Sermon for the twenty-third Sunday after
All Saints Sunday
I heard a loud voice speaking from the throne: “Now God's home is with people! He will live with them, and they shall be his people. God himself will be with them, and he will be their God. He will wipe away all tears from their eyes. There will be no more death, no more grief or crying or pain. The old things have disappeared.”
I think you would all agree that one of the great things about the Christian gospel is its message of hope. When we are being taken through some of the darkest valleys and alleyways that life can lead us we can find ourselves in the same place as Mary and Martha.
Lazarus shouldn’t have died. But he did. The sisters had called on Jesus but his answer wasn’t what they expected or wanted and Lazarus’ life was out of their hands. There was nothing left for them to do except mourn his death.
Mary is clearly upset and very puzzled. She questions Jesus when he finally gets there, “Lord, if only you had been here, things would have been different. Lazarus wouldn’t have died. Where were you?” Jesus sees her grief and feels for her. He raises Lazarus to life and offers hope to all who face death saying that he will raise to life who all those who live and believe in him.
It is the hope that we have in
Jesus Christ that is highlighted today as we celebrate All Saints Day.
The Book of Revelation describes to us the joyful celebration of those
gathered around the throne of the Lamb in heaven.
They have gone through their time of suffering and tribulation and have
been faithful to the end and now all of that is behind them.
God has wiped away all their tears and sorrow. There is no more death and
pain and dying. There is only
joyous celebration as they praise God for the victory he has given to them
through the Lamb who has died for them and made them new and clean.
He has given them the white robes of righteousness and purity.
Victoriously they wave palm branches calling out with the angels and all
those in heaven,
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was, who is, and who is to come.
Salvation comes from our God, who sits on the throne, and from the Lamb!
All Praise, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honour, power, and might belong to our God forever and ever! Amen!” (Revelation 4:8, 7:10-11).
In today’s reading from Revelation we hear about a new heaven and a new earth. God's creative work takes a full turn. When God created the Garden of Eden it was a perfect place where God and his people lived together in harmony. There was no death or crying or grief or pain. Now at the end of the Bible we hear God creating a new heaven and earth and God will once again dwell amongst his people. We read, “He will wipe away all tears from their eyes. There will be no more death, no more grief or crying or pain. The old things have disappeared” (Revelation 21:4). There in that perfect place we will gather with all the saints who have gone before us – the saints whose names are written in history because of what they did in Christ’s name. There are also those saints whose names are not recorded anywhere except in the book of life – those Christians who were never famous but were faithful to their calling as disciples of the Lord knowing their weaknesses, trusting in his grace and serving in whatever way they were able.
There in that perfect place are all the saints who will come after us – those to whom we have passed on the gospel through words and deeds and then those who have received the message of Jesus’ love through them and so on.
The hope and confidence of a life beyond this life are the true blessings that come with knowing Jesus. Even if we are to face the worst, we can do so knowing that Jesus has made it possible for us to pass through death to a glorious new life in eternity. Through his death and resurrection he has made us right and clean and ready to enter the perfect place we call heaven.
That doesn’t mean that death won’t bring with it pain as we farewell those whom we love here in this life. Let me tell you this story that was part of a talk on the liturgy I once heard. It has stuck in my head. It went something like this.
The speaker told of an occasion when he was graduate pastor. Not long after he began in his first parish an 11 year old boy contracted a rare disease and died. At this child’s funeral the young pastor preached what he thought was a comforting sermon. He said, “Don’t be afraid. Your son is in heaven with the Lord and he is perfect and whole,” and assured the gathering that the boy was safe with Jesus.
Afterwards the father spoke with the pastor and said, “Pastor I know you were trying to comfort us by telling us that our son is in heaven, but I’m sorry that doesn’t take away the pain. We are really hurting because at this moment we miss him so much. He is not here with us. To not feel him close to us – that’s what’s causing us so much pain.”
