Sola Gratia

Midweek Advent Sermon – Sola Gratia (Gen. 6:1-8, Eph. 2:1-10, John 1:14-18)

Dear people saved by grace alone: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

For our midweek services this Advent we will be studying the three solas of the Reformation. While we won’t be learning much Latin in these sermons, we can learn these three terms. Sola means “only” in Latin, and these three solas of the Reformation clarify the Scriptural teaching concerning salvation. The three solas are sola gratia, sola fide, and sola Scriptura. What they mean is that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, as taught in Scripture alone.

Tonight we examine sola gratia – the Scriptural principle that we are saved by grace alone.

Scripture teaches that by the Fall of Adam, all men have become sinners, and according to God’s judgment pronounced in the Law, all men are guilty and subject to eternal damnation. Our first reading condemns all mankind by saying, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Gen. 6:5) On our own, mankind is incapable of doing good because of the condition of our hearts.

Scripture furthermore teaches that we cannot change this verdict of condemnation by striving to keep the Law. Trying our best to do what is good and right cannot change our guilt nor can it fulfil the Law of God. In fact, Scripture specifically teaches that if we attempt to be justified by keeping the Law we are under a curse (Gal. 3:10) because we cannot fulfil the Law’s demands of perfection (Rom. 3:20; Gal. 2:16).

Thus, we see the necessity for grace. If we cannot save ourselves by fulfilling the Law, the only way for us to be saved is by grace.

Grace describes the unmerited favour and goodwill of God towards us, despite our sins, despite our failures, despite the Law’s just judgment of condemnation against us. Grace is God saying that He will not charge us with the sins that we have committed. God shows us grace because Christ was charged with all of our sins and paid the full price for them. On account of Christ’s death in our place, God the Father shows us grace, that is, He gives us the free, unmerited gift of the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

As we heard in our Epistle lesson, we were dead in our trespasses and sins, but out of God’s grace, we have been made alive together with Christ. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9) Grace is God’s free gift of forgiveness. It is not our own doing. It is a purely underserved gift because God is loving and merciful.

God offers His grace to everyone, without exception. There is no one on the earth for whose sins Jesus did not pay. God desires for all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (I Tim. 2:3-4). God says, “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.” (Ezek. 18:32)

While God’s grace is offered freely to everyone, there are those who reject it. They reject God’s grace freely offered, and instead strive to work to save themselves. Such people reject the Scriptural teaching that without God, man is dead in his trespasses and sins. They think that there is something good in man that he can work to bring out if he only tries hard enough. As we heard earlier from Scripture, such men are under a curse (Gal. 3:10), because there is no one that does good; not even one (Rom. 3:12).

There are also those who misunderstand grace to be a ticket to live in sin, like a get out of jail free card. They presume to remain in sin and not turn away from it because of grace. But Hebrews 10 says, “If we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.” (v. 26) Here you are warned that if you do not turn away from your sin, Christ’s sacrifice for sins does you no good. You have only hell in your future.

Romans 6 says, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Rom. 6:1-4)

We are to walk in newness of life already now, not just when we are raised from the dead. We already live a new life as God’s baptized children. We certainly do so imperfectly, but we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit in Baptism and thus He gives us the desire to do God’s will; the desire to do what pleases God instead of doing what pleases our sinful flesh.

Even though we now strive to do what is good, it is not that striving or that doing that saves us. We are still saved by grace alone. Sola Gratia.

Grace is evident perhaps no where better than in Baptism. An infant who is helpless and is not able to do anything good is baptized into Christ’s death and receives the forgiveness of sins. It just seems too easy; too simple; too underserved. That’s why when grace is rejected, Baptism is rejected.

But God shows His grace by giving it to babies, by giving it to the elderly on their death beds, by giving it to the thief on the cross. God shows His grace by freely offering it to everyone regardless of what they have done or left undone; regardless of the sins you struggle with every day; regardless of your failures to do what the Law demands of you.

God’s grace is free and underserved. God’s grace rescues us from ourselves, from the world, and from hell and the devil. God’s grace is certain because He has promised it to us in His Word, which never lies.

