|Text: 1 Peter 1:3,4 (CEV).
"Praise God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is so good, and by raising Jesus from death, he has given us new life and a hope that lives on. God has something stored up for you in heaven, where it will never decay or be ruined or disappear".
In the Lutheran Church in Australia there hasnít been a strong emphasis on celebrating All Saints Day in the past because it always stood in the shadow of that unique Lutheran festival we call Reformation Day.
Iím pleased to see that All Saints Day is again part of our church calendar with its thankful celebration of those who have gone before us and left us solid models of what it means to be a Christian witness in an often non-Christian and hostile society. We remember those who have given their lives for the sake of the gospel as well as those who have had a saintly influence on our lives.
I am pleased that the message of certainty, hope, peace, and joy that permeates throughout All Saints Day stands in stark contrast to the worldly and unbiblical celebration of Halloween with its witches, devils and ghosts. (Halloween is based on Celtic paganism that held the view that ghosts and other beings of the spirit world enter our world on one night and attack the humans who do not offer them food and other gifts).
Recently I had a meeting with a grief counsellor, especially in relation to children and grief. She gave me a little book with a great story, a fable if you like, that Iím sure you have heard before but sets the scene for our celebration of All Saints Sunday.
There was once a colony of water bugs living below the surface of a quiet pond. The bugs spent many months scurrying around in the silt at the bottom of the pond, and from time to time they noticed that one of their friends would grab hold of a pond lily stem and gradually move out of sight and werenít ever seen again. Those left behind would wait and wait, but their friends never came back. They wondered where their friend had gone, and made a deal, the next one to climb up a stalk would come back and tell the others where they went and why.
Then one spring day one of them found himself climbing up a lily stalk, suddenly he found himself on the surface, sitting on the leaf of the lily pad that heíd only ever seen from underneath.
He was tired from the climb, so he went to sleep on the lily pad, when he woke up he was startled by the change he noticed in his body, he shook himself and realised he had four beautiful wings and a long tail. The warm sun dried him off and flapped his wings, suddenly he was in the air above the water, he looked at his reflection and realised that he had become a magnificent dragonfly. He found himself swooping and flitting around loving the new atmosphere he had found himself in.
When it was time to take a rest, he landed on a lily pad again. When he did, he looked over the edge and could see all of the water bugs running around at the bottom of the pond and he remembered his promise to go back and tell them where heíd gone and why. He flew up into the air and tried to dive down through the surface of the water, but he just bounced off. He couldnít go back into the water. He realised that if he did go back, his friends wouldnít recognise him anyway! He decided he would just have to wait for them to come up to him instead, knowing that they would understand when they came too. So he flew off to enjoy his new found freedom.
While this might just be a fable, we can use this story in much the same way as Jesus told parables to explain difficult concepts to the people who gathered to listen to him. As a parable it tells us how hard it for us while in this life to understand what happens when we die. We would love someone to come back from the dead and tell us exactly what itís like to die and what itís like on the other side of death.
This little story does a great job explaining that those who die have passed to a place that none of the water bugs could ever dream of; far greater than the lowly existence on the bottom of the pond; a place worth going to because there is freedom that has never been experienced before. Just as the water bug was changed from a lowly creature to a magnificent dragonfly so also the change that we will experience when we arrive in heaven will be even more amazing Ė something that we canít even begin to imagine at this moment.
This little fable reminds us that our life in this world is limited. We scurry here and there at a furious pace just like the water bugs, then one day our turn will come, and we too will walk along the lily stem of death to a new life, our earthly bodies will change; we will be free of all that bothers us now.
At this present time we live in a world which is focussed on turning life at the bottom of the pond into paradise and trying ever so hard to blot out any notion that the paradise we are creating is temporary and limited. We canít imagine a time when we wonít wake up in our own bed, or walk in our favourite part of the garden or sit in our favourite chair with our feet up in front of the tellie or play a round of golf. We canít imagine a world where there is no football, no shopping malls, no going off to work and no more visits to the doctor. All of these are part of life on the bottom of the pond. Thatís not to say we canít be happy as Iím sure water bugs on the bottom of the pond were but life in the pond can also be very distressing and depressing. As good as all these things are in our self-made paradise, there is something far better yet to come.
As Christians we look ahead to the day when we will enter the place where God is. The Bible says this, "Praise God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is so good, and by raising Jesus from death, he has given us new life and a hope that lives on. God has something stored up for you in heaven, where it will never decay or be ruined or disappear" (1 Peter 1:3,4 CEV).
The Apostle Peter wrote those words to Christians who were suffering and needed encouragement. He reminds them that the life, death, resurrection and the promised return of Jesus is the beginning of genuine hope. The trials and suffering that are endured now will strengthen their faith in Jesus as the only source of comfort and encouragement. And even if it happens that our suffering in this life never ends, that we die as the result of some kind of illness or accident, we can be certain of the hope of eternal life in heaven.
This is a promise that Jesus made to each of us through his own death and resurrection. He defeated the hold that death has over us and passed on to us the hope that beyond this life there is a life that is far more glorious than we could ever imagine.
This hope believes that Jesus is our ever present companion through every trial and trouble.
This hope upholds our trust and faith in the love of Jesus even though the circumstances would dictate otherwise.
This hope sustains us when we are down and depressed.
This hope gives us the strength and courage we need.
This hope enables us to endure the frailty of our bodies and the pain and sickness that threaten its future.
This hope looks forward to the time when all of our disabilities and frailties will be healed and we will enjoy perfection.
This hope looks past the pain and the grieving and sees only the love of Jesus as he holds us up and guides us through the present time.
The message that the Bible gives us is this; there is no true hope without God. God is a specialist in hope. The psalmist said, "I depend on God alone; I put my hope in him. He alone protects and saves me; he is my defender" (Psalm 62:5,6).
Today as we celebrate All Saints Day we give thanks to God for the glorious hope that he has given us through Jesus our saviour who said that he has gone to prepare for us a place in heaven so that we can be where he is. We thank God for the saintly people who were by no means perfect, but who have been a part of our lives and the church and have given us their legacy of love and commitment for us to imitate. We thank God for the saints here at Caboolture who continue to show love, loyalty and dedication to their Lord through what they do for other people. Maybe you donít think of yourself as a saint but in Christ and because of Christ thatís exactly who you are. A forgiven and loved sinner who in whatever way God has gifted you pass on that same love and forgiveness to others.
Finally, have you ever wondered about the symbolism of old churches having cemeteries in the grounds surrounding the church? As you walk to the front door of the church you pass through a field of saints who have gone before us. These are the people now gathered around the throne of the Lamb in heaven. These are the saints who while on earth let their love and passion for their Saviour enable them to be committed and loyal to God's church.
And after we have walked through the field of past saints, we enter with the saints of today and join with them in singing our praise to the Lamb. As we come forward to Communion we are joining the saints of all times and places and gather around the body and blood of Christ, the risen Lord now enthroned in glory and yet still present in the ordinary bread and wine.
In the presence of these saints and those gathered around the throne of the Lamb, we are able to look past the present moment and the troubles that fill our lives and the grief for loved ones that causes our hearts to ache, and see the glorious hope that awaits all of God's saints. Even though we can no longer see or feel or touch our loved ones who have left this life, they are in a better place, a place that we long for, where we will sing praises to God and rejoice in our new found freedom.
As Peter says, God has given us new life and a hope that lives on; stored up for us in heaven, where it will never decay or be ruined or disappear".
© Pastor Vince
31st October 2010