Sunday, November 1, 2015
Homily for The Feast of All Saints
Matthew 5:1-12; 1 Johns 3:1-3; Revelation 7:2-17
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The Feast of All Saints is not what you think it is. Let me rephrase that: The Feast of All Saints is not merely what you think it is. For, you think that the Feast of All Saints is about those who have died in the Lord and are with Him now. Well, you are right! It most certainly is about that! However, that is not all that The Feast of All Saints is about, nor even, I would posit, the most important thing. For, The Feast of All Saints is about you, also. This Feast is your Feast. For, you are among the saints in the Lord that the Church celebrates and gives thanks and praise for to our Triune God for this day.
You know this because of the present blessedness that Jesus calls you to through faith in Him and His Word. For, the blessings of the Beatitudes are all in the present tense. They read, “Blessed are,” not “Blessed were,” or even “Blessed will be.” Jesus teaches that there is blessedness, right now, for those who are poor in spirit, for those who mourn, for those who are meek, for those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, etc. Now, it is not natural for our fallen world, our fallen flesh, and our fallen reason to count such things as blessedness. But, your Lord Jesus calls you through these Beatitudes, through His Word, to see and to hear things differently.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” This first beatitude has absolutely nothing to do with material wealth and possessions. It is addressed to the spiritually poor, to those who acknowledge and confess their moral bankruptcy. Blessed are those who confess that they are poor, miserable sinners and that they cannot help themselves out of their derelict condition. The spiritually poor are blessed now, in their spiritual poverty, for their treasure is not on earth, but in heaven. Their treasure is not in their works and their merit, but their treausure is God’s gift of Jesus Christ. They are blessed, they are forgiven, in His holy, innocent shed blood for them. Likewise, those who mourn over their sin and the damage it has caused in their relationships with both God and with their neighbor are blessed, and they are comforted in the knowledge that their sins are forgiven, that the breach has been healed, and that even death, which they truly merit, has been defeated, its sting taken away. And, this blessedness results in the blessed state of meekness for the spiritually poor – meekness which is truly humility and gentleness and consideration for your neighbor, and especially for those who are poor in spirit, mourning, and humble themselves.
And so, the first three beatitudes describe the repentant life of the Christian now. All that you experience in your life now is truly preparation for the life that is to come. And yet, you must not strike a harsh distinction between the two, for the life you live now in Jesus Christ will never end. Though your body will die and perish, your born again spirit will not. Your spirit, indeed, knows the blessedness Jesus describes in the beatitudes, the blessedness of poverty of spirit, of mourning over sin, and of meekness and humility, for this is the blessedness of the saints who have come out from the great tribulation that is life in this world, having washed their robes, making them white in the blood of the Lamb.
St. John reemphasizes Jesus’ teaching concerning the present reality of the blessedness of His saints saying, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared.” Moreover, in this passage, St. John speaks of the now / not yet tension in which the Church Militant exists and lives on earth. Truly, the Church of Jesus Christ is victorious in Him and is blessed now, but this reality has not yet been fully revealed. And so, the world looks upon the Church and Her members and sees only weakness and hypocrisy, brokenness, infighting, and irrelevancy, even while Jesus looks upon Her and proclaims, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh,” My Bride.
And so, Jesus continues to proclaim the blessed state of His faithful, now, saying, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for ritheousness,” “Blessed are the merciful,” “Blessed are the pure in heart,” “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,” and “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,” Jesus says, “for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Each of these beatitudes make it clear that unbelievers will not see your blessedness, that even the faithful will be tempted to view these blessed traits as anything but blessed. For, the LORD’s ways are not man’s ways, and the foolishness of the LORD is wiser than man’s wisdom. Your Lord Jesus did not come to establish a kingdom of glory on earth, but He came to ransom you out of this world that is passing away because of sin and death. Even now, He is making all things new, even you, by turning your hearts and minds by His Spirit through His Word that you might see and hear differently.