As we sang:

            By grace! On this I’ll rest when dying;

                        In Jesus’ promise I rejoice;

            For though I know my heart’s condition,

                        I also know my Saviour’s voice.

            My heart is glad, all grief has flown

            Since I am saved by grace alone. (LSB 566 st. 6) Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Hosanna to the Son of David

Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent based on Matthew 21:1-11

Dear crowd shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David”: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Son of David rode into the city of David. He was received with much fanfare and celebration. They shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”

Jesus entered Jerusalem humbly, riding on a donkey rather than a majestic horse. He came in great power and might because He is God in the flesh, the creator of heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them. However, His power and might were veiled. They could not be seen. The King of kings and Lord of lords humbled Himself and did not come in great demonstrations of power and might. The glimpses that He did show of His power and might were to heal, help, cleanse, and raise the dead; not signs of force or intimidation.

Some kings rule through tyranny and force. History is full of military dictatorships, despots, and tyrants. History is full of rulers who crushed their opposition through sheer force and violence, who murdered those who disagreed with them, and controlled their subjects through violence and threats of violence. We can think of examples such as Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Pol Pot in Cambodia, Josef Stalin in the Soviet Union, Adolf Hitler in Germany, and Mao Zedong in China. Their reigns were filled with conflict, murder, genocide, and war crimes.

Even in the modern-day western world, many politicians depict Machiavellianism, which is an unscrupulous approach to politics characterized by immoral behaviour, dishonesty, and even the killing of innocent people if it advances their political aspirations and goals. It was Machiavelli himself who said that if as a leader you cannot have both, it is better to be feared than loved.

What a far cry from Jesus’ humble entry into Jerusalem. Jesus came with more power and might than any world leader ever, but He did not come to lead His people by coercion and tyranny. He did not come to force people into subjection through oppression.

Jesus didn’t come on a war horse with an army of soldiers in a sign of force. He didn’t strong-arm people to sing His praises. He didn’t demand that they spread their cloaks on the road in front of Him or cut palm branches and lay them before Him.

Rather, God’s people were stirred to excitement and praise because they had waited for thousands of years for God to send the promised Saviour, and the crowds believed that that time had come. They shouted “Hosanna!” which means “save us now!” Thus, they believed their Saviour had come. They called Him “the Son of David” which confessed that they believed that He is the eternal King of the line of David promised by God through the Old Testament prophets (see esp. God’s promise to David in 2 Sam. 7:12-13).

The crowds may not have understood what it all meant, but Jesus understood. The crowds may not have known how Jesus would use His power and might, but Jesus knew.

Jesus did not use His power and might to coerce people to follow Him. He used His power and might to defeat the enemies of all mankind.

Jesus did not do this in the way that might have been expected. He could have attacked the devil and his demon hordes with the host of heaven and cast them into eternal chains of darkness. He could have destroyed Satan and his evil angels and rid the earth of them without even becoming man.

This, however, would have left mankind to pay for our sin. We would still have had to suffer eternally in hell for our sin if Jesus would have killed our enemy instead of allowing Himself to be killed. If Jesus had come in great power and might and defeated the devil without defeating sin and death for us, we would still be subject to sin and death.

That is why Jesus became man. That is why Jesus entered Jerusalem to suffer and die. By His suffering and death, He not only defeated the devil for Himself, but He defeated the devil for us. He defeated sin and death for us. Because Jesus paid the price of our sins, now we do not have to make the payment. Because Jesus died for us, we will not die eternally. Because Jesus defeated the devil for us, now the devil has no more power over us.

Sure, the devil will rave and storm and try to devour us and accuse us of our sin. Yes, we are still sinful and commit sin. And yes, we will die from this life.

But we are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection (Rom. 6:5). That means, “Satan, drop your ugly accusation: I am baptized into Christ!” That means, “Sin, disturb my soul no longer: I am baptized into Christ!” That means, “Death, you cannot end my gladness: I am baptized into Christ!” (LSB 594)

The devil has no power over us. He is a tyrant who tries to coerce us to follow him, but he cannot snatch us out of God’s hand (John 10:27-29). He tries to tempt us and accuse us, but he cannot entice us away from Christ, and God will not listen to his empty accusations because Jesus’ death has taken our sin away from us.

