2023-11-05 All Saints Sunday
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen!
All of you keen eyed observers out there will notice that the colours of our sanctuary have changed from last Sunday. Reformation Red was everywhere last time we gathered in God’s house. And today, we have switched to a gleaming white to commemorate All Saints’ Day. This was actually a very key day for Martin Luther at the time of the Reformation. Everybody would be coming to church on Nov 1st, which is why he nailed the 95 theses to the castle church door on All Hallow’s Eve October 31st. But why was everyone coming to church that day? Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t because Auntie Grimhelda was having her famous taco salad being featured at the potluck dinner that day! Rather, it was all about All Saints’ Day. This was a “catch-all” day in the church year to remember all those who died for the Christian faith. We call these people martyrs. As time went on, the day changed to commemorate all Christians who had died, not just martyrs. Many Lutheran Churches have begun to take up the practice of reading the names of congregation members who had passed on in the congregation that year and would toll bells or light candles. It became a way of remembering not only the people who died in the faith, but also the spiritual connection we still have with them as the church. As Jesus said to Martha “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (JN 11:25-26). This is the absolute heart of Christianity. The promise of life by faith in Jesus Christ our Lord in the face of death.
In November of 1940, the English city of Coventry was bombed by the Nazi Luftwaffe. As you can imagine, the town was destroyed. The centuries-old Cathedral took two direct hits and was reduced to rubble like so many other churches were. After the war was ended, the congregation made an interesting decision. They left Cathedral ruins in place. The rubble and mess was of course cleaned up, but the standing stones remained standing. They left the broken walls in place and then built a new church building right beside it. The new building had a very interesting feature. They installed an enormous glass wall. And etched into the glass are large figures, four feet wide and ten feet tall. They are images of saints and angels rejoicing in heaven. Why a wall of clear glass? Because outside that wall of glass stands the ruins of the destroyed Cathedral. As you gaze through the glass, you see the bombed out ruins, a very vivid picture of the sinful and broken world that we live in. But to see the ruins, you have to look through the glass that etched with saints and angels. You cannot see the rubble of earth without first seeing the light and promise of heaven.
This is exactly what All Saints’ Day is all about. The heavenly reality that is all around us by God’s grace and this very real connection between the church in heaven and the church on earth cannot be emphasized enough. As such, a whole day in the church calendar is devoted to exactly this idea. It’s important because it points us to the power of the Resurrection from the dead. This is what makes Christianity different from every other belief system in the world today. Followers of Islam believe in a dead prophet. Buddhists hope to one day merge with nirvana in an enlightened state. To a Jew, dead is dead. But to the Christian there is only the promise of life and eternal life at that. Because Christ is risen from the dead, we follow a living Lord. And His promise to His followers is that by faith in Him, we too will live forever, even though we die.
But often all we see in life is the rubble. Those constant reminders that life here is marred by sin and death. Aching knees, arthritic fingers, another cold and miserable Saskatchewan winter complete with icy roads and sidewalks. Unrest and upheaval in the world. Wars and conflicts. Death and destruction. Over and over again, like a dog returning to its vomit, so the human race repeats its folly. Year after year, generation after generation. And it is so easy to get sucked into this downward spiral of wet blankets and gloomy depression. We feel the effects of sin and death all around us. And we feel it inside of us too. We sin in thought, word and deed. Our sins bother us and trouble us, making us doubt and question that God can forgive me. We are constantly bombarded by the rubble of life.
And this is why our world needs the cross. This is why we need the cross. From the rubble of life God brings great blessings. When Jesus our Lord was crucified, suffering and bleeding for the sins of the world, it looked like nothing but rubble and destruction. Defeat. Hopes and dreams of the Messiah shattered. And yet, in the blood of the Lamb, there is forgiveness, life and salvation. There is heavenly victory because the Messiah is risen, promising the same to all who believe the promise. This is what shows us the light of heaven right in the midst of the darkness of earth. This promise allows us to look through the glass and see the heavenly reality. It’s exactly what Hebrews 12 tells us: “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, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (1-2).
The joy that was set before Him. The joy of life everlasting. This is why Jesus endured the cross for us and our salvation. That we poor, miserable sinners in the midst of the rubble of life, may have the joys and blessings of heaven. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” our Lord tells us in the Gospel. And this blessing is to always see the reality of our Lord’s heavenly kingdom even now, in our midst. That in Christ, we are joined together with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, the saints and martyrs, “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!”
The fullness of this incredibly joyful heavenly reality and reunion awaits us! But is also truly ours now in the real presence of Christ our Lord in Holy Communion. Our Lord tells us straight up: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (MT 18:20). And we know that He is truly present in His Word and Sacraments. ‘This is my body, this is my blood’ Jesus promises. The amazing presence of our Lord in the Lord’s Supper is what unites Heaven and earth. Jacob experienced this in the Old Testament when he had his dream of the big ladder or stairway to heaven and said “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!” (Gen 28:17). Jesus is the ladder. And where He is present, so are His people - all united together in earth and heaven. What a mind blowing blessing this is! A truly amazing antidote not only for our sins, but also for comforting our grief we feel for those who have gone before us.
So on All Saints’ Day and all year long, we remember the blessing it is to be a baptized child of God, having “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev.7:14). We remember the amazing grace God richly gives us. And, we remember the family of God, those with us now and those who have gone before us to be with the Lord. We have been given an eternal communion and connectedness through Christ our Lord. And the product of this faith is happiness and blessedness that lasts for eternity. We join with the martyrs, evangelists, angels and archangels and all the company of heaven proclaiming the blessedness of Christ our Lord! In His name now and forever more! Amen!