died in Christ and are now raised to life with him and who live with him forever, as we already have been too, in our baptism. We are in communion with them, not just when we come to Holy Communion, but in communion with them all the time as we live our faith in Christ, together with them.
This is the vision of the Church that we see through John’s eyes in Revelation. It is called the “Mystical Body” of Christ. If you go to an Orthodox Church, you will get an immediate sense of this as you find yourself surrounded by the saints – icons come down everywhere – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Peter and Paul, John the Baptist, Mary, the prophets and patriarchs of the Old Testament, even the angels. It is like the heavenly community, who is worshipping around the throne of God, has come down from heaven and there, in that place, overlaps with earth, so that when you go into the church, you are walking right into the communion of saints.
We are part of that eternal community, a communion of holy people that is destined to share in the very glory of God. And we are one with them, in Christ. Together with those who have gone before, and also with those who are yet to live, you and I are numbered among this great crowd of saints that John describes here in Revelation. We are numbered among the saints not because we are perfect but because we are made right with God through the blood shed by the Lamb of God, Christ Jesus, for us.
When we lose someone we love, the loss can be devastating. We feel that we will never see that person again. We will never again hear their voice or see their face. That is the pain of loss. But the great comfort we celebrate today is that those who have lived with Christ in this life, and are with Christ in eternity, so that those whom we have loved and still love, are not lost. Although we cannot see them and speak with them now, they are still with us, in our one faith and hope. And we will see them again.
There is no one outside the tender care of our Lord. Those who have suffered terribly through illness in this life, those who have been snatched away suddenly, those who died in tragic accidents, or in fear, are now safe in peace, sheltered by Christ himself, who sits on the throne. They are enjoying the beauty and abundance of God’s glory – they hunger and thirst no more. There is no fear – nothing can harm them. “For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
The Lord, Jesus Christ is the exalted one, the Lamb who is at the center of the throne and at the right time he will lead all of us, who have lived in faith, home to his kingdom, where separation and grief and sadness and sorrow will be forgotten.
Let us rejoice in the salvation of our Lord and join in singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.