Sunday, November 04, 2007

Sermon: Festival of All Saints (Transferred)

4 November 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Rev 7:9-11

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

The word “saint” can mean different things depending on the context. St. Paul often uses the term “saint” as a title and description of all baptized believers, those in the words of St. John’s revelation whose robes have been washed by the blood of the Lamb. Of course, when I referred to Saints Paul and John, I was using the word in another way, a more restrictive way, meaning a Christian with particular virtues that the whole Christian Church on earth recognizes. The modern-day Roman Catholic Church has a thorough bureaucratic process by which a person is canonized, or given the title of “saint.” And, of course, in the fall months in the New Orleans area, the word “saint” has still another connotation.

In the ancient liturgy of the Church, right before communion was distributed, the celebrant would declare “holy things for holy people.” The word “saint” in Greek and in Latin means both “holy things” and “holy people.” So, our liturgy of Word and Sacrament is truly “saints for saints.” The “holy things” are reserved for the “holy people,” and yet at the same time, the “holy people” are made holy by the “holy things.”

Today, we celebrate all saints, all “holy people” who are never far from the “holy things.” We celebrate those heroes and heroines of the faith whose lives have become models in holiness and good works that all Christians should emulate. We celebrate those saints who are officially recognized in the church calendar, those particular saints whom we lovingly remember year after year – especially if they have been martyred for the faith. But again, today is the festival of “All Saints.” We celebrate all followers of Jesus Christ: those who died in agony in the arena and those who died comfortably in their own beds. We call to mind the rich and the poor, the known and the unknown, the role models and even those whose entire lives reflected a great struggle with sin. No two saints are alike, which makes the pure white a fitting color for All Saints Day. Scientifically speaking, white is the result of the blending of all colors, and the Church is indeed “a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues.”

And what’s more, we celebrate those saints who have not yet departed this life – we who gather around the altar here on this side of the grave: seeking absolution for our sins, praying for mercy because of our shortcomings, singing imperfect praises, and making our way hungrily for the comfort of the holy sacrament. As we confess in the creed, there is only one, one holy catholic and apostolic Church. There is not one church of the dead and one of the living. For in Christ, we are all alive. We are all of one communion of saints. The love, affection, esteem, and celebration of saintly lives and virtues do not suddenly come to an end at death.

In fact, the Christian life is quite the contrary. As followers of Him who is the Alpha and the Omega, time takes on a certain irrelevance. In eternity, there is no beginning and no end.

And yet, in this life, there is both a beginning and end. We mourn our dead even as they conquer death in Christ. We acknowledge their new beginning, their heavenly birthday – as the Church usually commemorates a saint based on the day of his entry into glory.

We also celebrate new life, as mothers and fathers continue to heed our Father’s mandate to “be fruitful and multiply.” We also celebrate a new saint’s second birthday, when he is born of water and the Spirit, as our dear little brother Christian Ebersole was today.

And how fitting for the latest saint to be born again in the midst of this congregation to bear the name “Christian” as a constant reminder of whose he is!

“‘Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?’ And I said to him, ‘Sir, you know.’ So he said to me, ‘These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’”

All Christians, all saints, have been cleansed by the Lamb’s holy blood, washed in the Lamb’s holy and living water, they are the hosts arrayed in the white garb of baptism – those “who from their labor rest” as well as those who continue to “fight the good fight.”

And make no mistake, dear saints, every Christian, every saint, is a warrior, a soldier waging a hellish battle between good and evil, between the New Man and the sinful flesh, that age-old clash between the legions of light and the demons of darkness. It is our prayer that all the saints “fight as the saints who nobly fought of old.” For this is not something ultimately as trivial as a sporting event or as fleeting as a video game. This is real warfare, desperate warfare, eternal warfare.

This is why we gather here, seeking direction from our Commander in Chief, being nourished and emboldened by His encouraging Word and fortifying sacraments.

We limp from the battlefields of life in this fallen world, shot down, maimed, even mortally wounded – but never defeated.

For battles are lost, individual warriors fall, but the Word of God remains forever. Jesus Christ reigns triumphant – and brings all His saints to reign with Him. And in victory, all the saints and angels sing in the eternal liturgy of heaven: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!...Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”

This is the song of the saints – from the greatest to the least, those honored by the Church, and those who lie in unmarked and forgotten graves, those whose warfare is ended, and those whose struggle against the vile and bitter enemy continue.

And though we continue to live in time and struggle against sin, we know where our true home is. We know that time has no meaning to us who have been born again unto eternity. For we know that we are one Church with those who are “before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple.” We know the promises made to them apply to us as well: “He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Oh, what their joy and their glory must be,
Those endless Sabbaths the blessed ones see!
Crowns for the valiant, to weary ones rest;
God shall be all, and in all ever blest.


In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

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