Sin has no power over us. Baptized into Christ, we don’t have to follow our sinful desires. Sin does not rule over us (Rom. 6:17-18). Because Jesus died for our sin, He took the punishment of our sin away from us. Our sin is removed from us as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12) because Jesus suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, bringing us to God (I Peter 3:18).

Death has no power over us. It may look like it has power over us since we will die from this life, but we are baptized into Christ’s resurrection, so we will rise from the dead as surely as He rose from the dead (Rom. 6:8). Death is now nothing to fear. Death for us is now nothing more than the doorway to eternal life.

Jesus will return as He has promised, and then He will come in power and might that is visible (Matt. 24:30). He will come in great glory that will be seen by all, even those who rejected Him, and all will bow down (Rom. 14:11).

Until that time, Jesus still comes to us humbly, in His Word and Sacraments. Jesus does not come to us as a tyrant and coerce us to believe or force us to go to church. Jesus comes to us in His Word which from the outside just looks like a book, but Jesus says His words are life (Jn. 6:63). Jesus comes to us in Baptism which from the outside just looks like water, but which Scripture teaches gives the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-39). Jesus comes to us in the Sacrament of the Altar which from the outside just looks like bread and wine, but which Jesus tells us are His true body and blood, given and shed for the forgiveness of our sins (Matt. 26:26-28; I Cor. 11:23-24).

Through these humble means Jesus gives us faith and keeps us in the faith. Thus, it is also appropriate that as part of the communion liturgy we join the Palm Sunday crowd and sing, “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”

We recognize that the Saviour promised long ago comes to us in humble form. We sing “Hosanna!” which means “save us now!” because we believe our Saviour comes to us in His body and blood to save us from our sins. We sing that He comes in the name of the Lord because we confess that He is the eternal King of the line of David promised by God through the Old Testament prophets.

We receive our Lord with fanfare and celebration who comes humbly to us. Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest! Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Promised Paradise

Sermon for the Last Sunday of the Church Year based on Luke 23:27-43

Dear saints with the promise of Paradise: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” What comfort for the criminal on the cross to hear!

The criminal’s life of sin had caught up with him and he was being justly punished by the governing authorities. There was nothing he could do to undo what he had done. He could not give back what he had stolen. He could not bring back to life those he had murdered. He could not make up in any way for any sin he had committed. Yet, Jesus promised him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

At that point in time, what do you think mattered to the criminal? The profits he had amassed from criminal activity? His memories from visiting the beaches of Greece? The respect of his peers? No. The only thing that mattered to the criminal was his impending death and what comes after death.

The criminal confessed that he was guilty and deserving of death. He said to the other criminal that they were justly under the sentence of condemnation, receiving the due reward of their deeds. But he also confessed that Jesus had done nothing wrong. Unlike the criminal’s life of sin, Jesus never did anything sinful or harmful or hurtful to anyone. Jesus never even said or thought anything wrong. So, the thief confessed two things – he deserved to die, and Jesus did not deserve to die.

We struggle to believe that we deserve to die. We have a hard time believing that we even deserve to have anything bad happen to us. If something that we view as bad does happen to us, we ask “Why? Why did this happen to me?” We see everything bad that happens to us as injustice. We don’t think we deserve to have anything bad, only everything good.

The truth is, we deserve death just like the criminal. Our sins deserve crucifixion and then eternal death in hell. Yet, when we die, Jesus will say to us, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

What great comfort it is for us to hear those words! Even though we are not hanging on a cross dying, just like the criminal we also cannot undo the evil we have done. We cannot undo our sins. We cannot make up in any way for any sin we have committed. We cannot go back and redo our lives. Even if we could, we would still not be able to avoid sin. We avoid one sin only to fall into another. If we could relive our life a thousand times, a thousand times we would deserve crucifixion and eternal death. Just like the criminal on the cross, Jesus is our only hope, so we pray, “Jesus, remember me.”

