Sunday, November 3, 2013
Homily for The Feast of All Saints (observed)
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.
The kingdom of heaven is not really a thing or a place in the proper sense, but it is more like an action: It is the power and the authority, the ruling and the reigning exercised by King Jesus. Thus, when Jesus preaches in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” He means to say that the poor in spirit are the recipients of His Kingly action: His forgiveness, mercy, and grace. Further, the kingdom of heaven is not something that they will receive at some later time, with the return of Christ and the resurrection, but it is something that they are receiving right now, and it is something that they will continue to receive until the fullness of Jesus’ kingdom comes. Thus, blessed is not something that the poor in spirit will be, but blessed is something that they are, right now. Indeed, all the other beatitudes our Lord speaks are founded in this first beatitude. Those who mourn, those who are meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those who are merciful and pure in heart, those who are peacemakers, those who are persecuted and reviled for the sake of Jesus and His righteousness, they are blessed, right now, even though they surely do not appear to be so from the perspective of the world.
For, this is what the kingdom of heaven is like, and this is the kind of King our Jesus is, and this is the manner in which King Jesus rules and reigns. For, Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. When Pilate questioned Jesus about His being a king, this is what He answered saying, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” That dialogue occurred just before Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified, the ultimate and final expression of the kingdom King Jesus is King of. The kingdom of heaven reaches its point of culmination in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, but it will become visible to all when the Son of Man reveals Himself as the King on the Last Day.
For now, the kingdom is hidden under the guise of poverty, mourning, meekness, hunger and thirst for righteousness, peacefulness, and persecution for the sake of Jesus. However, when King Jesus returns, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. Thus, when we pray in the Lord’s Prayer “Thy kingdom come,” we are praying for the Parousia, the second coming of King Jesus, even as we are praying that His kingdom, which has already come, and continues to come, would come amongst us now. Luther explains in the Small Catechism that “God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.” Therefore, we pray that King Jesus would reign upon us, and to us, and through us. As subjects of the King in His kingdom, we become His heart and His hands and His mouth, for the kingdom is not only near you, but it is in your midst through faith in Jesus Christ.
The kingdom of heaven is the ontologically real reign of King Jesus. Therefore, you are either His subject, or you are the subject of another king in another kingdom – Satan’s. This is why Jesus teaches that he who is not with Him is against Him, and that those who do not gather with Him scatter. For, King Jesus has penetrated the world of His creation – a world of time, of flesh and blood, of temptations to sin, and the penalty of sin, which is death. But, through His own incarnation, temptation, obedience, suffering and death He has done all things well. Now, as King, christened and crowned in blood on the cross, but recognized and qualified to be God’s King and enthroned in His resurrection from the dead, He has begun His reign and the recreation of this fallen world; He is making all things new, restoring it to life through mercy and forgiveness, love and grace. For, God’s kingdom is His redemptive activity in Jesus, but it extends itself in the preaching of its redemption through His body, the Church.
On this Feast of All Saints, we are given a glimpse of the totality of God’s kingdom on earth and in heaven. St. John first describes the saints on earth, you and I, and all believers, coming out of the Great Tribulation by virtue of Holy Baptism and faith, having washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Then, he describes “a 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, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”
We must not succumb to the temptation to think that our goal is to pass from this life to the heavenly life only, or that the death of the body is the release of the soul to its final state in heaven; no, these are gnostic and false doctrines, despising the body and the earth that God has made good. Rather, our goal is, as the Scriptures consistently proclaim, the resurrection of our bodies and the real, true, and eternal flesh and blood life we will enjoy with our Lord in the new heaven and the new earth that will be revealed in Jesus’ return on the Last Day. For, in King Jesus heaven draws near to earth so that there is no longer any separation. Indeed, this is what John beheld in the Revelation saying: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away’.”
That is our goal: Eternal life in the new heaven and the new earth, in our resurrected flesh and blood bodies, with God. Indeed, this is yet the goal of the saints who have died whom we remember this day. For, while it is most certainly true that while “we feebly struggle, they in glory shine,” they are not yet complete and fulfilled, anymore than you or I. Their flesh and blood bodies lie in the earth. But, when Jesus returns, they will be raised first, and those who are living will be transformed. Therefore, we must remember this, and All Saints Day is a wonderful time to do it. For, too easily do we get caught up in the pious sentiment that this life is something to be thrown off like soiled clothing, and that death has become a blessed friend that enables us to do this. That doctrine is a lie, sown by the devil himself. The Scriptures do not speak of death as a blessed friend, but rather as an enemy, even the last enemy, that will be swallowed up in Jesus’ victory, not when He rose from the dead, but when He returns on the Last Day! That is our goal. That is what we, and the saints in heaven, are waiting for!
For, if Satan is successful in his deception, he will have taken our eyes off of Jesus and placed them upon some false idea of heaven, paradise, or anything else. Therefore, we must keep our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith. We must keep our eyes and our faith on the whole Jesus, and not just a part of Him and His teaching. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn and destroy the world, but in order that the world might be saved and restored through Him. That was His work and ministry through His kingly reign, culminating in His death and resurrection, and that is His work, ministry, and kingly reign that He continues still through you, His body, the Church.
In His ministry, Jesus was the in-breaking of the reign of God. Wherever He went, He forgave sins, and He healed the sick, and He cast out demons, and He calmed deadly storms, and He raised the dead. Wherever He went, Satan's power and sin's effect were held at bay. Jesus’ miracles were not just proofs of His divine power, they were manifestations of the reign of God, and it was altogether fitting and necessary that the Bringer of the Reign of God should heal the sick, raise the dead, and cast out demons. In Him, the reign of God is already present in anticipatory fashion, and when God's reign breaks in finally and completely, then He will heal our bodies and all creation and will raise us up forever.
Until that day, we await with all who have come out of the Great Tribulation, having washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb. And, we take comfort that those who die in the Lord are blessed, at peace and at rest in the bosom of Abraham. Likewise, we take comfort that we are blessed too, right now, though we feebly struggle in poverty, mourning, meekness, persecution and reviling, for of such is the kingdom of heaven, the righteous reign of King Jesus through His subjects, His body, His Church.
For, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when King Jesus appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is. This is His promise and our hope that makes us pure. Our hope is to be with Him in the new heavens and the new earth He will bring when He returns. That day there will be a great wedding feast, of which our feast today is but a foretaste. Now our King and Bridegroom comes to us hidden in, with, and under bread and wine; then we will see Him face to face. But, as we wait His coming, the sainted Church of Jesus Christ on earth joins with the saints of heaven - with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven – in singing the King’s praise: Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Sabaoth; heaven and earth are full of Your glory. Hosanna. Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.