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All Saints, observed
November 6, 2016 A+D
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Lord gave St. John a vision. He saw all of the elect, both Jews and Gentiles, worshiping the Lamb. The Lamb sat upon the throne. They stood or fell upon their faces. That is the posture of praise and worship and also of catechesis. It is the opposite of what we do. Our preachers and teachers stand while we sit. Their teachers sat.
In the midst of this, John was pulled aside for a bit of direct catechesis. In heaven there is still more to learn of God’s mercy. God’s Word will still speak. It endures forever.
John is asked: “Who are these and where have they come from?” It does not seem that John did not know, but rather that he was too awed to say it out loud. So the elder told him: “These are they that have come out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
Some feasts are necessary. We can quibble about adiaphora, about what bits are required and where reverence is demanded and the like, but we cannot quibble about whether or not Christ’s birth in Bethlehem must be celebrated. It must. It is not optional. You cannot be a Christian and ignore Christmas. You might observe it in July or by eating snow cones or carving gourds, but you can’t ignore it. You can’t ignore it because Christ did not simply appear on earth one day out of nowhere. He took up Flesh, in a specific way and place. He was born under the Law of a virgin in David’s city. Those details aren’t trivial. In them is our hope, our faith, and our salvation. In the same way, you can’t be a Christian and ignore Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter, or Pentecost. These are all essential events in the history of God’s mercy to us, of who our God is for us, and of how He has rescued and redeemed us.
So it is that All Saints is also necessary. The elder isn’t training John for Bible trivia. He is teaching him to confess. How All Saints is done and where and when is adiaphora, but the reality behind it isn’t. It is necessary to acknowledge and confess that those who have gone before us in the faith are not dead and that we, ourselves, will not die either. These saints seemed to die but they have come out of great tribulation. They passed through death and into life.
What John saw fulfilled is happening now. It is not merely a future event. It is described in Hebrews 12.
22 You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
We do not come to the stuff of the Old Testament, to a blazing fire and bloody bits of bulls and goats. We come instead to the Living Blood of Jesus that is sprinkled through wine. We come to Him who is the Mediator of the new Covenant in His Blood for the forgiveness of sins. When we come to Him, we discover that He is not alone. For we come also to the innumerable company of angels and to the assembly of the first born and to the spirits of just men made perfect. Their bodies sleep in the grave, but their spirits are alive. They are not dead. Their spirits are now made perfect. They have been declared righteous as we are, but they have also been purified and sealed in bliss, as we will be, for they have come out of the great tribulation.
Here is the point: no one who believes in Jesus dies. The elder wants John to look and see the people who died, and to see the people who hadn’t yet been born, and to recognize in them the glorious fate of all the elect. Whoever believes in Jesus lives.
This is what we confess when we laud and magnify the glorious Name of Jesus with angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven. We mean that no one who believes in Jesus dies. We mean that there is more here today than meets the eye. There is more than bread and wine. There is more than our dying bodies and weak wills. And there are more with us than we can see or count. Those who are with us are greater than the legions of demons that oppose us. The battle is already won. Jesus lives. The saints, the great cloud of witnesses, the whole company of heaven, heroes of old, martyrs and patriarchs, apostles and reformers, and also the unknown and seemingly insignificant, even our own loved ones who have preceded us in the sign of faith, they are all here with us. They are united to us in Christ for they are redeemed in the same Blood, they confess and praise the same God, and they surround us with their love and their prayers.
It is necessary that we confess this: no one who believes in Jesus ever dies. They have come out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Soon we shall see with our eyes not only our Kinsman-Redeemer who lives but also all the saints.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.