Sermon for All Saints’ Day based on Revelation 7:9-17
Dear saints of God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Death is real. Most of us have come face to face with the reality of death as we have lost friends and family. Some of us have seen death recently and still struggle to come to grips with its reality. But death is real.
In the face of death, the world has no answers. You know this from reading sympathy cards, watching movies and television shows, and listening to eulogies. “Your loved ones are in your heart.” How nice and tidy. The world tries to sterilize and sanitize death: There is no afterlife. The body in the grave is just a bunch of cells not your dearly departed. In fact, let’s sterilize that as well and just cremate the remains so there is no body that gives witness to the reality of death.
Trying to hide the reality of death and sanitize it is an attempt to hide the reality of sin which is the cause of death. If death is sterilized, then maybe sin which is punished by death is sterilized as well.
We can certainly speak of our loved ones being in our hearts in that we remember them. But if they only live in our memories, what does that mean for those who died a long time ago? What does it mean for our great, great grandparents? What does it mean for those who are starting to forget the face of their dear child who passed away or what their dear spouse’s voice sounded like? Living in our memories and hearts is no consolation to the reality of death.
But still, it is a temptation to think this way. That’s why eulogies have even crept into some Christian churches. If we can just speak well of the deceased and talk about all the good things that he did during his lifetime then he will be remembered not just by his family but by everyone at the funeral. Then he will really live in our hearts. If we can convince those attending the funeral that he was a good man, maybe we can also convince God that he was a good man.
But if our loved ones are only in our hearts as we remember them and we only remember them for the good that they did then they are all in serious trouble. Then we all are in serious trouble. Perhaps Saint Peter and Saint Paul are okay – we remember them still two thousand years later – but what about me? What have I done that will be remembered for years to come? What significant good and memorable things did our loved ones accomplish before they died? We better be pretty creative and allow some artistic license in the eulogy!
Of course, none of this is what Scripture teaches. Scripture teaches that our loved ones are not only in our hearts. Their bodies are also in the ground waiting for the day of resurrection. Our loved ones who have died in the faith will be raised to eternal life just as Jesus was raised from the dead after His death on the cross. While they wait for the day of resurrection, their souls are already in heaven with Jesus now. Jesus told the thief on the cross who repented and believed, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise”! Today, not someday! Everyone who believed in Jesus and has died is with Him even now.
And they didn’t get to heaven by being remembered by us or by doing some good things that are memorable. Our text from Revelation doesn’t say that the people in heaven made their robes white by doing something good or memorable. Our text doesn’t say that they washed their robes in their good works and the sweat of their brow. Our text says, “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” They have been washed clean by the blood of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:29). Jesus’ blood, given and shed for them for the forgiveness of sins has washed all their sins away and brought them into heaven with Him. This is the great consolation in death. Not that our loved ones are remembered by us, but that they are with Jesus now in Paradise because they were cleansed by His blood.
But we certainly do remember our loved ones. And in fact today, you have come to the perfect place to do exactly that. You have come to where God is graciously present in Gospel and Sacrament. As the writer to the Hebrews puts it, “You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Heb. 12:22-24)
The blood of the murdered Abel cried out for vengeance, but the blood of Jesus cries for our pardon. The cup of the new covenant in Jesus’ blood gives us pardon for our sins, and also joins us in communion with the innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect. The assembly of saints gathered here is in communion with the assembly of saints gathered with Jesus in Paradise. That’s why in the communion liturgy we hear, “Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify Your glorious name, evermore praising You and saying” and then we sing “Holy, holy, holy” which is the song that Isaiah tells us is sung in heaven (Is. 6:3).
We sing here what is sung in heaven. In receiving Jesus’ true body and blood, we are in communion with our loved ones who have died in the faith. In Holy Communion we have a foretaste of the feast to come. Our hearts are lifted up to the Lord as we gather around the communion altar.
Communion is not limited by time or space. We join the saints who have gone before us in their ongoing heavenly worship of the Lamb who was slain. We have been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb just as they have been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb.
The difference is that we hunger; they hunger no more. We thirst; they thirst no more. The sun and the scorching heat strike us but not them. We cry, we mourn, but God has wiped away every tear from their eyes.
We do remember our loved ones who have died. We remember that they have been cleansed by Jesus’ blood as we also have been. We remember Jesus’ promises to them that have now been fulfilled as they are with Him in heaven. And we remember that those same promises are for us. Jesus’ death on the cross was also for us. The payment of His blood for all sins was for our sins.
Unlike the world, we don’t have to be afraid of death. We don’t have to try and sterilize and sanitize death. We don’t have to be afraid of seeing a dead body. We know that Jesus has promised the resurrection of the body. We don’t have to be afraid if our loved ones are just ashes, because in the resurrection He who created man from dust will raise them up whether they are dust or ashes.
We also know that the existence of our loved ones is not up to us remembering them in our hearts. They exist with Jesus. Their souls are with Jesus even as their bodies await the day of resurrection. This is the comfort to you who mourn.
Finally, we have communion with our loved ones who have died in the faith. Since they are united with Christ and Communion unites us with Christ, we are thus also united with them as we receive the body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins. In Communion we receive the same cleansing blood of the Lamb that has cleansed all saints. Saint Peter and Saint Paul were also cleansed from their sin by the blood of the Lamb because even their good works counted for nothing. In Communion we are united in the same forgiving blood of Christ.
Yes, death is real, but so is eternal life. And we have the promise of eternal life when we die from this life. As the saints before us, we will then worship the Lamb in heaven away from this world of tribulation and tears. Upon our death, we will also realize the perfection of heaven away from tribulation and tears. We will be united with all saints – those who went before us and those who are still to come – all who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.