Grace and peace in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
The question for today is, who are the saints? The simple answer is found in the third article of the creed in which we confess first that we believe in the Holy Spirit, then in the holy Christian church, the communion of the saints. The church and the communion of the saints are the same.
Today we celebrate the All Saints Day. In the beginning this day was dedicated to honor the martyrs. Many Christians died for their faith in the first three hundred years of the church, under the persecution of the Roman Empire. In our gospel for today, the Lord says, "Blessed are those who suffer persecution for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile you and persecute you, and falselysay all kinds of evil against you. Rejoice and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. " To die for the faith is the most convincing testimony.
We have documents as evidence that the church began dedicating one day to the martyrs as early as the second century and by the fourth century, the date of All Saints Day was the first Sunday after Pentecost. This is the date still in the Orthodox churches of Eastern Europe and Asia. These churches never accepted the Pope as the head of the whole church, only as the bishop of Rome. When the church of Rome says that it is the only church that existed since antiquity, that is not precisely the truth.
However, in Western Europe, six hundred years after Christ, Pope Boniface IV changed the date of the All Saints Day to May 13, the date on which he consecrated a temple in Rome to the Virgin Mary and all the martyrs. But, 100 years after Pope Boniface IV, Pope Gregory III consecrated the first basilica of St. Peter in Rome and changed the date to the first of November.
In many parts of the world, the celebration of all the saints by the church has been mixed with the customs of many cultures to honor the dead and recognize the change of seasons. For example, in Mexico, the first of November is the Day of the Dead and in Mexico and other Latin American countries the customs of the pre-Columbian indigenous people survive.
In the nineteenth century, there was a failure of the potato harvest in Ireland. Because of the famine, there was a diaspora of the Irish to all parts of the world, like the Venezuelan diaspora nowadays. In the United States, many of the customs of the Irish and other immigrants were incorporated into the celebration of the eve of All Saints Day called Halloween.
But, the origin of All Saints Day is not paganism or Satanism. The difference between the Christian celebration and the customs of various cultures is hope. We do not just remember the dead and cry for them. Human nature is to cry when a friend or relative dies. We do not know when we see them again. If we do not believe in a life after physical death, this is the final farewell. If we believe that there is something beyond earthly life, but we do not trust Christ, we do not have the assurance that we will see our loved one again.
We Christians have the promise of eternal life. We are washed in the blood of Christ that covers our sins. We are saved only by grace and by faith. Therefore, to celebrate All Saints Day for us is not only to remember those who died in faith, but to anticipate our reward in heaven. Those who died in faith rest from the trials and struggles of this world. Everything changes in this world, nothing lasts forever. Only the Word of God will last forever, only the kingdom of God will last forever. By the Word the saints in the heavens have their victory, the victory that will be our victory also. One day we will be seated in glory and eternal joy with them.
In our Lutheran church, we keep the date of all the saints on the first of November because on the eve of this date in 1517, Martin Luther began the Reformation of the church with the 95 Theses against indulgence, penance and purgatory . Not by chance did Luther post the theses on the door of the Church of All Saints in Wittenberg, Germany, on the eve of All Saints' Day. In the theses, Luther declared that all Christians, living or dead, receive the same blessing of the gospel. The new life in Christ begins with baptism and continues after physical death.
All of us are saints. We are united with the saints in the heavens. But, we saints on earth are still sinners. We fight against our sinful nature. And when we will be resurrected to live forever, we will be cleansed of all sin by the work of the Holy Spirit and only saints in the eyes of God.
To honor Those who have passed into glory is not to invoke or pray to them, but to remember their testimony. Not only the prophets or apostles, but also family members or others who have been examples of faith for us. They rest in the peace of the Lord, the same peace within us. This peace surpasses all understanding. Amen.
Send Pastor David Ernst an email.