All Saints Day (observed) (Revelation 7:9-14)

Bethlehem Lutheran & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR

All Saints Day (observed) + November 4, 2018

Text: Revelation 7:9-14

After this I looked, and behold, 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, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were 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, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

All Saints is a holiday in the true sense of the word—a holy day—because it commemorates what God calls holy, distinct from that which God calls profane.  God separates us from the multitude of unbelievers.  “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Colossians 1:15) and from today’s Epistle: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” (1 John 3:1)  For now though, it doesn’t look like it.  It looks like Christians and Muslims and Jews and dogs and cats all die the same.  Their flesh lies rotting in a box, or incinerated at 1500 *F.  But even though that flesh has perished, the Last Day will reveal quite the distinction.

In God’s eyes there is a difference as significant as the first day when He separated light from darkness.[1]  Jesus says, “An hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:28-29)  But this difference is on hold until the Last Day.  For now, the Lord says, “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed.” (John 20:28) and “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)

This future has not come.  But don’t be foolish like the people who say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:4)  So, they lump Christians together with other religions and look down their noses and think, ‘Isn’t that quaint! They comfort themselves with some bright hope of an afterlife. Whatever helps you sleep at night!’  But because they do not believe, they don’t understand that no Word of God ever fails.  The Lord Jesus did not get lost in the clouds on His way back, nor did God sleep through the day and hour of His Son’s return.

At God’s appointed time, this hum-drum cycle of days and years and seasons will suddenly end.  Creation will come unraveled and then the Lord will return for His people and to mete out judgments against His enemies.  None of this was fabricated in some pious person’s imagination; this the Word of the Lord and the Church says, “Thanks be to God” for this.[2]

From an earthly perspective, death is death.  It’s all the same.  Your body wears out and you die.  It’s sad and painful when someone dies, and eyes are filled with many tears.  But death in God’s sight continues to be life: “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26).  It is deliverance, as the faithful pray, “but deliver us from evil.”  God even goes to the point of saying in Psalm 116: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” (v. 15)

13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “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.

So God has turned death into life and a precious deliverance.  Also from God’s perspective, what we now live in is a tribulation, even though unspiritual eyes will just ask why you’re making such a big deal of your religion.  We may call it ordinary life, but God calls it a pilgrimage.  Many say that whatever faith you are is just a matter of opinion, but God says it makes the difference between eternal life and eternal death.

We live in both realities—before God and before man.  We have eyes of faith and eyes like the rest of mankind.  We have hearts that belong to Jesus, but we also have hearts which can be enticed by God’s enemies.  This is what calls for perseverance among the saints.  It would be great if the Lord took the baptized immediately to paradise, but in His wisdom, He leaves us “to struggle, [while] they in glory shine.”[3]  Perhaps that’s the hardest part of being a Christian, that we don’t always have tangible confirmation of our trust.

But we are not alone while we wait with longing hearts.  The Apostle to the Hebrews writes, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen…[and] we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” (Hebrews 11:1, 12:1)  We are called to a hope that we cannot now see, but one which is precious, eternal, and certain.

As we live straddling these two worlds, we have fleeting moments where the beatific vision is clearer, like when we read a favorite passage in God’s Word, or hear an inspiring song.  Yet something surpasses the elation of personal spiritual highs, when the faithful are called together in assembly.  In that gathering, heaven does touch earth.  Here in the Divine Service, we are gathered in the Name of the Lord, and He is among us.  That’s also why it’s here that we remember and receive the Lord’s Supper.

The Lord’s Supper brings us the closest to our heavenly reality that we can share in this side of glory.  That’s because it brings the heavenly reality in the Flesh.  Most of the Christian life happens in the heart and is unseen.  When we try to share our faith with others, if they don’t have the Holy Spirit, our words fall flat and it’s like we’re speaking a foreign language.  If we share our Christian faith with another believer, it’s a beautiful thing and there’s a special connection with fellow believers on this earth.  At the same time, we long for something tangible in our fellowship with God.

This He gladly and freely gives us in His Supper.  “Taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.” (Psalm 34:8)  In this place, it is the Lord Jesus who personally invites us to His Table to feed us with His Body and His Blood.  His Body, once broken and now risen victorious over death, is on your tongue.  His blood, once poured out for your sins now flows eternally to give life to you under the shadow of death (as the Scripture says, “the life is in the blood,” Lev. 17:14)—and it is this very blood on your lips.

Saints, fellow heirs of the kingdom of heaven, your inheritance is very great.  Even as we bear the tribulation of this life, our Savior stands among us and pours out the strength and perseverance which we need on our pilgrimage.  Come again—and come often—to the Table where your Risen Lord feeds your mortal body with the Bread of immortality.  Come and be renewed in what is eternal.  The world in its present form is passing away, and what now troubles you will also pass away.  But what God has worked for your life and salvation is eternal.  In this we have hope; through Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

[1] Genesis 1:4

[2] 2 Peter 1:21

[3] LSB 677, “For All the Saints,” st. 4

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