+ In Nomine Jesu +
Today we observe All Saints Day. The actual day, of course, was Tuesday, November 1. It's a day that has been observed in the Church since about the 5th century. Different churches understand its significance in a slightly different manner. For Lutherans the day is to remember those who have gone before us in the faith and to rejoice in the unity that exists between the Church Militant, that is, us, and the Church Triumphant, the Saints in glory.
In many ways, All Saints Day is one of the most beautiful observances of the church year because it reminds us of our connectedness to those who have gone before us in the faith. There is, after-all, only one Church, composed of those living and dead. We all gather before the throne of God to sing our endless praise for the victory He has given us in His life, death and resurrection. Indeed, we concur with St. John, who gives us the Revelation of glory this morning. "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen."
For the Church Militant, our praise ascends even though we continue to cope with the sting of death. We praise God because our Lord Jesus indentifies with and connects Himself to our grief in the face of death.
In the Gospel's we are told about the death of Lazarus, who was Jesus' friend. Jesus, in fact, was a friend to the whole family, including Lazarus' sisters, Mary and Martha. Mary and Martha, you may recall, went to Jesus one day to ask Him to come and help their brother, who was deathly ill. Due to a series of events, it was 4 days before Jesus was able to get to Lazarus. In the meantime, Lazarus had died. When Jesus' arrived, the two sisters were beside themselves. "Lord ( they said), if you had only been here our brother would not have died." Evident in what they said is a profound and deep sense of loss, as they tried to come to terms with the seeming contradiction between the love and mercy of God and the reality of death. "Lord, if you had only been here our brother would not have died." One can only wonder how many times those words have been uttered by the faithful throughout history as they've wept by the graveside of a loved one.
Jesus experienced the same grief and pain as He wept at Lazarus' tomb. Actually, the word "wept" really doesn't do the text justice. Jesus literally wailed uncontrollably at the tomb of Lazarus. In other words, He poured out His soul, His grief and His anguish. Without a doubt He knew that He would raise Lazarus from the dead. Still, in the four days hence, death had its way with His friend! A soul of God created to live had died! The whole situation was unnatural, for the Lord of Life was standing before the tomb of the dead man, grieving, sighing with a profound sense of loss!
Of course, in time, Jesus would exert His power and authority over death. "Lazarus (He said), come forth!" And, when He spoke, the grave was forced to release its prey. Death, that unnatural intrusion into God's creation, that wage of sin, had to give way to the will of God. Indeed, Jesus spoke and "death was swallowed up in victory."
We read this story about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead and it gladdens our hearts, on the one hand, because we see in Jesus one who understands our grief and pain at the loss of those we love. On the other hand, our hearts are glad because Jesus shows His power over death and grave. On the last day, Jesus will come again with the same shout, with the same command, and the grave will have to release those we love who have died in Him. From among our little flock here at St. John's we will hear names like Gus and Ray, who we lost just this year.
This morning the Apostle John gives us even more hope as we struggle to deal with our losses. Actually, more than a word of hope, John imprints on our minds a picture of the Eschaton, God's final victory in Christ, the fulfillment of all things, as well as the unity that exists between the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant.
For many people, the Book of Revelation is a bit of a mystery, with all of its images and symbols. Some have even lamented the fact that the Bible doesn't close itself with a more "comforting" picture of Christ and His Church. And yet, properly understood the Book gives us great comfort in the face of tribulation and distress. Remember, when the Book was written, the Church was facing persecution and distress of every kind. John, in particular, had suffered the loss of the all of the other disciples. Some were crucified. Some were burned. Some were stoned to death. Some were sawn in two.
God comes to John with visions and at the core of those visions is the central theme…"God wins!" "God wins!" Sin, death and the devil are defeated! The Church reigns triumphant and she enjoys an eternity with Christ, who loved her unto death, even death on a cross.
In Revelation 7, John gives us a glimpse of that eternal glory that is ours in Christ. Close your eyes and picture the one you loved in death, as they enjoy the victory that is theirs too in Christ. "They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. "Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."
Even as God dries the tears of those in the Church Triumphant, so He dries our tears as well. Grieve not, my friends, for those who know now "face to face what we can only know dimly, as in a mirror." "God wins!" "Death is swallowed up in victory!" "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" "The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
As you wait for that great day of reunion, where those separated in death are joined again before the throne of the Lamb, take comfort too in the unity of the Church Militant with the Church Triumphant.
A man lost his son in death. As you would expect, he grieved tremendously over his loss. At one point he went to his pastor to express his sorrow. The pastor, of course, had no magical remedy to take away the man's pain. He spoke of the resurrection and the life of the world yet to come. The man, of course, was comforted by that promise. Still, he said, "pastor, I'm grateful that my son is in heaven and at peace." The problem is, "I want him here with me!" Such is the pain of sin and death.
Fortunately the pastor believed firmly what is confessed in the celebration of the Lord's Supper…namely that we, "with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven laud and magnify the Lord's glorious name." He said to the man who grieved the loss of his son, when you come here to this communion rail, God unites you with your son in a way that your eyes cannot see. As surely as your neighbor kneels beside you at the rail, so your son joins you in the Sacrament of Christ's body and blood. Oh, that our eyes could see the true unity of the Church expressed so beautifully at the Lamb's High Feast.
Take comfort, my friends, in that unity that you have with your loved ones who have gone before you in Christ. For they, like the rest of the Church, join in that endless song of praise to Christ who loved them unto death, even death on a cross. "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen."
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +
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