2020-11-01 All Saints' Day
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen!
This is an odd time to be alive. You might have noticed this! Not only because of the Corona Virus weirdness that has changed almost everything so incredibly but also the technology of the world we live in too. A couple of years back we were out for breakfast in Estevan and mid meal I looked around the restaurant. Every single booth and table had people at them, but not one couple was looking at each other. They were all looking down. I thought “Wow! What a spiritual bunch! They are all praying fervently before eating! Must be a Lutheran restaurant!” But no, no it wasn’t that. They were texting on smartphones. From the young couples all the way up to the table full of old geezers, everyone was texting! The world has changed!
We have become more connected than any other people in human history. Distance. Time zones. None of that matters any more. Messages that used to take days or weeks or months to send around the world are now sent and received in less than a nanosecond! The world has changed. But the odd part of all this increased connectedness is that people are lonely. Despite being able to communicate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, more so now than ever before, people are feeling increasingly isolated. And that was before the wrath of Covid19 lock down protocols! Our connected world is ironically disconnected!
Perhaps this is because it’s a virtual connectedness. As in it’s not real. It’s a faux-reality. It’s fakey-fakey. It’s like the joke of the day for a Halloween costume that said “Why don’t you dress up as the person your pretend to be on Facebook!” Tee hee! But the loneliness and disconnection people are facing in these strange times is no laughing matter. But what is the cure and remedy for these ailments?
And now we get to where we are going today: All Saints’ Day. November 1st. This was the real reason that Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses to the castle church door in Wittenberg on October 31st. All the good Catholic church going townsfolk would be coming to church on November 1st for the All Saints’ service. It may be a shocker to find out that Luther wasn’t born a Lutheran! He probably should have done a better job choosing his parents, right?!
All kidding aside, All Saints’ Day is truly a really wonderful day to commemorate in the life of the Church. It became a “catch-all” day to remember the people of God who came before us and the life and example of faith they left for those who would come after them. This is not a foreign thing to us. We all remember family members who have died in the Christian faith. We miss them dearly. But the silver bullet comes from our Lord’s words in John 11:26 “everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.” So the departed saints and believers in Christ certainly aren’t dead - they are very much alive in Christ even as they wait for the Lord to return like we do.
All Saints’ Day reminds us of this spiritual reality. Hebrews 12 spells this out for us in black and white. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (1-2). ‘Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.’ That is such an awesome Bible verse! It reminds us that we are never truly alone as God’s people. In fact, it is the ultimate cure for our loneliness and the feelings of isolation we have.
But the reality that many of us are facing, particularly our older members, is the opposite. It tends to be loneliness. It tends to be isolation. This is multiplied many times by the Corona virus restrictions that are preventing us from having potluck dinners and coffee and bible studies and fellowship events. These kinds of things are part and parcel of who we are as God’s people. And yet since March they’ve been gone, let alone other community events and get togethers. The results are depressing and leave us feeling incredibly alone.
This is why it is good that today is All Saints’ Day. Our Lord reminds us that we aren’t alone. Ever. He is always with us, every step of the way. Good times and bad times, from the highest mountain tops to the lowest valleys, we will not fear for He is Emmanuel - the name sake of our congregation - God with us.
Maybe you remember a very popular poem called “Footprints in the Sand”?
“One night I had a dream… I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord, and across the sky flashed scenes from my life. For each scene I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand; One belonged to me, and the other to the Lord. When the last scene of my life flashed before us, I looked back at the footprints in the sand. I noticed that many times along the path of my life, there was only one set of footprints. I also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in my life. This really bothered me, and I questioned the Lord about it. … “But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life, there is only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why in times when I needed you the most, You should leave me. The Lord replied,”My precious, precious child. I love you, and I would never, ever leave you during your times of trial and suffering. When you saw only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”
Awwww! Let the warm fuzzies rain! You may like this poem. You may love this poem! And as nice as it may be … it’s also got it completely wrong! There’s never just one set of footprints in the sand. There’s never just two sets of footprints in the sand. There are billions and billions and billions of footprints in the sand! Why? Because we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses! We are God’s people and saved only in community. It’s never just “me and Jesus” only. It’s always us, together, the church. The Lord is never apart from us - and nor are His Saints, nor are His angels, nor are we from each other. Whether we be alive now or resting from our labours, we are all very much alive and well with Christ Jesus our victorious Lord and Savior.
Our Revelation reading paints the same picture for us: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen”" (7:9-12).
As we gather together as God’s people, in God’s house on God’s day, we experience the very fullness of who we are. As we gather around our Lord’s Table, He invites us to receive the forgiveness of our sins in the bread and wine in the fullness of His Divine life and real presence. For where our Lord is truly present, so are His people. So is that great cloud of witnesses. Together, we share His blessings of life and salvation. No matter how isolated and lonely we may feel, we are never alone. All Saints’ reminds us of the true connectedness and community that our lonely and isolated world longs for - it exists here and it stretches beyond the grave. For Christ our Lord has destroyed the power of death itself. We share this amazing blessing always - always together - saints on earth, saints in Heaven with the Lord, angels and archangels and all the company of Heaven - all one and the same in this great cloud of witnesses around the throne of the living God. It’s impossible to be lonely in this Saintly reality that is ours in Christ our Lord. Thanks and praise be to our victorious Savior Who is always with us, now and forevermore. Amen!