11-7-21 All Saints

November 7, 2021
Passage: Revelation 7:9-17
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The world claims to be very reasonable. It boasts in science, facts, empirical evidence, and says it will only believe something if it can be proven. The world claims to be very reasonable. Yet how unreasonable the world is in the face of death. When it comes to dead loved ones the world becomes downright superstitious. All Saints’ Day gives us a good opportunity to critique the world’s opinions about the dead, and talk of truth and comfort in Christ.

We could get a good laugh out of the things the world does and says in its superstition. The world uses mediums and spiritists in an effort to get into contact with the dead. Some people put ashes of loved ones in little vials and wear them as necklaces, for what reason I have no idea. People go and talk to gravestones, having a one-sided conversation with a rock. Some bury their loved ones with certain prized possessions, as if the corpse has some use of it, or as if the spirit could take it someplace.

And then the world makes all kinds of statements as if they’re true, when really people just want them to be true, and in fact they are based on nothing. “There’s one more angel in heaven.” “He’s in a better place.” “She’s free from pain now.” “Dad is still with us in spirit.” “Mom is watching over us.” “He’s trying to tell us something.” But wishful thinking does not create reality. This is laughable.

But more than being laughable, it’s pitiable. People make things up and try to find comfort in them, and yet the world knows it’s just groping around in the dark. People turn to superstition because they are without Christ, “having no hope and without God in the world,” as it says in Ephesians 2. They’re on their own to get hope and comfort, which means at best they fool themselves into thinking they have some hope, or at worst (which is actually better) they realize they have no hope or comfort in their invented superstitions.

So the world’s death rituals are laughable; more than that they’re pitiable; more than that they’re dangerous. When your loved ones die the world tells you its lies. These lies ring of comfort, yet they are vanity. It’s all too easy to believe the world, especially when so many people tell you the same things, and with such sincerity. It seems normal to think that your loved ones can hear you or are watching over you. Yet that’s the world seeking hope from man, and dead man at that. You have Jesus, who gives you true hope and comfort, the hope and comfort that the world so desperately wants but can’t have on its own. While the world blows around its vain words, you have the Word of Christ, which tells you the truth about those who have died.

So let’s strip away the world’s lies. Not all people go to a better place when they die, but only those who had faith in Christ; not all are free from pain when they die; and no one becomes an angel. There is no promise of God that our deceased loved ones can hear us at the graveside, or anywhere else. Our dead loved ones do not speak to us, they are not watching over us, they are not with us on earth. We are not connected to them by doing the same earthly things that they enjoyed. We do not keep them alive by keeping their memory alive. If any of these statements has taken away comfort from you, then it has only taken away false comfort, which is no comfort at all.
But here is the truth from God’s Word. First, there is a heaven and a hell. In Luke 16 when the poor beggar Lazarus died, he “was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side.” But the rich man, who thought much of his riches and little of God’s Word, was “in Hades.” He says, “I am in anguish in this flame,” and calls it a “place of torment.” Jesus describes it as “the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” In the book of Revelation it is called “the lake of fire… the second death.” So death can lead to a worse place, and greater pain than we can even imagine on earth.

Now the existence of hell is not comforting, especially when we hear that it’s what we deserve. The world may go on about how good people were when they were alive, but God’s Word doesn’t allow us to call men “good.” Jesus says in Mark 10, “No one is good except God alone.” And Paul writes in Romans 3, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”

If hell is a place, and all men deserve to go there when they die, then in the face of death we should not fixate on our loved ones, as if their departure is the greatest of our concerns and the worst thing that could possibly happen to us. Instead we should cling to Jesus and speak of Jesus, who alone can deliver from death and hell.

And this is what the saints who have gone before us are doing right now. They’re speaking of Jesus. I told you that your departed loved ones do not speak to you, and that’s true. But if you have loved ones who are Christians and have departed to be with Christ, then you actually can know some of the very words they’re saying. Their words are recorded in the book of Revelation, and in fact you heard them in the reading this morning. In Revelation 7 we heard about the multitude coming out of the great tribulation, that is, those saints who are departing this world to be with Christ. And it says, “they cry out with a great voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!’”

