In the Name of the Father and the of the +Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
This is the beating heart of all our hope: Our Lord Jesus Christ, who died and rose again, is coming back, and He will not abandon us to the grave. That is the only thing that makes this sad little existence endurable. The poor, the meek, the mourning, the hungry, and the thirsty shall not always be that way. Better days are coming. In Christ, they are blessed.
Those who have died in Christ are not dead. Their bodies sleep in the grave, awaiting the return of Jesus Christ and the resurrection on the last day. Their souls live even now. They attend God at His throne. There they enjoy perfect bliss and joy. Soon it shall improve also for us. For soon all of the elect will have been sealed in the life giving waters of Holy Baptism and the angel seen by St. John, who arises from East, will restrain the four who hold the winds no more. And that which was laid into the earth as mortal, as corruptible, will be raised immortal, incorruptible, in glory. Behold, I tell you a mystery! The bodies of the saints will rise and be made perfect. They will be rejoined with their souls in heaven. Indeed, all the dead will rise and bend their knees. Every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Because Our Lord Jesus Christ, who died and rose again, is coming back, and He will not abandon us to the grave.
And even now, this beating heart, is seen partially fulfilled in the saints who have gone before us. For they have been transferred from the Church Militant, the Church still fighting, slogging it out, marching on, suffering constant Satanic attacks and the chaos of this world. They have been transferred to the Church Triumphant, the Church at rest, the Church glorified They already enjoy their reward. And while we miss them and mourn the loss, they do not miss us. For their peace, their joy, their rest is perfect and they see clearly while our vision is yet dim. And yet, as far from us as they are, they are ever near. They are in the great cloud of witnesses which surround us. They join us in the Holy Communion where we join with angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven, including all those buried from Redeemer in the last One Hundred and Eight years, including all your own friends and relatives who confessed Jesus as Lord and died in that Hope. We sing, with them, their song, “Holy, Holy, Holy.”
Heaven and earth are joined as angels ascend and descend upon Jacob’s ladder: Our Lord Jesus Christ. The angels ascend and descend upon Jesus in the bread to attend us. Heaven and earth have been bridged, joined together. This Ladder, this Divine Bridge comes in His Body and Blood to serve us with His own Life. The same God who was present in the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies of the Temple, who led the people through the wilderness, who knocked down the walls in Jericho, who was transfigured before James, John, and Peter so that a glimmer of His glory showed, who raised up a mighty prophet in Wittenberg preaching the everlasting Gospel and calling the Church back to the Truth of His Word, He, the Same, is placed into your mouth and you are joined to Him, and in Him to all of them who have gone before you. That which was shed upon the cross, which washes the robes of the martyrs white as new fallen snow, also passes your lips and courses through your veins, even as it does theirs. This Blood washes your soul as sparkling clean and pure as their robes. This is a holy Communion. In it you are joined to heaven, to that Divine history, to this one and only Church. By this Communion Christ unites you to Himself and to His Body, both in heaven and on earth. By it, in it, He makes us His Body, the Church. By it, in it, we have fellowship with those who have gone before us, who fallen asleep in the faith and awoke in heaven.
And if this – the beating heart of all our hope – marked by the ringing of the bells and the reading of the names, if these texts, and these hymns, this occasion doesn’t put a crack in your voice and a tear in your eye, then I have to wonder if you are either fast asleep or made of stone. Dearly beloved, don’t be embarrassed or ashamed. You miss your loved ones. Don’t stay away because of sadness, depression, and loneliness. Instead come to the one place where there is healing and help, to the God of comfort and peace. Evil, death, and chaos are all around us. Children carry guns into their schools. Fathers take the lives of their children. Famine and suffering are abundant. There is much for us to weep about. But soon there won’t be. The Lord, who wept at Lazarus’ tomb, knows your pain. Soon He will wipe away all tears and we will know only joy in Him. Soon, you shall see your loved ones who died in Christ, again. Soon you will know the joy that the martyrs already know. They are free from the pain and suffering we endure. They never again have to hear horror stories on the evening news. They no longer live sad, lonely lives in dysfunctional families craving for a father’s love. They will never lose a child or have their hearts broken. They no longer cry. They are free. And you, too, shall be free. For He also died for you.
Therefore, in St. John’s vision of heaven, see not only Moses, Noah, Rahab, Peter, and David. See not only Luther, Walther, and King Kurth, but see there in the throng also your own departed loved ones. And see, O Christian, a gap left there for you. For into this Communion you were sealed. You were baptized! That is your proper place, your true home. This promise is for you and your children and for all who afar off. This is your hope, your confidence, and your destiny. This great army of saints, noblemen and peasants, scoundrels and heroes, victims of violence and the like, this is your company. You march with them. The peace they enjoy is the peace that passes all understanding. It is peace with God. It is yours also, and that by proclamation of the Prince of Peace. After all, this is the beating heart of all our hope: Our Lord Jesus Christ who died and rose again, is coming back, and He will not abandon us to the grave.
God be praised! Hallelujah!
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen
Rev’d David H. Petersen, Pastor
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Ft. Wayne, Indiana