Sunday, November 2, 2014
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.
St. Peter writes that there are mysteries “into which the angels long to look.” What a marvelous and mysterious thought, indeed! To think that are mysteries still that even God’s holy and perfect angels long to know should give us comfort as we consider mysteries so bright that human reason and wisdom are all but blind. One of those mysteries is the subject of today’s Epistle Reading by St. John: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. […] Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.” The mystery is that God loves you so that He has adopted you as His own sons and daughters in Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son. In the incarnation, the Son of God became a man. And, as a man, Jesus fulfilled God’s Law for you; He suffered and died, and He was raised and has ascended to the right hand of His Father in heaven for you. And, at a time known only to the LORD, Christ will return and raise your bodies from their graves and restore you to life that will never die, an eternal life with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the kingdom of heaven. Surely, that God would make His Son a man so that He could make men His sons is a mystery even God’s holy angels could not have anticipated!
Likewise, the Preacher to the Hebrews states: “It was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified [by the Psalmist], ‘What is man, that you are mindful of him or the son of man, that you care for him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet’.” No, not until the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, when the Word of God became flesh and made His dwelling amongst us, so the Scriptures say, did the holy angels of God begin to see the unveiling of the great plan their Creator and ours had for humankind. In His Son, He has made you to be sons, and heirs, and kings with Him over heaven and earth – yes, even over the holy angels themselves!
We are granted a glimpse of this happening in our Reading from the Revelation today: “And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: 12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed, 12,000 from the tribe of Reuben, 12,000 from the tribe of Gad,” etc. It reads like a divine roll call! And, all the while, God’s holy angels look on in amazement and great joy. In fact, the LORD has His holy angels do the sealing. God’s holy angels serve Him, and they serve you whom God loves so dearly in His Son Jesus Christ. And then, we are granted a glimpse of an even greater scene, “a great multitude that no one could 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’!” St. John describes God’s holy angels “standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen’!” Thus, to the redemption and the sealing of humankind, of God’s children – thus, to your redemption and sealing in Jesus Christ – God’s holy angels say, “Amen! Yea verily, it is so! Amen!”
Then, in a most interesting scene, one of the twenty-four Elders encircling the throne of God and the Lamb – Elders representing the Old Testament Church of the Twelve Tribes of Israel and the New Testament Church of the Twelve Apostles, and thus, the entire catholic Church of God of all times and all places – one of the Elders asks John, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” Indeed, God’s holy angels were not the only ones kept in the dark before the LORD’s time. But, now the time was ripe and the Elder was granted to see and to confess, “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 newborn saints of God, the LORD’s adopted children, whose sins are washed away in the blood of the Lamb Jesus Christ in the purifying waters of Holy Baptism. These saints are the Church of Jesus Christ on earth – these saints are you! – with one foot in heaven, because of God’s grace and forgiveness in Jesus, and with one foot in the grave, because of your sin, but always moving towards, and longing for, that day when both of your feet will stand, with palms and white robes, with the 144,000 and with the multitude no one can count of the heavenly host before the throne of God, serving Him day and night in His temple, being sheltered with His presence, hungering no more, thirsting no more, weeping no more. What the Spirit has granted us to see in the Revelation is the unam, sanctam, catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam, the one holy catholic and apostolic Church of all time and of all places on earth and in heaven. And, while we long to be amongst the multitude of saints in heaven, we take comfort and we confess even now that we are part of the sanctorum communionem, the communion of saints who inhabit heaven and earth.
And, so you see, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, you are not alone – you are never alone – but God has knit you together with all faithful people of all times and of all places into one holy communion, the mystical body of His Son, Jesus Christ. Those who have died in the Lord are said to be blessed, for they have run the course of their lives in faith and they have received the promise of unspeakable joys in Christ Jesus their Lord. Therefore, you may give thanks to the LORD for them and follow their example in all virtuous and godly living, knowing that the LORD is faithful and true, and that He will keep His promises to you just as He has kept His promises for those who have gone before you. No, you are not alone – you are never alone. Indeed, even now we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses! In this Divine Service, heaven descends to you who cannot ascend to it, for the Lord is surely with you, just as He promised; and the Lord is never alone, but His saints accompany Him, for they stand in His presence with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven! “O blest communion, fellowship divine! We feebly struggle, they in glory shine; yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine. Alleluia! Alleluia!”
Yet, still, as glorious and wonderful as this truth is, you must take caution not to fall into the devil’s snare and settle for something less than the Lord would give to you. For, the enemy will tempt you settle for your soul being in the presence of Jesus upon the death of the body. Now, while it is truly good that the soul is with the Lord, there is nothing at all that is good about death. Only what the LORD has created is good, and the LORD has not created death. Death is not good, but it is the final enemy. Death destroys a person, separating body from soul as was not meant to be. While it is true that, upon death, the soul of the faithful goes to be with Jesus, the soul is not the person that the LORD God created and that the Lord Jesus died to redeem. No, that person is a body and soul, and nothing less. This is why the saints in heaven long for that “yet more glorious day” when “the saints triumphant rise in bright array.” My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, do not be tempted to sell out the resurrection of the body for the mere presence of the soul in heaven. No, when our Lord Jesus Christ returns, “He will transform your lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself.” Again, St. John exhorts you, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.” Maintaining this hope, this faith, this confession, now, will keep you pure even as He is pure, until He comes.
In this way, you can find blessedness in having a poor spirit. You can find blessedness in mourning. You can find blessedness in meekness and humility. You can find blessedness in hunger and thirst for righteousness. You can find blessedness in showing mercy. You can find blessedness in purity of heart. You can find blessedness in peacemaking, even when it paid back to you with reviling and persecution and evil. For, so they did to your Lord Jesus Christ, and so also will they do to you, His body. But, remember those saints coming out of the great tribulation and filling the heavenly courts of your God and King. They have passed through the valley of the shadow of death and are in the Father’s house. And, Christ, your Shepherd, has passed through that valley before you, and He accompanies you through that valley now. Even now, He leads you beside the cool springs of the baptismal font and beckons you to return to the waters daily in repentance for the remission of your sins. Even now, He anoints you with His Holy Spirit, sealing you in His grace and forgiveness. Even now, He feeds you with His own life-giving body and blood in the presence of your Enemy. And, He promises you that He will be your Shepherd and that He will guide you to springs of living water, and that God, His Father, will wipe away every tear from your eyes.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.