The angel said to me, "Come, I will show the bride, the wife of the Lamb" (Revelation 21:9)
On this day we commemorate the Saints of God. We thank God for the lives of those who have died and now live at the throne of God in heaven. We learn that our worship is connected to that scene in heaven, and, therefore, we need to be cleansed of all sin as we enter into the presence of God.
When someone we love dies, it is a tremendous shock. We witness the funeral, the burial, the good wishes from friends. Then we are numb. How can we go on living without that person? They may have been to us a spouse, father, mother, child or sibling. An adjustment has to take place in our lives, in our habits, emotions, right down to the very thoughts of the day. Some people are able to make this adjustment more quickly than others. For most of us this adjustment comes slow and hard. Agonizing loss and doubt fill many days. We can never make this adjustment by ourselves. We must come to a sense of presence of our loved ones. We can do this is we realize the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. As we find the presence of our the resurrected and living Jesus Christ, we will find our loved ones there with Him. The Saints are part of the Church, and the church is gathered around Jesus, either in heaven or here on earth.
St. John was fortunate enough to have eyewitnessed the worship of heaven, and we are fortunate to read what he saw. He saw heaven as the Holy City of Jerusalem, where all the dead in Christ will live. You can read and see for yourself the details of this heavenly city. We especially note that there is no church or temple in this city. That is because Jesus, the Lamb of God, and the Lord almighty live there. There they serve God continually in worship and praise.
Here the angels praise God, as John and Isaiah both heard the angels around the throne of God sing, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty." The saints of heaven bow down to him and worship.
This should be our great comfort when we morn the dead. Those who die believing in Christ are not dead. They live forever in this happy scene. They live with Him, and we find the reality of their continued life through Him. We worship God with them. They worship the Risen Christ face to face, while we worship the same Risen Christ under the veil of bread and wine at the altar. This is not merely some empty ritual of old, merely a remembrance of someone who was once present with us but is now gone. When we come to the altar, we are linked with heaven, with the Communion of Saints, with our loved ones. They worship there, we worship here, but we are together with them in worship of the Lord Jesus Christ. The altar is the meeting place between heaven and earth.
Listen! Can you hear them? Your dead parents. Your dead brother or sister. Your dead child. They are not dead. They live! They sing the great song of heaven, "Holy, holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might. Heaven and earth is full of your Glory." Today for this hour, we are with them and they are with us.
How sad it is to go to the cemetery and see those who leave flowers and tears at the grave and have nothing else. All they know is separation and loneliness. How much more they could have! If we could only take them by the hand and lead away from the grave, out of the cemetery, through the church door, down the aisle, and here to the altar itself. Here we could put them in touch with that person they loved so much. Here they would find not a dead body, but a living soul who is with Christ at the altar.
When we see death in the light of the Communion of Saints and the Holy Communion, there is no helpless bereavement. Our loved one is merely away on a long journey. We are in touch. There is a place where we can meet. It is at the altar. How thrilled we should be when we hear the words of the liturgy, "Therefore with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven," for we know that is where they are, with the company of Heaven, with the Lord Jesus Christ.
What about us? Will we be there one day? We must be on guard. The Lord warns us that "the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murders, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolators and all liars--their place is in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death." (Rev. 21:8)
Jesus says, "Behold, I am coming soon. My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done"(Rev. 22:12). If we have only done evil, then evil is what we shall receive. But if we have believed, and this is by Godís doing, we shall receive the good.
We should be on guard in this life that these things do not seduce and overcome us. Each day we should repent of all sins, turning to the Lord of the Church and asking for his forgiveness, inviting His guidance over our lives to keep us from all evil things. Let us know where our true family is. It is here at the altar of our God.
God calls us to wash our clothes if we are to sing with the angels. "Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city." (Rev. 22:14). There wonít be any sneaking into heaven, no second chances to get in by the back door. The twelve gates to Jerusalem have twelve angels guarding them, one at every door. Just as Adam and Eve could not go back to the garden of Eden because of the angel, so no one will enter heaven who has not repented of all sins and been washed in the blood of the Lamb.
This makes the altar of this church all the more sacred to us. It is here we are washed by Jesusí blood. Here he comes to visit us in the bread and the wine. When our sense of loss becomes to great, we can go to the meeting place at the altar to receive the body and blood of the Lord who preserves my soul and body, just as it preserves our loved ones unto everlasting life. The blessed sacrament connects us not only to Bethlehem and Mt. Calvary, but also to the whole world behind the grave itself.
How wonderful is the Church of God, where death is overcome, along with grief and pain. How we should cherish this house of God above all other things. No other place on earth has such power as this place, for here the Lord of heaven and earth comes down to meet us. That should make us want to take special care of this sanctury. In the Old Testament God demanded that a tenth of a person had be given to the Lord for the care of the temple and the priests. Today God makes no such demand on us. Rather, because what God does here at this altar means so much to us, we are able to respond in even greater ways, bringing the sacrifice of our lives, adorning the altar with holy lives, the labor of our hands, and our gifts of treasure. We do this because of what we see beyond this place, the throne of glory where by grace we will one day take our place.
Today we celebrate All the Saints. We thank God for the lives of those we love who are in that better place, and we are comforted in the connection we have in worship of the Lamb of heaven. Peace be with you. Amen.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:7)
[with quotations from Berthold Von Schenk, (1895-1974) "The Presence" as quoted in "For All The Saints, A Prayer Book For and By the Church, vol IV, 1996 American Lutheran Publicity Bureau.]
Copyright © 1998-2011 James F. Wright. All rights reserved.
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