All Saints’ Day 2021
Revelation 7; Matthew 5:10-11
November 7, 2021
Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID
Today as we observe All Saints’ Day, we do so with an eye to the past, to the present, and to the future. As we celebrate those faithful departed, we rejoice in the unity that we share with those who have gone before us. We recognize today that even though the Church is still divided, part on earth and part in heaven, we united in Christ with the hope of the resurrection. We have a glimpse of departed believers in the reading from Revelation. These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation, those who suffered in life, suffered injustice, pain, sin, divisions in family, ridicule for believing in Jesus. They come from every nation and tribe. But what is the most striking about them isn’t their diversity; it’s their unity. They are united in what they have received from the Lord: they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Their sins are forgiven, and they hold the palm branch of victory that He has placed in their hands. And they are united in their attention to the Lamb upon His throne, the Lord Jesus Christ to whom they look for their full salvation.
And this is what unites us to them as well. Jesus is the One who comes in the name of the Lord to make us blessed along with all the saints who have gone before us. He is the Christ, the elected, the anointed, the Righteous One of God to whom you have been joined as a member of His body the holy, the sanctified, Christian Church. Thus you have been joined by virtue of your baptism with the elect of every nation, and every generation, who are one with Christ.
That is what the Divine Service of Word & Sacrament is all about--declaring and making you one of those who whitewashed in the red blood of the Lamb. And thus, making you who believe a saint, one of the blessed with Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who is His Blessed One. We realized that while the Church Triumphant rest from their labors, the church on earth struggles on, the Church Militant still fighting against sin, the world, and the devil, still living in this earthly tribulation.
“Blessed are you” for this is what it means to be a saint. That you are blessed, righteous, set apart by and for God. God is proclaiming to you in our Gospel reading, in the Beatitudes, that you are among those who are blessed by virtue of faith in Christ. This is a sacred paradox of the kingdom of heaven. The power of the Beatitudes which Jesus preaches lie in the reversal of human values. They see the present in light of the future. “Blessedness” moves beyond emotion to a state of being, beyond a temporal world, one that is not swayed by what happens to someone in the moment, but is instead characteristic of a person’s identity in Christ. This blessedness refers to the condition of someone who has been favorably accepted by God through faith and received His divine approval. Blessedness comes from the One who is blesses, through Jesus Himself.
The human spirit does not like the fact that who we are is deficient, that blessedness comes not from within and isn’t something you can just create yourself. Unrest in realizing that we are flawed, that we are not what we could and should be. Our bodies fail. Our minds forget. Our lives are marked by our sin and the sin of others, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Who we are in this present reality fall short because we have no righteousness of our own.
But you do have Jesus. And by faith, and faith alone, the righteous of God in Christ is yours. For Jesus is the Righteous One, and it is exactly because of this righteousness that He is persecuted and eventually put to death. And so it is no wonder that the 8th beatitude speaks of this, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” The mark of the true disciple is that like Jesus, he becomes a target of the world’s hatred for the same reason – Jesus’ righteousness.
This is an important distinction. The world’s antagonism against those made righteous through faith in Christ is against Christ Himself. Consider the conversion of St. Paul, as we did this morning in our adult Bible study. Here was Saul, the zealous Pharisee, who was ravaging the Church, even going house by house, dragging off men and women to prison because they believed in Jesus. In Acts 9, on the road to Damascus, Jesus calls, “‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’” And he said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting…’” (Acts 9:4-5). To those who face persecution, hardship, who are reviled and spoken evil of because of Jesus, because of His righteousness given to you.
Your suffering is not in vain. “Troubles are not always punishments for certain past deeds, but they are God’s works, intended for our benefit, and that God’s power might be made more apparent in our weakness” (Ap XIIB 63). “Those who are persecuted for righteousness’s sake, those who are reviled and have all kinds of evil spoken against them falsely because of Christ” are blessed in the knowledge that they follow a great line of prophets and apostles who understood their identity in the One who was martyred for them. Disciples of Jesus will be like Jesus by being a target of Satan Himself.
Rejoice and be glad, as you struggle on this earthly life, for Jesus says your reward is great in heaven. In the midst of trouble and tribulation, slander and fear, attacks of the devil, keep your eye on the prize, the goal, the eternal destination, the surpassing greatness of the crown of eternal that Jesus will bestow upon who remain true, those who are declared blessed by the One from whom all blessings flow. It is only through the blessedness of Jesus given to you that you are to stand firm in the truth faith to live everlasting. Because you too are declared by God to be a saint, made pure and righteous by the One who is holy and purifies, cleansed in your Baptism, and there united to both His death and to His resurrection.
And that is the source of our true joy, of our rejoicing! Consider again those heavenly saints. While they have been delivered from the tribulations, they are not yet in their glorified state as they will be after Jesus’ second coming when their bodies will live again. They still look to the resurrected Christ in the sure and certain hope of their bodily resurrection. And so do we! And so we hear in 1 John, we hear, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when we appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 1:2). There is a better version of yourselves coming, but not here yet. Until that day, may we gather before the throne and before the Lamb in praise and adoration, in unity with the Church Triumphant, in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting, blessed to be saints of God through faith in Jesus Christ.