Jesus will remember us. The day we die, Jesus will say to us, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” That day the money we have in our bank accounts won’t matter. Our vacation memories won’t mean a thing.  What other people think of us will not be on our minds. The only thing that will matter to us will be our impending death and what comes after death. And with Jesus’ promise that we will be with Him in Paradise, we know what comes after death for us.

Because the innocent Son of God suffered death for us, we will receive eternal life. Jesus took all the punishment of our sins on Himself. It wasn’t just physical pain that He suffered. Jesus also had all our guilt and shame on Him, weighing Him down. Jesus took all the wrath and anger of God on Himself, and was abandoned and forsaken by God the Father for us.

As Jesus suffered in this horrible way, men mocked Him and scoffed at Him. They cast lots for His clothing and tauntingly offered Him sour wine. Still, Jesus does not get angry with them but lovingly prays for them, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Even while suffering and dying, Jesus was still thinking of others and praying for them. He was praying for those whose hands whipped Him and nailed Him to the cross. He was praying for those whose mouths were still mocking Him. Jesus continued to love His creation despite their sin. He still prayed that they would repent and that the Father would forgive them.

Jesus prays for you, that the Father would forgive you. That was the purpose of Jesus coming to earth. He came to face the judgment of God against sinners so that we will receive forgiveness. He came to die so that you may live.

Because Jesus faced the judgment of God against sinners, you will not have to. God turned away from Jesus because your sins were on Him, but now God will never turn away from you. God the Father forsook Jesus, His only Son, because He was covered with your sins, but now God will never forsake you.

So now you can pray, “Jesus, remember me.” And Jesus will tell you on the day you die, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


Sermon for the Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost based on Luke 21:5-28

Dear people of God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

You have perhaps heard the saying, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” If you cannot learn from the mistakes of past generations, you will repeat the same mistakes they made, and end up with the same consequences.

As Jesus foretold the destruction of the Temple, the people of Jerusalem had not learned from history. In history, when man forsook God and acted wickedly, following every evil intention of his heart, God sent a flood which killed all the wicked (Gen 6-7). When the people rebelled against God and gathered in pride to build for themselves a monument to reach heaven, God confused their language and dispersed them over the face of the earth (Gen. 11:1-9). When the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah rejected God and exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; when the men gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men, they received the due penalty for the error (cf. Rom. 1:26-27), as God rained sulphur and fire from heaven and destroyed those cities (Gen. 18:16-19:29).

The Israelites also had the history of their own people from which to learn. God had delivered them from slavery in Egypt (Ex. 6-14), but they got impatient waiting for Moses on the mountain so they had Aaron build them a golden calf. God struck them with a plague (Ex. 32).

They were all under the pillar of cloud as God led them, and all passed through the Red Sea and were baptized into Moses in the cloud and the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food, the manna God sent from heaven. They all drank the same spiritual drink, given by the spiritual Rock that followed them, Christ Himself. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness (I Cor. 10:1-5).

First Corinthians 10 tells us that these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. “Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.’ We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” (I Cor. 10:7-11)

The people of Jerusalem did not heed Christ’s warnings. They did not listen to the warnings of the prophets God sent for centuries before Jesus either (ex. Jer. 6:8; Mi. 3:12; Zec. 14:1). They thought they could ignore God’s Law and do whatever they felt like doing. They followed their hearts instead of God’s Word. They engaged in idolatry, adultery, testing God, and grumbling.

They felt safe from God’s punishment because they had been doing it for years and lighting from heaven hadn’t struck them, no plague had decimated them, and despite being under Roman rule, they were at relative peace. Sure, God had destroyed sinners and punished sin a long time ago, but not today. They thought that in that day God just turned a blind eye to sin and forgave without people even turning away from sin. They thought that just because the Temple of God stood among them and the sacrifices were taking place there, everything was okay. However, Jesus told them the days will come when there will not be one stone left upon another that will not be thrown down.

