Sermon for All Saints Sunday - Matthew 5, Revelation 7, 1 John 3
It is in Jesus that all hope, all life, all love and mercy, all blessedness and goodness, all peoples and things are found. Those we have lost are not lost. Those whom we commemorate today are not hidden somewhere in a cupboard we can’t find, or fallen out of our pockets as we walked along the seashore. It is a strange word lost, and yet that is how we describe death. “We lost her to cancer ten years ago.” “We lost him to a heart attack in 1958.” As though, because they were here, and now they are not, they are lost. We miss them. We don’t seem to have them here, but they are not lost, we just have forgotten where to look.
I remember my first funeral like it was yesterday. I am not talking about as a pastor. I am talking about being 11 years old and my grandmother succumbing to an illness she battled for many decades. Being 11 and her being almost like my mom, it was horrible. I had never known grief until that point. I had never thought what it would be like to walk home from school to her house and not have her open the door for me. Have a snack ready. Help me with my homework. Me help her with chores. I had never known what that was like, and then I did. It was bad. It still is. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss her. Wondering what she would think of me, who I’ve become. My wife she never met. My children. But I was young when she died, and death was never something talked about very much.
When I was serving as a Chaplain Intern in a hospital in Shakopee, we were told that we would experience death in that place. Even in hospitals, where we expect folks to get better, they don’t. We were instructed to never use the words “pass away” or “gone” or “lost”. We were told to come right out and say “She died.” My supervisor said it was important to be matter of fact when it came to the processing of grief. Don’t sugar-coat things, the palliative nurse would say. Just say it like it was some cold hard fact.
Our saints being lost is not a fact. We did not lose them, they gained that which we wait for. Death is true. A physical life in this time and place can come to an end, sure, but it is hard to kill or die if you are already dead and made alive in Jesus. For as those in Christ, as Colossians 2 says - buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. This day then becoming one in which a jealousy abounds for all the names, all the saints, all the candles we will light are those for whom death has no victory, no sting, no power, for they have fulfilled their baptism and live in Christ in that new Jerusalem to come. Living in the blessedness of God.
Because we are people of time though, we always look at things for what it is we can get here and now. We read these beatitudes, these blessings of God, and we think of them as things to grasp right now. Things to be right now. Categories we hold onto in the present moment. We want them now. Right now. So that what scares us will go away. The future we see happening will be held off by something.
The “Blessed are” statements are not for us right now, save that God calls to us now in our poverty, in our persecution, our mourning, and gives to us these blessings of hope. These realities that are tied to a future that will be. That is why hope is hope. Looking towards something coming. Think of it as a realized possibility. Something distant that we think might be true is told to us, here, right now, in your ears, as a reality. The kingdom is yours and shall be, comfort is yours and shall be, mercy and peace are yours and shall be, because Christ says they are. Telling us that no matter your personal wanderings, or the wanderings of your dearly beloved saints, these things he speaks of as blessings come to you as something we can see in that moment when all the saints will gather in light before the throne of grace, dressed in white, to bow the knee and praise the name of the Lamb who was slain for you.
A lamb who receives all the glory and honor and power and blessing and thanksgiving and praise because this lamb was one whose entire destiny was meant to be yours. Who, from the very beginning of time, was set aside to die your death that you might live in him. To die the death of your loved ones in order that they might live in him. A lamb which is painted in Revelation as one who was slain but now lives and gives that life to you. Life, even in our tears and our mourning, comes to us because God’s will and work is to be one of resurrection, not of destruction. One of remembrance, not forgetfulness. One of eternal rest not current trials and tribulations.
The problems of time though become our stumbling block. The fact that we have an All Saints Day to commemorate those who have died is a sign of this. A sign that we can only think here and now and not think that somehow, at this very moment, joined in the prayers and praises of all the saints we are with our beloved around that throne. The past might be behind us, the future we see as what if, but in Christ we are his body gathered in worship and prayer. That right now your mother or father, child or neighbor has seen the face of God and smiled, the tears are gone, the pain is finished, and the glorious rest of the new world of God’s kingdom is a reality for them and you.
Listen to the words of John again - See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.
And so we are. We are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know we shall be like him. These declarations of reality and yet future. Of things both now and not yet. These beautiful pieces of our teaching and heritage that so many see as poppycock, but these are words that are the only things we have sometimes. Especially when struck with grief, when struck with the truths of loss and death, and yet - when he appears we know we shall be like him. Risen.
Because of sin and death, because of the brokenness of creation, someday I will be one of these candles, essence of smoke and prayer rising to God as a remembrance by my wife, or children, or grandchildren, or congregation. Someday I will be a name read with a bell rung. Someday I will be buried in a grave with that memorial stone placed there so my children and friends might come to visit me. But someday also, because of that Lamb, because of that cross, because of that empty tomb, because of the promises spoken by God to me that my sins which bring death are forgiven me, I will burst forth from that grave, awakened from my sin-filled slumber to the kingdom song - 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.
The Lamb who was slain for you, from whom your white clothing comes, blood poured out for you, upon you, all over you, soaked into your skin, shall not only be this slain Lamb but also the guiding Shepherd. One who takes us by the hand to lead us to the place of rest. Through the darkest valley to still waters where we know that these saints who have gone before us now are at this moment and will be for eternity.
As we light our candles, say our prayers, pay our homage, let us never think that these are promises or expectations of good things now, or what ifs. Let them be for you now. Promises of hope now, that can never be taken. Seen and known in Christ. Thanks be to God. Amen