Ten thousand mediums could have ten thousand seances, and they still couldn’t bring forth a word like that. Now it is of the greatest significance that these words of the departed saints are addressed to the Father and the Son, and not to anyone on earth. It’s not that they’ve entirely forgotten earth. It’s that they understand better than ever what is truly important and worthy of attention and praise. And so on this All Saints’ Day, rather than focusing on the departed, let’s focus on the same thing that the faithful departed are focusing on, namely the Father and the Son.

The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have existed from eternity, ever one God. I envy the saints in heaven; they comprehend the mystery of the Holy Trinity better than we ever could on earth. In the beginning, the Holy Spirit brooded over the waters, the Father spoke, and by the Word of the Lord, who is the Son of God, the whole world and its fullness were made, and God made man in his own image and likeness. In Revelation 4, the twelve sons of Israel and the twelve apostles praise God for his mighty work of creation, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”

But all the saints in heaven praise the Father and the Son for their great act of salvation: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!” Thus they sing. The Father loved them and sent his Son into the world as one of them. And though the saints in heaven are separated from their bodies, which lie in graves on earth, yet they see their Lord Jesus Christ with his body. They see God in human flesh, with the mark of the nails in his hands and feet and the mark of the spear in his side. They look at Jesus face to face, and they behold their salvation in his body as they await the resurrection of theirs.

We on earth likewise look to our Lord, not face to face yet, but with eyes of faith. With the saints in heaven we long for the renewal of our bodies. We may still have our bodies, but we have them corrupted with our sin, plagued with pains and ailments, awaiting death. With the saints in heaven we look to Jesus for our resurrection.

And we on earth together with the saints in heaven look to Jesus with full confidence that he will accomplish it. He took away our sins. He bore our infirmities. He died, and he rose from the dead, and he joined us to himself in Baptism. And therefore when we die, we shall rise. Some members of Christ have already fallen asleep. Some members of Christ are yet to fall asleep. Some members of Christ will not sleep, but will be changed at his coming. But the whole Church looks to Jesus, lives in Jesus, praises Jesus.

This praise of the Father and the Son, this recounting of their mighty deeds, is common to the saints in heaven and the saints on earth. Right now you’re dwelling on the same things that departed Christians love and think on. And you will join your voices with theirs in just a few minutes when we sing the Sanctus with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven.

Yet unity with departed Christians is not something that we cause through our singing and praise. We only sing together because of what we have received together. The Church’s unity is unity in Christ, as Paul writes in Ephesians 4, “one Lord, one faith, one Baptism.” It is a oneness that Jesus has caused by joining people across places and centuries to himself through Baptism and faith. And so you may have noticed in the reading from Revelation that those “clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands” had those white robes and palm branches already as they departed this life and inherited eternal life. They are the ones “coming out of the great tribulation,” and they come out fit for heaven, because Christ fitted them for heaven while they were still on earth. The white robe is the robe of Baptism, washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb. The palm branch is the symbol of victory, specifically Jesus’ victory over sin, death, devil, world, and hell, and our victory through him.

And so you see that whether on earth or in heaven, Jesus binds his Christians together: clothing them with the same robes, giving them the same victory, placing the same praises on their lips. The world tries in vain to bridge the chasm of death, to connect those here with those elsewhere. For Christ and the Church that chasm is negligible. Jesus rose from the dead. He defeated death. He does not allow death to rip his body, his Church, in half. And so the procession of saints toward the throne is one unbroken stream, passing under death as under an archway, but by no means interrupted. Jesus binds us together and draws us to himself, even as right now he is in our midst. And this is real comfort, comfort which the world cannot fathom. It is only comfort for Christians, and it only concerns Christians, and it is comfort that is yours through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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