Looking around this morning, I see we have empty seats in the sanctuary, or so it would appear at first glance. While it appears that the church looks empty, I would beg to differ. The sanctuary is full this morning and every time we gather for worship. It is full of God’s saints, though we don’t see it. We worship this day and every service “with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven.”
Today, we remember those who have died in the faith. Saints are all those who are knit together as one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of Jesus Christ. The saints are blessed in Christ, who is the Blessed One. They serve as an example of faith and “virtuous and godly living” to those who still struggle in this world.
While all believers in Christ in heaven and on earth are His saints, on this day the Church remembers all of God’s saints who have died and now participate in the “unspeakable joys” of heaven. These saints, who trusted in the Lord in their earthly life, as members of the Church Militant, live now in His eternal peace, the Church Triumphant. They exalt and magnify His Name, look to Him, and are radiant, reflecting His glory.
As we look at our text, we see a multitude so great that no one could fix a number on it — from all the nations, tribes, peoples and tongues of the earth — clothed in white and bearing the palm branch of victory in their hands, shouting, proclaiming and saying. But what is that they are focused on? Not on themselves! Where are they staring? Not at each other! They are all facing the throne of God and of the Lamb. And they sing aloud: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” The thing that holds them together as one is the object on which they are fixed and the love and awe that shine from them as they rejoice to look upon what they look upon. The focus of the saints is Jesus Christ.
All Saints’ Day reminds us that when we fall asleep in Jesus, we’re not “gone” or “lost.” We’re with the Lord. And when He comes again on the Last Day, He will raise us up and give to us everlasting life. There will come a time when every tear will be wiped away, when there will be no more night, when we will be face-to-face with the Lord Himself. There will be a time when suffering is ended and we have peace forever.
In this life, we have suffering. Jesus suffered. You will suffer. But that’s not the end—not by a long shot. Jesus rose from the dead and that means the suffering doesn’t last forever. Even Jesus’ suffering didn’t last forever. He died. Then He rose again from the dead. His death and resurrection remind us that His suffering has the ultimate achievement of conquering sin and death. And His resurrection means you will rise on the Last Day. His resurrection means that all the things that cause us tears will one day be gone and those tears will be wiped away.
Your baptism declares that you, too, are a saint, that is a holy person, one whose sins are forgiven, one who will rise from the dead. The body and blood of Jesus say so. On All Saints’ Day, we hear the phrase, “those who rest from their labors.” Their struggle with the crosses of their sin and suffering are ended. They enjoy eternal life with Jesus and will be raised up in their bodies when He comes again in glory.
All of this comes about by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the saving Word for all who believe in Him. If you are like many, you may wonder whether or not the Gospel is indeed working. While the effects of the Gospel may not always be visible to us, as it wasn’t to John’s readers during persecution, Jesus’ revelation assures us it is still God’s power to save. We trust in the words of God, recorded by the prophet Isaiah, who says, “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” We do not always see the Gospel’s work. We want to see the Gospel working, doing something in a person’s life, but we don’t always see it. It may not happen during our ministry. It may not even happen during our lifetime, but the Word of God will accomplish what it was intended for.
The Word of God did accomplish what it was intended for. The Word of God caused Jesus Christ to come to this earth, to be born, to live a sinless life and to die, so that you and I may have eternal life. While we have eternal life, we still die a physical death here on earth. We focus on the words that were sung earlier: “For You have won the battle/That they might wear the crown;/And now they shine in glory/Reflected from Your throne.”
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.
Jesus Christ, our Bridegroom, has given His life for us and called us His own. Our sinful name is washed away in the waters of Holy Baptism. Being baptized into Christ, we have received the Father’s family name, given to us by the Holy Spirit. Now our names and the names of all God’s saints are written in the Lamb’s book of life. When we are brought into Christ through Baptism, nothing can keep us separated from Him because He has bridged the gap of separation with His own body and blood. Because of what Christ has done, “they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” The fact that the saints are wearing white robes shows that this righteousness is not their doing but is imputed to them for Christ’s sake.
We live in hope and the promise of the glory of the life to come. All Saints’ Day reminds us that the Church is bigger than those of us who are gathered here today, not just because there are more Christians around the world, but because there are more Christians from before with whom we are united in the Body of Christ. Jesus promises that the joy they have been given, you will receive, too. Blessed 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.
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