+ Feast of All Saints (observed) – November 6, 2011 +
Revelation 7:9-17; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12
In the Name of Jesus + Amen.
What Jesus describes on the Mountain in Matthew 5, St. John sees in his vision of Revelation 7. But before John sees, he hears. That’s how God’s promises work, you hear them and then you see them. What does John hear? A heavenly roll call. Tribe after tribe, 12,000. The perfect number: 12 x 12 x 1000. Israel had 12 tribes. But this is Israel as it never was or will be on earth. God’s Israel, His chosen people, holy nation, royal priesthood. His baptized believers who bear the mark of Christ Crucified upon their foreheads.
And what does John see? An countless multitude. Every nation, tribe, language and people. Heaven is busting at the seams. It’s a perpetual Palm Sunday: palms waving. The Lamb’s victory. A cosmic homecoming celebration. And John hears more. This white-robed choir is singing: “Salvation belongs to our God and the Lamb who sits on the throne!”
Salvation belongs to the Lamb, yet He gives it away to men. “Who are these clothed in white robes and from where have they come? You know some by name – Marilyn, Merlin, Rita, Carson and Barbara – just to name a few of this countless number. And yet God knows each and every one of his saints by name.
These are the ones who were poor in spirit yet made rich by the grace of Christ. Theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Mourning. Hunger. Thirst. Pain. Suffering. It’s all over.
So their song continues: “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to the Lamb forever.” A 7-fold blessing; it’s all His. And he gives it away to men. These are the ones who are coming out of the great tribulation. Sinners are now saints. Covered with Christ’s righteous robe of white soaked in his holy, precious blood. As Christ has given to the faithful departed, so he gives to us. We who are alive have already died with Christ and those who are dead in Christ are alive in Him as well. Dead to sin and alive in Christ. Blessed are the dead who die in Christ. And blessed are you who mourn, for you shall be comforted.
For what John saw in Revelation comes to you here on bended knee. Here before the Lamb and his altar. When you receive his body and blood, heaven invades earth. For heaven is wherever Jesus is. And Jesus is right where he promises to be. Among his saints in heaven and on earth giving his heavenly gifts. Forgiving sins and giving us life in his Name. We rejoice with Saints and angels and all the company of heaven resounds: “holy, holy holy.”
That’s what All Saints Day is about. The white paraments. The hymns, readings, prayers and liturgy all remind us that in Christ, we are blessed. Covered in Jesus’ blood. We are all his saints.
But what do you see when you look around? Perhaps you’re tempted to look at your neighbor? “He’s no saint. Did you hear what she did? Thank God I’m not like that sinner over there.” Repent. Remove the log. Ignore the specks. Saints don’t compare or measure their holiness by others. Holiness is measured by God’s standards, not yours. We who are so quick to judge who is a saint and a sinner need only look in the mirror. And the reflection is hideous: doubt, worry, cursing God’s name, despising his Word, hatred, lust. Sin. Death. Just run down the 10 commandments – there’s plenty there to condemn us all before lunch.
That’s the trouble with looking at yourself to see if you’re a saint. All you see is sin and death. All you hear is the devil’s accusations, “You’re no saint.”
Who then are these saints robed in white? What’s the secret of their purity? Simply this: Their robes are washed in the Lamb’s blood. Only His blood will do. Their blood cannot cleanse from sin. Nor can the sweat of their labors or the tears of their contrition. There is no such thing as sinless saints, only forgiven ones.
For All Saints Day isn’t about you at all, but Christ for you. Christ for sinners on the cross. That’s what makes you a saint. The name saint can’t be achieved. It is received. Given. Placed upon you. You are marked. You are Baptized. You are holy, washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb. Rejoice and be glad, for he who is holy gives you his perfect holiness freely.
Blessed are those who are given to. You are the poor in spirit the beatitudes talk about. Our hope of being numbered with the saints comes only in God’s rescue. For God gives only into empty hands, not into hands full of what we would boast before God. God’s not interested in your filthy rags. He has a better garment to clothe you with, one soaked in Jesus’ perfect blood. Sometimes, with drastic mercy, our Father empties our hands so there may be room for His gifts. That’s the way it is with God’s saints, their holiness is in Christ, not themselves. You are blessed because you have nothing to give God; and everything to receive from Him.
Now, in Christ when the Father looks at you He does not see your worry or doubt, your hatred or anger, lust or fear. He does not see your sin or death. All He sees is his Son, Jesus. His perfect life lived for you. His perfect life laid down for you in death on the cross. God looks at you and sees the blood of the Lamb washed over you in Baptism. God looks at you and sees the blood of the Lamb poured on your lips in the Supper. God looks at you sees the blood of the Lamb marking the doorposts of your ears: you are forgiven. Death passes over you and onto Jesus. And the father loves what he sees. In Christ all things are reconciled to the Father. In those holy wounds Christ has made all things new. Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that in the death of His Son we are called children of God.
That little word, “all” is very important today. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace. Christ was lifted up on the cross to draw all men to himself. And the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. All saints in heaven and on earth join in unending praise to this Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. All Saints are holy in Christ.
For the saints in heaven they see with their eyes what they always had on this earth by faith in Jesus. Done is the daily dying to sin. Their eternal Sabbath rest is won. No more struggling with sin. No more temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil. The former things have passed away.
And what John describes in Revelation 7 isn’t just about “them”, the saints of God. You are there. St. John looked and saw all saints, including you, in white robes, with a palm branches waving, singing: "Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might are His." One song. One church. One Lord and Savior of all.
The only difference between them and you is that they have passed through death and you must still abide in it. Your day will come. Your sins will end. Your sorrow will flee. But even now, like them, you are blessed in the Lamb. Held by Jesus’ pierced hands. The saints are not in some distant land far far away. They are in Jesus and you are in Jesus.
O blest communion, fellowship divine. We feebly struggle they in glory shine. Yet all are one within thy grand design.
That’s your future in Jesus – we, along with the dead in Christ, await the resurrection on the Last Day. But Jesus gives us his future today. You don’t have to wait till you die to go to heaven. Heaven comes to you in the Sacrament of the Altar. Wherever Jesus is, there’s heaven. And wherever heaven is, there are your loved ones, all God’s saints – past, present, future - gathered around the Lamb and his gifts.
Today you get a glimpse into heaven as Jesus comes to us with His body. Jesus is here and he brings all of heaven with Him. Angels, archangels and all the company of heaven. Heaven and earth cry out: holy, holy, holy.
What else is there to do but say Amen and sing? Christ’s work is done. All is prepared. Come and feast with the Lamb. Rejoice and be glad. Yours is the Kingdom of Heaven. Yours is the blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might. For yours is Jesus. You are washed, forgiven, counted in the number. You are all saints in Christ forever. A blessed All Saints Day to you all.
In the Name of Jesus + Amen.