PLEASE JOIN US ... THERE'S A WHOLE LOT OF PROCLAIMING GOING ON
"For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."
John 3:17 (ESV)
After worship this past All Saints Sunday, many people asked if the sermon had been recorded. Unfortunately it had not. However, we offer up a copy of the sermon as it was shared on November 02, 2014:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The text for this morning is from Revelation chapter 7. Here St. John gives us a glimpse of HEAVENLY WORSHIP … which is really is nothing different than - and joins together with - our own. He says: “After this I looked, and behold, 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!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” So far the text.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
This morning we are observing the celebration of All Saints' Day. Each year All Saints Day falls on November 1st (and - as an aside - has also been known through the centuries as All Hallows Day … thus the other holiday that has been celebrated in recent days – All Hallows Eve … or Halloween.) Historically, All Saints Day began as a commemoration of the martyrs who had died for their Christian faith. But over the years it has evolved into a day when we honor and remember ALL THE SAINTS – those who - in death - have joined the Church Triumphant, as well as the faithful saints of the present who serve Jesus Christ. Martin Luther held that ALL Christians are, at the same time, both SINNER and SAINT – SINNERS because of our rebellious nature … but SAINTS because of salvation in Jesus.
So today we celebrate ALL THE SAINTS … all those who have died in faith and are now living on the other side of eternity … as well as all of those who are still here, living in faith on this side of eternity – including EACH OF US here this morning. And the thing I’d like us to focus in on together this All Saints Sunday is its connection to the Church’s teaching about the Communion of Saints.
I’m sure this phrase “The Communion of Saints” sounds familiar to you because it is a part of our historical Christian confession in the words of the Apostles Creed: “I believe in the Holy Spirit … the holy Christian Church … the communion of saints…”
What we are celebrating today on All Saints Day is connected to the teaching of The Communion of Saints – the idea that all of God's people - in heaven and on earth - are spiritually connected and united. In other words, Christians believe that the saints of God in heaven are just as alive as YOU and I … and that we are woven together in a tight-knit communion.
If you allow me a bit of an indulgence this morning … I would like to share with you an extended passage from a favorite book of mine. It is called “The Presence – An Approach to the Holy Communion.” … and it was written by a Lutheran pastor by the name of Berthold Von Schenk back in the 1940s. One of the chapters in this book is titled: “OUR SAINTS” … and I wish I had time to read the whole chapter to you. But I will take this opportunity to read a portion. In speaking of the Communion of Saints, Pastor Von Schenk shares the following. He says:
“When we are deprived of loved ones, it is a tremendous shock. For the time we are stunned. Not everyone can feel at once their continuing companionship. We should not for that reason despair. An adjustment must take place in our lives – reaching deep into our habits, emotions and thoughts. Some souls may make this adjustment quickly. For most of us … it comes slowly and hard; many an hour is filled with loneliness and agonizing doubt.
By ourselves we can never make this adjustment. We must come to a sense of the continuing presence of our loved ones … and we can do this if we realize the presence of our living Lord. As we seek and find our risen Lord we shall find our dear departed. They are with Him, and we find the reality of their continued life through Him. The Saints are a part of the Church. We worship with them. They worship the risen Christ face to face … while we worship the same risen Christ under the veil of bread and wine at the altar.
At the communion we are linked with heaven … with the communion of saints – with our loved ones. Here at the altar - focused to a point - we find our communion with the dead; for the altar is the closest meeting place between us and our Lord. That place must be the place of closest meeting with our dead who are in His keeping. The altar is the trysting place where we meet our beloved Lord. It must, therefore, also be the trysting place where we meet our loved ones – for they are with the Lord. How tragic it is to see men and women going out to the cemetery … kneeling at the mound … placing little sprays of flowers … and wiping their tears from their eyes – and knowing nothing else. How hopeless they look. Oh, that we could take them by the hand … away from the grave … out through the cemetery gate … in through the door of the church … and up the nave to the very altar itself … and there put them in touch - not with the dead body of their loved one - but with a living soul who is with Christ at the altar. Our human nature needs more than the assurance that some day and in some way we shall again meet our loved ones “in heaven.” That is all gloriously true. But how does that help us now?
When we, then, view death in the light of the Communion of Saints and Holy Communion, there is no helpless bereavement. My loved one has just left me and has gone on a journey. But I am in touch with her. I know that there is a place where we can meet. It is at the altar. How it thrills me when I hear the words of the liturgy, “Therefore with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven,” for I know that she is there with that company of heaven, the Communion of Saints, with the Lord. The nearer I come to my Lord in Holy Communion, the nearer I come to the Saints – to my own loved ones. I am a member of the body of Christ; I am a living cell in that spiritual organism, partaking of the life of the other cells, and sharing in the body of Christ Himself.
There is nothing fanciful or unreal about this. Indeed it is the most real thing in my life. Of course, I miss my loved one. I would miss her if she took a long holiday trip. But now, since she is what some people call dead, she is closer to me than ever. Of course, I miss her physical presence bitterly. I miss her voice and the sound of approaching footsteps. But I have not lost her. And when my sense of loss becomes too great, I can always go to our meeting place at the altar where I receive the body and blood of my Lord that preserves my body and soul just as it has preserved her unto everlasting life.
Do you learn to love the altar as the meeting place with your beloved who have passed within the veil. Here again the sacrament is the heart of our religion. The Blessed Sacrament links us not merely to Bethlehem and Calvary … but to the whole world beyond the grave as well, for at the altar the infinite is shrined in the finite; heaven stoops down to earth; and the seen and the unseen meet.”
How truly blessed we are to be a part of this incredible reality! The final phase of the Proper Preface - “Therefore with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven”- speaks so clearly and so beautifully of this reality. What we must always remember when we go to the Lord’s Supper is that we commune with Christ … and wherever Christ is, there is heaven. And this communion includes ALL THE SAINTS who have died and risen in Christ: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Ruth, Peter, Paul, our grandparents and great-grandparents - perhaps even our spouses or our children - and all the saints now living all over the world … and those still to come. After someone dies, it’s good to think of them at the Lord’s Supper, knowing that as WE commune here below at the table of the Lamb and sing His songs … WE JOIN THEM … since they are simultaneously communing at the marriage feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom that knows no end, and singing the songs of the Lamb with angels and archangels … praising Him for His victory over death and the grave FOR US and FOR OUR SALVATION – just as it was revealed to St. John in His vision.
May the Holy Spirit enlighten you and bless you to realize that in Christ - in that great mystery of our union with Him - you are joined to all who are joined to Him. Let us pray: “Oh God - the King of Saints - we praise and magnify Your holy name for all Your servants, who have finished their course in Your faith and fear – for the Blessed Virgin Mary, for the Holy Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, and Martyrs, for all Your other righteous servants; And we beseech You that, - encouraged by their example, strengthened by their fellowship - we may come to everlasting life, through the merits of Your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”