Sermon for All Saints' Sunday, November 4, 2018 - Revelation 21:1-6a
In the history of the church, there has been a standard practice, especially in the old world, of having the church building surrounded by the churchyard. Coming to church one would be confronted with the guarantee that one day they would themselves be in that place. Buried in that ground. Visited by fellow worshipers awaiting new life. Theologically and pastorally it works because you come to church and you have to walk past the saints to gather as the saints. Being forced to realize the truth of what unites us as mortals, and then gather in worship before the One who unites us as his children. As a family. As brothers and sisters in Christ who have been redeemed, ransomed from sin, death and the devil.
Look at your saints. The ones on this table and the ones at home. The faces. The names. We have before you here, Republicans and Democrats. Men and women. Young and old. Those who have been gone for a while, and those who have been gone only briefly. What unites them all in their differences? They all died. Voting a certain way did not keep them from death. Particular religious belief did not save them from their mortality. Being a certain gender, or age, or skin tone was not able to solve the most pressing issue for all of us. One day your name will be read, your picture placed up here, and there is nothing we can do to stop that. There is not a political policy that will add one minute to your life beyond what it will be. There is no special diet that will do it either. We are dust. All of us. So are the politicians, the celebrities, the migrants, the doctors, the insurance providers. We are all dust.
In the past weeks there was a gentleman who sent bombs to various politicians and celebrities in thinking that the world would be better, his life would be better, if these people were gone. We have protesters becoming so violent that protest and discussion no longer exists. There is no dignity, humanity, or decency because fear has been stirred to panic. A man went into a synagogue and killed eleven Jews because he believed Jews were killing his people. Thinking that if those people died, he would live longer. Lack of being faced with our own mortality and the image of God being present in our fellow man is killing us faster than we think.
Now imagine a world where all of our interpretation of others, of policies, of our neighbors, of our enemies, all of it beginning with “Remember that you are dust.” What would that look like? How would we speak of those in leadership, those above us and those below us? The truth is that it would transform our world. It would change the hate, the rhetoric, the anger and fear. It would bankrupt many industries. It would increase thanksgiving for every moment, and turn our hearts to the Lord deciding that the Resurrection of our Lord, and that victory over sin and death, is more than a holiday in the spring where we eat ham and hunt for eggs. Resurrection becoming that living hope for us. That message to trust that “You are going to die, but…” One tasted death for you and death will lose. “You are going to die, but…” there is that mountain where God prepares a feast for all nations of fattened meats and fine wines, and the burial shroud will be destroyed. “You are going to die, but…” there is that new Jerusalem coming down from God, with that voice: Look, God’s dwelling is with humanity, and he will live with them. They will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them and will be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more.
Last year I took our confirmands on a tour of Cease Funeral Home in Park Rapids. Kent Cease did a fabulous job, but it is something I always desire to do with each class. Laying these things out before them as reality, but not to be feared because of Jesus, is important for our kids. Otherwise we shelter them. We make them think that life is about avoiding death. About amassing as much fun and stuff because life is something we live rather than something we have been given. Remembering we are dust, remembering that each one we meet will die, what might change for us in that? Having our life in this church, this community, be one where we can recapture that sense of truth of that churchyard, saints surrounding the saints, how might we come to realize that the enemy is not us. Knowing we will have a casket, a tombstone, a hole dug, a niche filled. Remembering that we are dust.
Remembering we are dust reminds us that we need one to give us life. That our lives are lived in the hands of the Creator who gave them to us and we have no right, in any way to deny others of that gift. No right in any way to thing it is our life. That we have ownership of it. Our life belonging to God in Christ. If our faith comes to us and actually tells us death is a foe that was defeated. That death is something horrible, reminding us of the curse of sin, but also the graciousness of God in Jesus who comes to you, looks you in the face and tells you, “Death is not the end. Death could not hold me and cannot hold you.” Peter preaching in Acts 2 telling us that God raised Jesus from the dead, ending the pain of death. That Paul tells us the wages of sin is death, that our attempts to try and be God have granted us the pain of death to keep us humble that we might know of this God who raises the dead. That is the joy of the Christian. That is the truth of Christ.
What do we do as pastors if all we have is life change sermons, or do something for Jesus? How do we bring comfort to the dying or dead if we don't bring the promise of what Christ has done for you?
As Lutherans, the promises of God come to you in your baptism to say you are dead, but you will live. You died, buried in Christ in baptism, but raised to new life once for all time. You will sleep but be awakened by the Lord to shouts of victory that death died, sin destroyed, the devil defeated, and you are surrounded by your saints in the glory of Christ, in the new creation that can never be removed from you because the Lord has told you it is coming. Death? Yes. New life? Even better. Thanks be to God. Amen