November 6 2011 Sermon
All Saints’ Day
1 John 3:1-3
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 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. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
Glory and honor and praise be to God the Father who has given us such love that he calls us his children. Not only does he call us his children, he made us his children when we were baptized. And if the children of God, then we are brothers and sisters of one another. One family; “united in one body and one Spirit. Called to one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). We are one family of God, the holy Christian church, the holy and eternal communion of saints.
All Saints: past, present and future. From Adam and Eve to Abraham, to Moses and King David. John the Baptist, Mary and Joseph, Peter, James and John and all the apostles, to St. Paul, and Martin Luther, to your parents, your grandparents, and the pastors and teachers of God’s word who have gone before you. All clothed with the white robes of righteousness; the righteousness of Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God. He is our brother, and his glory, his honor, his kingdom, He gives to us, his brothers. We share in His glory and honor as sons of God.
This is the communion of saints, formed by baptism into Jesus Christ. We honor God for this love he has give to us. We who do not deserve love. We who are not desirable. We in whom nothing good dwells, yet in his mercy he has loved us and made us his children. For “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses and sins, made us alive together with Christ. By grace you have been saved and he raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-7).
“We have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son of God from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). And we share in that glory. We who “beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (II Corinthians 3:18). We are the glorious ones; the bright lights that shine in the darkness. We are the sons of God, the communion of saints.
But the glory of being God’s children is not yet revealed. We are the children of God, but what we will be has not yet appeared. We are still in the flesh, still in sin. Still afflicted and suffering from temptation, sin and death. Death still reigns in our mortal bodies; for we are all sinners and all sinners must die. So our glory as sons of God has not been unmasked for us to see. We behold it only with the eyes of faith today. For now, we live and work and move and have our being on this earth. Wounded by sin and death. Filled with sorrow and pain. The brotherhood of the faithful is sometimes wounded and broken on account of our sins. Sometimes we appear more like a disunion than a communion. But at the coming of Christ our communion will be revealed for us and all the world to behold. We know, that when he appears we shall be like him because we shall see him as he is.
This eternal and holy communion of saints, the family of God, abides, some in heaven and some still on earth. The communion of saints we confess in the Creed abides both in this world and in heaven. We who remain are filled with sorrow at the departing of our brothers and sisters in Christ. It feels to us as if they are missing, separated from us, gone. But we honor God on All Saints’ Day by remembering that Christ has won the victory over death. Nothing can separate us from the love of God who made us his children. These dear departed ones cannot be separated from the love of Christ, and are still a part of the communion of saints. They are still our brothers and sisters in Christ. They are alive indeed and dwell in the presence of Christ around the throne. As Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26).
They are still the church; still the communion of saints; still the faithful witnesses. And we glorify God on account of them. For it is the saints who have gone before us who once were our teachers. It was they who passed down the word of God through the generations to us. It was they who led the fight for the gospel; they who defended the truth of the Gospel in the Reformation. It was they who led us to the baptismal font where we children of God and part of the family. It was they who taught us the Word of God. They showed us the way to the cross where we were reconciled to God. They were examples to us of how to live as the children of God, taking up their crosses and giving their lives in service to one another. They stood up bold and confessed the true faith and handed it down to us from generation to generation. They are the giants upon whose shoulders we stand today. “They fought the good fight, they finished the course, they kept the faith,” and now they have taken up their crowns in heaven. Clothed in white robes of righteousness, they stand around the throne of the Lamb and sing his praises day and night.
They are the children of God. They are of the same household of faith as we. Neither death nor life can separate us from the love of God. That Love which the Father has given us by making us his children cannot be taken away from us, not even by death. It cannot be taken away from them. They are still of the household of faith. They dwell in our midst as we gather in worship and sacrament.
“We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1). Those who have gone before us, a number too great to number, surround us in this great assembly of saints. They gather with us as part of our family; the one holy and eternal church; the communion of saints, as we gather for worship. They are not dead, but are still alive. They are joined to Christ. As Christ comes to us in worship and sacrament, so they too come to us and gather with us to worship God and surround us. Here we honor God who has won the victory over death. Not even death can separate us from Christ, so it cannot separate us from those saints who have gone before and are alive in Christ.
We honor God who will reveal the glory of the children of God when Christ returns. On that day our glory shall be revealed. What we are as children of God will be manifest for all the world to see. We shall be raised from the dead. We, and all the saints who have gone before, will come out of the graves together. We will inherit the blessed estate. The poor in spirit will receive the kingdom. Those who mourn shall be comforted. The meek shall inherit the earth. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness shall be satisfied. The merciful shall receive mercy. The pure in heart shall see God. The peacemakers shall be called sons of God, and the persecuted for righteousness’ sake shall receive the kingdom of heaven.
Our bodies and souls shall be reunited and we shall rise from the dead together to meet Jesus in the air. United again with those who have gone on ahead, we shall join the “great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Revelation 7:9). We shall be forever without sin or spot or wrinkle or death. We shall be clothed in white, and with palm branches in hand, we shall cry out in a loud voice together, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
There “before the throne of God we shall serve him day and night in his temple, and he who sits on the throne will shelter us with his presence under his wings. We shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore. The sun shall not strike, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be our shepherd and he will guide us to springs of living water, and wipe away every tear from our eyes” (Revelation 7:15-17). On that day the glory and honor of the children of God shall be revealed as the one, holy, eternal church, the communion of saints forever and ever.