What a blessed day we celebrate today! Today, we observe All Saints’ Day, that day of the Church Year that is set aside to give thanks to those who have gone before us in the faith and to look forward to our reunion with them in the resurrection of the dead.
As we speak of the saints, we have to ask what makes a person a saint. Is it their virtuous living? Is it the good works they did during their lifetime? Is it the money they gave to the church and to other charities? Is it any other number of things the person did during their lifetime that earned them their sainthood? The answer to this is no, there is nothing about the person that earned them sainthood. It wasn’t their living or their giving. In fact, it has nothing to do with them at all. What makes them a saint is the faith they have in Jesus Christ. It is Jesus who makes them a saint. It is Jesus who has made you a saint even now.
The book of Revelation is one that is full of imagery that is difficult to understand while at times the imagery is very easy to understand. Today’s text is one of the latter. As we look at our text from St. John’s Revelation for this festival celebrating God’s work in all the saints, it assures us that the saints are signed, sealed, and will be delivered by Christ.
We begin with John looking and seeing “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, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”” What an image to behold! These aren’t just any people but these are the saints of God, “the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Their purpose is to praise God “and serve him day and night in his temple.”
This multitude before the throne includes all whom God elected to salvation: the believers of the Old Testament, the saints and martyrs of the New Testament, and the elect who were still alive on earth when the last trumpet call was sounded. This includes all the elect from the earth, all the believers of Christ.
Clothed in their white robes, they reflect the righteousness that Jesus credited to them when He washed away their sins in His blood. What an image that St. John must have beheld! This is the perfect picture of Christ and His Church, for this shows exactly what has been done for us by Jesus. In a life that has been marred by sin and death, Christ removes that from us and in its place, He gives to us His holiness and righteousness, so that we may stand before God our heavenly Father as blood-bought and redeemed children, forgiven of all of our sins.
The saints, who are clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, are those who have already departed this life to be with the Lord forever and ever. They are our sainted dead today, our loved ones and all others who have gone before us, who have fallen asleep in the faith. But we also think of ourselves and other members of the body of Christ on this earth as the “saints alive.” We remember the saints now, at the end of the Church Year, as an anticipation of the coming kingdom.
How can we imitate and follow the example of the saints in heaven? The answer is quite simple, but it is one that is not easy. It’s one that we often would prefer not to know, because it’s not easy to abide by. That’s because it promises us tribulation until God delivers us safely home to eternal life in the glory of heaven. Yet at the same time, it gives us once again God’s faithful promise that He has done, and is doing absolutely everything necessary to save us from the damning power and guilt of our sin and to take us safely, in faith, all the way home for eternity in the perfect glory of heaven.
The answer is Jesus. As the children of God, we turn in faith in Christ Jesus, our only Savior from sin. We turn to Christ for hope, encouragement, and strength to remain faithful to the faith given to us by the Holy Spirit in our Baptism. What makes this so difficult is that Jesus isn’t always the popular answer. The popular answer that the world gives is “me, myself, and I.” The world’s answer is you. The world’s answer is a feel-good program or one that revolves around some sort of positive thinking to change the desired outcome. All of these answers leave out Jesus. If Jesus is left out, then you don’t have the answer. If Jesus is left out, then you are not one of God’s saints because it is Jesus and His work that makes you a saint.
This ongoing action of the Holy Spirit in us, which He works through the Gospel power of God’s Word and Sacraments, is the sealing action of God in us, in faith, just as it was for all the saints who from their labors rest in the loving arms of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. In those arms, they do not hunger, thirst, or cry from the weariness of the great tribulation they endured in this sinful world. But for you and me, we still live as members of the Church Militant. We still endure for the sake of Christ and His Gospel. That’s because this world still considers the Gospel so offensive and terrifying because it implies that they have sin from which they need saving.
On this side of heaven, we still sin. On this side of heaven, Satan still fights and we as the Church Militant are the battlefield. We as God’s people on earth still face all the trials and temptations that the saints have prevailed against on account of Christ.
When we are brought into Christ, we receive the gifts that are given to those who are in Christ, the gifts that belong to the sons and daughters of God. We are given the waters of new life in Holy Baptism which gives new life to those who come to it. The tree of life is Christ Himself who provides the food which nourishes us, His own body and blood. We will once again be able to see God face to face like we were meant to before, to be able to walk and talk with God and to be His own. Those in Christ will live forever with Him.
Today we remember those who have gone on before us, who continue to worship with us, just on the other side of heaven. We know this because it is in our liturgy that we speak: “Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven…” They are the ones who confessed the name of Jesus Christ. We too who confess the name of Jesus Christ will one day be reunited with those saints who have gone on before, but more importantly, we will be reunited with the One who allowed us to enter heaven by His sacrificial death, Jesus Christ. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.