The pastor listened carefully and went home. He felt deeply for this family and longed to be able to find some way to help them. He thought and prayed about how he could comfort them in their loss.
As he was preparing the worship services for the next Sunday his eyes fell on a passage in the Communion liturgy that he had sung and read so many times before. There in the liturgy was not his comfort for the grieving family, but the Lord’s comfort for them. The words he read were these, “Therefore with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven…”
He went to visit that grieving family again. He said to them, “I know you are separated from your son, and that this hurts you very deeply, and there is nothing that can be done to actually bring him back in a physical way. But think about this for a minute. When you come to church on Sunday and you come to receive Holy Communion and you kneel at the altar, you are joined together once again with him.
There at that moment heaven meets earth and we are in communion with all the saints, those who are still in this life and also those who have gone on before us and are in heaven already. Every time you come to Communion you will be with him and he with you. This is a kind of a little foretaste of that heavenly reunion you will have with him one day, when you will never be separated from him again”.
As the pastor poured this out of his heart, there were tears but this time mixed with the tears of grief were tears of joy.
The following Sunday as the parents knelt at the altar with their other children it was clear they were weeping softly and as they stood to return to their seats they briefly embraced. At the end of the service the parents were too choked up to say much to the pastor, but the father grabbed hold of his arm and smiled. No words need to be said.
All Saints Sunday reminds us of the hope that we have in Jesus Christ. In the Bible we read, “By raising Jesus from death, God 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). This hope assures us that even though we are separated physically from our loved ones, we are still one with them in the church, joined to them in Christ. All Saints Day reminds us that we are part of the Church – not the Lutheran Church, or Anglican Church, or St Paul’s but The Church – the holy people of God everywhere from all ages, in heaven and earth; Christians of all times; our parents and grandparents, marriage partners, children, dear Christian friends – all those who have died in Christ and are now raised to life with him and who live with him forever. We have all been joined to Christ and become members of his Church in our baptism, we have been made new and clean through his blood and made heirs of eternal life now and forever. We are part of an eternal community, a communion of saints (holy people) that crosses earth and heaven and shares in the glory of God.
There is great comfort for us in this, as there was for those grieving parents. We too have lost people we love. That loss is sometimes devastating – to feel that we will never see that person again. We will never again hear their voice or see their face. That is the pain of loss.
But the great comfort we celebrate today is that those who have lived with Christ in this life, and are with Christ in eternity, whom we have loved and still love, are not lost. We often say when someone dies that the person has “passed away” or that we have “lost” a loved one. Those who die in Christ aren’t lost and they haven’t passed away as if they have vaporised into nothing. They have passed on to a new life and although we cannot see them or embrace them now, they are still with us, in our one faith and hope. And we will see them again.
There is great comfort too in knowing that those who have suffered terribly through illness in this life, those who have been snatched away suddenly, those who died in tragic accidents, or in fear, they are now safe and in peace, sheltered, as we read in Revelation, “Now God's home is with his people! He will live with them, and he will be their God. He will wipe away all tears from their eyes”.
And as we celebrate All Saint’s Day, we remember all God’s people – past and present and even those not yet born.
We commemorate the grace God showed them, their faith and their lives. But we also have this opportunity every time we celebrate Holy Communion, not just to commemorate but to commune with them. It is here in the sanctuary where heaven and earth meet. We are reminded of the water of baptism that washed over us and welcomed us into the church; we are reminded how God's Word of promise sustains us along our journey through life and we receive from God his own Son’s body and blood in Communion. Here in this holy place The Church meets – the church in heaven and on earth touch together – as we humbly and joyfully receive from the grace of God.
As you come to Holy Communion today, you may like to remember those you love who are no longer with us and remember that they are here at this holy meal where heaven and earth meet. We join our voices with the angels, the archangels and all the saints gathered around the throne of God praising God and thanking him for his love.
© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
4th November 2012