Sunday, November 4, 2012

Homily for The Feast of All Saints (observed)

van eyck adoration of the lambs-resized-600


Matthew 5:1-12; 1 John 3:1-3; Revelation 7:2-17

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Our First Lesson today from Revelation chapter seven describes the Church of Jesus Christ in heaven. Our Gospel Lesson from Matthew chapter five describes the Church of Jesus Christ on earth. What we celebrate today on this Feast of All Saints is the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, which is the body of Christ, both in heaven and on earth, together, gathered around the throne the God and the Lamb in ceaseless worship, peace, and joy.

In Revelation chapter seven, the Church of Jesus Christ in heaven is unveiled for us. The 144,000 are sealed in Holy Baptism. They are the twelve tribes of Israel, even though this precise listing of the names of the tribes appears nowhere else in the Holy Scriptures. Joseph and his son Manasseh are included, but Joseph’s other son Ephraim is omitted. The priestly tribe of Levi is included, but Dan is omitted. Thus, the number 144,000 is a symbolic number, and the twelve tribes represent not only faithful Jews, but also God-fearing Gentiles grafted into the True Vine Jesus Christ – the entire Church of all times and all places. This point is clarified when John then sees “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands. When an elder asked John, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” he proceeded to explain, “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.”

These are the saints of Christ, made to be holy in the blood of the Lamb. Their white robes are Christ’s righteousness which covers all their sins, bestowed upon them in Holy Baptism. They have come out of the great tribulation which is this life and world wrecked by sin and death. They are the living proof of Christ’s victory over sin, death, and Satan. They are the living proof of God’s promise to you kept in, through, and because of the sacrificial, substitutionary, and atoning death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ. “They are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will shelter them with His presence,” or, more literally, He will spread His tabernacle over them.

How do the saints in heaven serve the Lord? They worship and they pray the liturgy with angels, and archangels, and with all the company of heaven, singing, “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.”

But, what about you? What about Christ’s Church on earth? What about the saints of God here, still in the great tribulation? Be comforted and be strengthened, and stand firm in your faith, for you are a part of the Church of Jesus Christ in heaven as well as on earth. You too have been clothed in Christ’s righteousness in Holy Baptism. You too have been sealed in His holy, cleansing, and purifying blood. You too serve God in His temple and are sheltered under His tabernacle, which is Jesus’ body and blood. You gather with the heavenly saints at this altar, where heaven meets earth, until we come out of the great tribulation and join the heavenly host before the throne of God and the Lamb.

Yes, I know that you don’t see what they see, the radiance and the glory of God and the Lamb. But, what you see are the Church’s scars and bruises. What you see are Her faults and imperfections. What you see is the Church and Her members, Her Christians, in meekness and poverty, in mourning, and in hunger and thirst. This is not the Church in glory, but this is the Church under the cross. She is no more glorious to the eyes of men or in the eyes of the world than Her Lord appeared on the glorious cross. Her glory is hidden, just as Christ’s glory was hidden in His suffering and death. It is hidden under weakness and sin and death.

Jesus looked upon His Church upon the mountaintop and he opened His mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Jesus’ Beatitudes are not prescriptive, they are descriptive. They do not tell you what you must do, but they unveil before you what you are. You are blessed. You are blessed, not because you are so very meek; but you are blessed because Jesus is perfectly meek. You are blessed, not because you are poor; but you are blessed because Jesus is perfectly poor. You are blessed, not because you are merciful and mourning, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, persecuted or peacemakers; but, you are blessed because Jesus is all those things perfectly for you. Jesus is your salvation, and when you actually experience and practice these selfless qualities in your life, then you are empty of your self sufficiency that you may be filled with Christ. But, if you insist on bringing your own thoughts, words, and deeds to God, then you will stand with them alone, and you will be judged by them alone – not blessed, guilty, sinful, meriting death and eternal punishment. Nevertheless, you are not blessed because you do and practice these selfless works, but you are blessed in and through them. Jesus does not teach that you will be blessed in doing them, but he teaches that you are blessed in and through them. You are blessed because you participate in Christ, and He works in and through you.

Again, the world does not count such selflessness as glory, but weakness. The world mocks and shakes its head at the Church filled with sinners and hypocrites. The temptation is for you to do the same. The temptation is for you to despair at the church rent asunder by schism and heresy, by infighting, lethargy, and worse. The temptation is for you to join with the chorus of Satan and mock Christ and His Bride. Do not give in to temptation. Today is a reminder of the victory of the Church of Jesus Christ over sin, death, and Satan through the victorious death and resurrection of Her Lord and Head. The saints in heaven are living proof of this victory and of your own victory through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Martin Luther wrote about the hidden glory of Christ’s Church saying, “While worms and rottenness are before our eyes, we cannot be unmindful of them, nevertheless there will be a time when God will wipe away every tear, as is stated in Rev. 7:17. Therefore faith should begin to forget tears and dishonor which it does not see. Although the eyes see the rottenness, the ears hear the complaints and sobs, and the noses smell the stench of the corpses, nevertheless it is the part of faith to say: ‘I do not know this. I see nothing. Indeed, I see a multiplication and a brightness surpassing the sun itself and the stars.’ Therefore, such examples are set before us in order that we may learn that God is the Creator of all things, restores the dead to life and glorifies worms and the foulest rottenness. And He wants this to be acknowledged and celebrated by us in this life in faith. Later, however, in the future life, we shall experience it in actual fact.”

Today we are reminded of the great cloud of witnesses that are the prophets, apostles, evangelists, and saints who have gone before us. They are the living proof of our victory over death and the grave through Jesus, the founder and perfecter of faith.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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