04. November 2012
All Saints’ Day (observed)
Revelation 7:2-17; 1 John 3:1-13; Matthew 5:1-12
Today, heaven and earth dwell together. The Lord’s kingdom has come on earth as it is in heaven. The saints in heaven in bright array are singing with the saints on earth. A great multitude that no one can number, from all tribes and peoples and languages stands with us as we dwell together in this blessed place with the Holy Trinity, feasting upon His Word and rejoicing with angels and archangels. The sainted Evangelists, the prophets, the apostles, the martyr band, and all the blessed departed—the number of the sealed—confess with a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
We are children of God because of the love of the Father. God the Father gave us most precious treasure, His very Son into death for us. By His suffering, death, and burial, Christ Jesus has atoned for our sins and the sins of the whole world. The Lamb’s very blood has washed our robes clean. We are blessed because we are children and thus inheritors with Christ of his cross-bought forgiveness, life, and salvation. Salvation belongs to God and to all those who are in Him. Rejoice, O pilgrim throng! Rejoice, be glad, and sing!
That’s reality. That’s the truth. But it doesn’t look that way. It doesn’t feel that way. Is it a neurosis? Are we Christians out of our mind? How can we rejoice when more than a hundred died and much was destroyed from Superstorm Sandy? How can we sing with angels when the our lives are full of struggles, tears, and grief? It’s flat out crazy to find joy in the midst of a horrible world. You’re off your rocker. How can you sing at a time like this? How can you possibly rejoice and give thanks?
The Christian faith is built on the hope of things not seen, the expectation of things to come. What we see now is only a pale shadow of what will be. Some call our life together as living in the “now” and also in the “not yet.” The “now” is the life of a body of death in a corrupt world. The “not yet” is eternal life in a recreated and perfect creation. The old will go and the new will come.
These two realities are one. God has knit us into a single fabric of believers of all times and places. He has joined us together with His Son, Jesus Christ. We the church are joined in union with Him as one flesh, His mystical body. Our names are written in the book of Life and our song now is the song of heaven. Because we are heirs with Christ, we are already given to worship God. We already experience His blessing, His peace, and His glorious face shining upon us.
Heaven and earth dwell together. Where God dwells, there we dwell in peace and safety. God is our rock and fortress. He has redeemed our spirit and delivered us from shame. He leads us by His name in His Word. From God’s perspective, there is little difference from those who dwell with Him in eternity and we who are here in time. Both are equally saved from death, devil, and hell. Both are equally clothed in Baptism. Both are equally fed with heavenly meal and given heavenly board.
If the gifts are equal then why do we continue in this dying body? Is it wrong to desire heaven? St. Paul said he longed to depart and be with the Lord but He also knew he must remain in the flesh a while longer (Philippians 1:19ff). We are on the same journey: from death to life. We must pass through death before joining the host of heaven. We are not alone on this journey. Christ is with us. Not only does He visit us with His Word of comfort but He gives us food for the journey, the same food of saints of heaven. While we long for heaven we can persevere in the flesh a while longer. While we live in the flesh, it means fruitful labor for us in Christ’s kingdom. While we can only see our God now as in a mirror dimly, soon we will see Him face to face.
This is a message of great comfort for us at Grace. The elder said of us “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation.” This time is called the “great tribulation” for good reason. There are wars and rumors of wars. Children go hungry. Storms destroy. Marriages fail. Jobs are lost. Even the young die. We are now in tribulation and then will be in everlasting bliss.
The congregation of Grace is in its own little “tribulation.” There are half as many people here today as there were in recent memory. The median age of our congregation now over 55. There are few of my generation and fewer of their children. Our resources are limited. Finances are tight. We’ve had to cut mission dollars. There’s talk of more cuts in the future. We only have seven of twelve congregational offices filled. It’s a struggle to keep the organ bench filled.
We might be tempted to panic and wring our hands. We might think this particular congregation somehow is indicative of the one holy Christian Church. Not so. Read the Epistles of the New Testament. How many of those congregations still exist? Few, if any. Does this mean that the church has failed? If Grace had to merge, close, or move, would this say anything about the Church eternal?
Congregations come and go but the Word of God remains forever. Heaven is where the holy ones of God gather to receive holy things. For some fifty years Grace has been such a place. In the future it may be somewhere else. What of that? Why weep over buildings, property, furniture, and memories? Has not God’s grace, mercy, and peace been given faithfully here? Has not God done exactly what He promised—giving forgiveness of sins week in and week out?
This is what Jesus was getting at in the Holy Gospel. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Luther said, “We are beggars, this is true.” We don’t look to the presence of a booming congregation any more than we look to our own possessions as signs of God’s love. We are blessed people of God when we come before Him as beggars, hands open in prayer to receive whatever gifts He may have for us. No matter what we have or have not the kingdom ours remains. No matter whether Grace remains small and struggling or grows and thrives, the one holy Christian church is preserved forever.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Yes, we grieve but not like those who have no hope. We believe that “that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus” (1 Thess 4:14). We are and will be comforted in the resurrection of the dead.
No matter what this life brings we know already that we are blessed. We are made holy and righteous by Christ’s blood and have the hope of heaven. There, we will be satisfied. There, we will see God. There, we will have our great reward. For now our joys are mixed with sadness but then the Lamb … will be [your] shepherd, and he will guide [you] to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from [your] eyes. Not just then but even now as we receive the Lamb’s high feast.
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.