All Saints’ Day (Observed)
November 3, 2013
23rd Sunday after Trinity
IN NOMINE JESU
Some of us will likely spend some time today, apart from our time here in Divine Service, thinking about those who were near and dear to us and have died, now resting in the arms of Jesus. For the past few days I have been thinking about a friend of mine, a brother in the pastoral office. Pastor Hartley—Dean, as I knew him—and I graduated from the seminaries in 2001, he from St. Louis and I from Ft. Wayne. We both received calls to dual parishes in North Dakota. A man with a quick wit and a sense of humor, he was also a nice guy and very pastoral. Recently he experienced some issues with his heart. A couple of weeks ago he went to a hospital in the Twin Cities to undergo heart surgery. By the grace of God he was able to return to North Dakota, where he still served, and just last Sunday confirmed two young ladies to whom he had taught the Christian faith into which they had become baptized. Days after heart surgery, he returns to his congregation to carry out his pastoral duties of preaching, confirming, and giving the body and blood of the Lord, including to those two girls for the first time. Two days later, this past Tuesday, the Lord of life called Pastor Dean Hartley to his eternal rest, and his funeral was yesterday. Over the past few days I thought about Dean, his friendship, and our respective ministries. But as November 1, the actual date for All Saints’ Day, came, I thought about the text for today’s meditation. What came to mind is that Dean is now at the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which has no end, now before the throne of God, singing the song of the saints in heaven, the same song he sang here on earth. We sang that song a few moments ago: “Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen” (v.12). We sing this song as we eagerly anticipate our Lord’s invitation to come before His Table, as He desires to give us a foretaste of the Feast to come, that Feast which Dean and all the saints who have gone before us get to enjoy, that same Feast we dearly crave. But for now we have to wait.
We sing the song of the saints because, by the grace of God, we are among the saints. We sing their song because it is our song as well. In one of the great hymns based on the Te Deum we sing, “Through the Church the song goes on” (LSB 940:3). We are living proof of this because we are among the singing saints. How can this be? How can we be considered saints when we are still sinners? Don’t saints have to do something great to be considered saints? That kind of thinking shows that we have bought into the false theology of other denominations, especially that of Roman Catholicism, in which the pope, after a long process, declares a person a saint based on that person’s faith, good works, and miracles that person supposedly performed. Faith and works…it is this combination they believe makes a person a saint. If that was true (and it isn’t), then they would come out of the great tribulation on their own, and they would wash their own robes. All too often we think good works are necessary for salvation. Good works are necessary, but not for salvation. We do good works not to score points with God, but we do them as a result of the faith that is within us—faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord—faith worked in us by the Holy Spirit. It is this faith that God looks at and declares us righteous—saints—in His sight, apart from good works. This is what was at the heart of the Reformation, which we celebrated last Sunday. But if we are asked whether we would go to heaven if we died tonight, we might well say we hope to. And even if we don’t say that, we certainly stop to think about it for a moment. We stop and listen to the devil’s lies. And if we say we don’t, we are liars because our sinful pride, the Old Adam, is speaking up, speaking the lies the devil whispers in our ears.
Yes, our sinful pride lies for us. It lies to us. It lies to God. Yes, we are sinners, too. We confessed this morning the truth that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We confessed that we have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We confessed that we are sinners, and how do we know that we are sinners? God Himself has said so; He has spoken to us in His Law and pointed His finger directly at us and told us that we deserve to die for our sins. He has called us all sinners, and He calls us to repentance. Yes, we confessed our sins earlier, but this call to repentance is a perpetual call because we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment—that is, eternal condemnation be to us forever and ever.
That’s what we deserve, but that’s not what we get, thanks be to God! In fact, thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever! He has given us the gift of salvation, and “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (v. 10), Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, has mercy upon us, and grants us His peace. He died for the sins of the world, for the life of the world, and for you and me, for us sinner-saints. He took all our sins, and the sins of the whole world, to the cross, where He bled and died for them, where He bled and died so that we and all who confess Him would live with Him forever and ever. It is in Jesus’ blood that our robes—our wedding garments—are washed, so that Jesus “might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:27), that she would be the communion of saints, because the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. His blood washes our robes, our wedding garments, so that we would be worthy and presentable to partake of the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which has no end. You see, we don’t make ourselves worthy, presentable, or declare ourselves saints. God does that for us by His Gospel. He raised His Son Jesus from the dead. Yes, Jesus lives! He lives and reigns forever and ever.
Jesus lives to dwell among us, dwelling among us in His Word and Sacraments, shepherding us with these very means of His grace. He lives to lead us to living fountains of waters, even as the Holy Spirit led us to our Baptism, washing our sins away with water and the Word. He lives to feed us at His heavenly banquet, that we no longer hunger and thirst for righteousness, for we shall be filled. He lives to feed us here today on His body and blood, that we would be forgiven, redeemed with His precious blood, that He would make us and all the faithful to be numbered with His saints in glory everlasting. As we prepare to receive our Lord as He comes to us here in His house, at His altar, in His body and blood, we unite our voices with the angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven, including Dean and all who have departed in the faith before us, as we laud and magnify God’s glorious Name, evermore praising Him and singing, “Holy, holy, holy Lord God of pow’r and might: Heaven and earth are full of Your glory. Hosanna. Hosanna. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest” (LSB 161), for this, on earth, “is the feast of victory for our God. Alleluia.” Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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