Forty year later, the Romans destroyed the Temple and all of Jerusalem as Jesus had prophesied. Over a million Jews were killed and about 100,000 taken captive. They fell by the edge of the sword and were led captive among the nations, and Jerusalem was trampled underfoot by Gentiles as Jesus prophesied.

Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. Yet those who know history and fail to heed its warnings are also doomed to repeat it. Here specifically we are talking about the history of God’s relationship with man; God’s relationship with us.

We are God’s baptized people. That’s our history with Him. He has rescued us from the slavery of sin. By Jesus’ death in our place, He has rescued us from death and the devil, and from hell. We all passed through the sea of Baptism, baptized into Christ. We eat the same spiritual food and drink the same spiritual drink, the very body and blood of Jesus given and shed for us. And we have the same warning as God’s people of all time have had: do not follow your sinful flesh. “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Rom. 8:13)

As Jesus gave the warning of the destruction of Jerusalem, He gave the warning of the destruction of the world. We have the warning of the end times when nation will rise against nation, and there will be earthquakes and famines and pestilences. There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations and perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and the foreboding of what is coming into the world.

This prophecy is no more preventable than Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem. It will take place. The world will be destroyed and the Son of Man will return, coming in a cloud with power and great glory. There is nothing man can do to prevent it, but man can learn from the history of those who reject God and His Word, and the history of those who cling to God’s Word.

As with the destruction of Jerusalem, God’s children have nothing to fear about the end of the world. Even in the face of end-times persecution we have nothing to fear, even if that persecution comes from parents and brothers and relatives and friends. Even if we are hated by all the world and are put to death, Christ says, “By your endurance you will gain your lives.” That is, by enduring in the faith, you will receive eternal life.

This eternal life is a free gift to us in spite of our past sins. If we look back at our personal histories, they are filled with all kinds of vile sin. But these histories are wiped out in God’s history books. Jesus died in our place, taking all the punishment for our sins. Our histories are re-written and do not include our sins. Our histories say that we have fulfilled the Law of God perfectly because Jesus fulfilled it for us. Our histories say that we are adopted children of God because we are baptized into Christ. Our histories say that we are in Christ and Christ in us because we eat the spiritual food and drink of Jesus’ true body and blood.

So, when we see the signs of the end times approaching, we do not need to fear. Rather, Jesus says, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” We can raise our heads in confident expectation that even though Jesus returns to judge the world, our judgment has already been pronounced – we have been acquitted; we have been declared blameless by the judge of the living and the dead.

Instead, our redemption is drawing near. That moment when we will be taken from this world of sin and death is drawing near. That moment when we will no longer suffer at the hands of evildoers; that moment when we will no longer suffer illness and death; that moment when we will no longer suffer from the earthly consequences of our own sins; that moment is drawing near.

We can learn from the history of God’s people in all time and places. God’s people suffer in this world of sin as everyone suffers, but God saves His people from this world. Despite what we see going on in the world around us, we can straighten up and raise our heads because our redemption is drawing near.

God’s history is that He has never failed to keep His promises. Throughout history, He has never failed to save His people from every evil. He has never failed to warn people to turn from their sin and He has never failed to forgive repentant sinners.

Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. But those who know the history of God’s love for us in Christ Jesus are destined for eternal life, with our own history of sin wiped clean by the blood of Jesus. So, straighten up and raise your heads because your redemption is drawing near. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

All Saints

Sermon for All Saints’ Day based on Revelation 7:9-17

Dear saints: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our loved ones who have died in Christ are not lost to us. We know exactly where they are. Their graves are marked so we know where their bodies lie. The Church has always made an issue of showing care for the bodies of the dead and marking their graves. We don’t just dump the bodies of our loved ones into a landfill or cremate them and scatter their ashes indiscriminately here and there.

We lay the bodies of our loved ones to rest in cemeteries and mark their graves. We can visit their graves and we know that the bodies of our loved ones remain where they were laid to rest. Their names appear on the headstones. The headstone confesses that this is not the end of the body. God isn’t done with this body yet. God will raise this body up on the Day of Resurrection.