Therefore, the Lord granted John, and you, His Church, this revelation of the Church Triumphant in heaven – 144,000 saints, representing the Old Testament and the New Testament Church together as one fellowship in Jesus Christ. And, beyond them, “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.” Combined, these two images represent the Church catholic, both in heaven and on earth, both triumphant and militant, of all times and of all places. This Church is revealed for St. John and for you so that you might have hope as you continue your pilgrimage through this valley of the shadow of death, surrounded by enemies – hope that the victory is already yours in Christ Jesus, and comfort that your victorious Lord walks with you, even now, through that valley as your Good Shepherd, your Reedeemer, your Lord, and your God. You tend to look at this revelation as if it were something far off and yet to come, but the truth is that it is something that is very real for you right now. In fact, the English word Revelation is a translation of the Greek word ἀποκάλυψις, which means unveiling. Thus, this vision of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church of all times and of all places is but an unveiling, a revealing, of the Church that exists even now, but is seen in the fullness of Her glory not yet.
The Feast of All Saints is your feast, for you are numbered among that “great multitude that no one could number” who have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” When did you do this? Well, you didn’t, but it was something that was done to you when you were baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection. Then, you were claimed, spiritually, out of this Great Tribulation as was Noah and his family from the flood of God’s wrath, and you were sealed in the promise by faith that your body will be raised up from death too that you may join that countless host in your glorified flesh and blood body and serve God day and night where you shall hunger and thirst no more, where the sun and scorching heat shall strike you no more, where there is no more sorrow or tears, for God Himself will have wiped every tear from your eyes and taken away every reason for tears and sorrow.
The Feast of All Saints is your Feast, for God has knit together His faithful people of all times and of all places into one Holy Communion, the mystical body of His Son, Jesus Christ. Therefore, you are invited to come to this foretaste of that Great Feast in heaven in order that you might be refreshed, renewed, and sustained that you might persevere during your pilgrimage through this life, through death, into eternal life and the Great Feast itself, the Wedding Feast of the Bridegroom Jesus Christ and His Holy Bride, the Church. This is not merely a meal of remembrance, but this is your spiritual food and drink in the wilderness on which you abide until you are delivered into the Promised Land of heaven.
More than that, your Lord and Bridegroom Jesus Christ Himself is present at this Festal Board as both gracious Host and life-giving Meal, “with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven.” That “company of heaven” includes all the saints of the Lord who have died in faith in Him, who are with Him now, with whom you will stand in the resurrection, not yet, in your glorified flesh and blood bodies and holy souls. This is His gracious gift to you now, that you, who cannot ascend to heaven, might join with heaven in this Feast as heaven graciously descends to you. Thus, you are invited to come and join in the heavenly chorus around the throne of God and the Lamb singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy LORD God of Sabaoth; Heaven and earth art full of Thy glory! Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He, blessed is He, blessed is He who cometh in the Name of the LORD! Hosanna in the highest!”
Because God has reconciled Himself with all humanity in the holy innocent shed blood of His Son, Jesus Christ, St. Paul exhorts you to no longer regard anyone according to the flesh. Indeed, you must regard each and every human being as a soul created by God and redeemed and reconciled to Him in Jesus Christ. Thus, no man or woman is your enemy, but we each and all have but one enemy, God’s enemy, the devil, Satan, the Great Deceiver and Accuser of men.
Therefore, I exhort you to see this Feast of All Saints differently – to see yourself among the saints of God, but also to see your brother and sister and your neighbor as saints, or would-be saints needing only to hear and believe the Good News that God was in Christ Jesus reconciling the world to Himself. This is the Good News, the Gospel, that you have been rescued from death to proclaim in your words, life, and deeds. This Feast of All Saints, let the unveiling of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church of all times and of all places enable you to see with new eyes your life and purpose in Christ and in His Body the Church. You are not alone, but you are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses! And, your very life is bound up with Christ and all His saints as a witness to the world of God’s boundless love and mercy, and His desire that all men be saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus. You are not alone, but you are part of God’s mission to the world in Christ Jesus. Come to the feast and be forgiven, nourished, and strengthened in faith. Then, go, as He sends you, into the world in your vocations and let Christ’s light and love shine in all you say and do, to the glory of God the Father, in His Son Jesus Christ, through the gracious workings of His Holy Spirit.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.