We confess the Day of Resurrection even in calling these places cemeteries. The word cemetery comes from a Greek word which means dormitory. We confess that everyone who dies in Christ will rise again when Christ raises them as easily as if they were in peaceful sleep.

However, we don’t just know where the bodies of believers lie, we also know where their souls are. Their souls are with Jesus in heaven. To the repentant thief who died on the cross beside Jesus, Jesus promised, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Today; right at the moment of death believers go to be with Jesus, while they await the Day of Resurrection and the soul being reunited with the body. So once again, our loved ones who have passed away in Christ are not lost to us. Their souls are with Jesus and we will see them again.

When one of our members dies in Christ, we report it to synod as a membership loss, but it is really a membership gain. A member of the Church on earth is transferred to the Church Triumphant, the Church in heaven. The Church in heaven gains a member. That is our goal also, to be members of the Church in heaven.

Since last year’s All Saints’ Day, Linda, Frank, Edna, Yvonne, and Elmer have joined the ranks of the saints in heaven. They have joined the angels and archangels in singing praises to God.

That is another reason why our loved ones who have died in Christ are not lost to us. Hebrews 12 tells us that in the Divine Service, where God Himself is present, innumerable angels also join us in festal gathering, along with the assembly of those who are already enrolled in heaven; with the spirits of the righteous made perfect (Heb. 12:18-24). So when we assemble here to receive God’s gifts and sing His praises, our loved ones who are with Jesus join us here.

That is the reason the altar rail has traditionally been a semi-circle, even though it is sometimes squared as ours is. We, the Church on earth, kneel around the semi-circle with the image that the other half which would make the circle complete is filled with all the faithful who have died and with all the host of heaven. Common in Lutheran churches in Scandinavia, the circle is actually completed with a similar stone semi-circle rail continuing outside against the sanctuary outer wall in the church graveyard. This confesses the truth that when we commune with Christ, we also commune with those who belong to Him, whether on earth or in heaven.

Our liturgy also confesses this truth with the words, “Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify your glorious name, evermore praising you and saying…” Then we sing the Sanctus, “Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might: Heaven and earth are full of your glory.”

Why do we sing the Sanctus? Because that is what is sung in heaven. Isaiah 6 tells us of his vision in the throne room of God where angels call to one another with the words, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Is. 6:3)

The Sanctus is one of the oldest parts of the liturgy, possibly in use already in apostolic times. The Sanctus is a hymn of praise that is sung by angel choirs, and we the saints on earth join them in singing praise to God. For a time, the division between heaven and earth is gone. Christ comes down to earth in His body and blood and the saints in heaven and on earth join in communion and in singing His praise.

Is this the best time to be counting the offering? While this is going on, when heaven is coming down to earth, when our loved ones in heaven are singing with angels and archangels and the saints on earth join them in singing, is this the time that we should be sending our ushers out of the Divine Service to count money? Not to mention the other parts of the service that are missed such as the Lord’s Prayer, Christ’s Words of Institution, and the Agnus Dei (another ancient liturgical hymn). Our practice must change and we will talk about it at our Council Meeting on Tuesday.

But back to our main point: our loved ones who have died in Christ are not lost to us. We know where their bodies rest awaiting the Day of Resurrection. We know where their souls are – in heaven singing praise to God. We know also that we are in communion with them in holy Communion and we join them in singing praises to God in the Divine Service.

We also will join them and all the saints in heaven in that great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and the Lamb, clothed in white robes that have been made white in the blood of the Lamb.

This seems like a paradox because blood doesn’t normally make things white. But white is the colour of purity. All saints in heaven and on earth are pure because they are covered by the blood of the Lamb. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world shed His blood to make us pure. Jesus took all our filthy sin and died on the cross for us and in our place and His blood makes us pure. Jesus takes away our sin and covers us with His purity.

That is why we will join our loved ones who have died in Christ. We may have to go through tribulation in this life; we may even have to go through the great tribulation of the end times, but because Jesus’ blood has made us pure, we will join all the saints in heaven before the throne of God where we serve Him day and night; where God shelters us from every evil; where we will hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; where the sun shall not strike us nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be our shepherd, and He will guide us to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.