All Saints Day
November 5, 2017
“Already and Not Yet”
1 John 3:1-3
Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. 1 John 3:1-3
Halloween is the eve of All Saints Day. That’s the day before All Saints Day, just as Christmas Eve is the day before Christmas. Everybody knows about Halloween. Very few know about All Saints Day. It is rarely celebrated on November 1, where it falls in the church calendar. We generally observe it on the first Sunday after November 1.
It is good that we observe this day. The first Scripture lesson for All Saints Day is from the seventh chapter of the Revelation of Saint John where the Evangelist sees a picture of the saints in heaven. They are wearing white robes. They washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. As we just sang:
St. John goes on to describe the blessedness of the saints in heaven. They serve God day and night in his temple. God lives with them and they do not hunger or thirst. The sun does not strike them, nor any heat. The Lamb is their Shepherd who leads them to living waters. God wipes away every tear from their eyes.
The saints in heaven wait for the resurrection of the body. So do the saints on earth. But meanwhile, we who live here on earth find our blessedness, not in experiencing the joys of heaven, but as we endure the troubles of this life. Blessed, Jesus says in today’s Gospel lesson, are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.
There is only one church. It is a communion of saints. The church is the undivided body of Christ. The church here on earth looks forward in anticipation of the joys of heaven. The church in heaven rests from the labors of living in this world. The church on earth and the church in heaven await the resurrection on the last day when the dead shall be raised and these mortal bodies will become immortal and we shall be changed, in the twinkling of an eye, raised up in glorified bodies that will never suffer pain, disease, sorrow, death, or anything else that sin has brought into this world.
Heaven is where we belong, but we’re not there yet. Heaven is where we belong because heaven is where God is and we belong to God. He is our Father and we are his children. That’s what it means to be a saint. Jesus said, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” To believe and be baptized means that we have washed our robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. It means that we live under God’s blessing. It means that we will see God. Jesus promises, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
The word saint means a holy person. The word we usually use to identify ourselves is the word Christian. That’s a good word. It means we belong to Christ. But in the Bible it is hardly used. The word saint is the word the Bible uses to designate a Christian. A saint is a holy person.
People usually use the word saint to refer to a famous Christian who has died and gone to heaven. Or it may be used to refer to any Christian who has died and gone to heaven. The late John Jones, if he was a Christian, is referred to as the sainted John Jones. The way the word “saint” is used would suggest that all of the saints are in heaven and you don’t become a saint until you die and go to heaven.
But that’s not so. The communion of saints consists of Christians who are in heaven and Christians who are here on earth. We are all saints together. We belong together. We are in fellowship with each other. The division between heaven and earth appears to be so vast that there can be no union between the two. But God, who is in heaven, who inhabits eternity, became flesh and made his dwelling here on earth.
Think of what this means! It means that there is right now true fellowship – communion – between the saints in heaven and the saints on earth. How do we know this? They are all joined to Christ and Christ is God in the flesh. He is present everywhere at the same time. It also means that everything the saints in heaven have the saints on earth have as well.
Well, you say, I don’t know if I would go that far. They have freedom from pain and I have a pain that won’t go away. They have perfect peace of mind and I am anxious about all sorts of things. They do not have to bear the contempt of the world while we do.
All this is true, but it misses the point. We are children of God. God says it and that makes it so. If we are children, then we are heirs. Everything the saints in heaven have we have, too. We do not belong to the world. We belong to Christ. He is the head and we are his body. What the world says about Christ it will say about Christ’s saints.
When St. John uses the word “world” in his Gospel and Epistles, it either means all the people in the world or it means those people in the world who are of the world, who are not Christians, who are outside of the church, who don’t know Christ. The first use is used in John 3:16 where Jesus says that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. It is used in 1 John 2:2 where John writes that Jesus “is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” The second use of the word “world” is used in our text where John writes: “Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.”
The saints in heaven are free from the troubles of this world. They enjoy what is called the beatific vision – the vision of blessedness. They see what was hidden under faith when they were living in this world. But we don’t see this. We see the very opposite of what we believe. Jesus said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Here in our text St. John writes,
Those who believe and are baptized, who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, are children of God. They are saints. But nobody can see this. We aren’t wearing halos around our heads. Our holiness is seen only by God who has washed away our sins. When Christ appears in his glory, the whole world will see him as he is. He will no longer be hidden from sight, to be found only through faith where his gospel is proclaimed and his sacraments are administered. His glory will be visible to the whole world.
And we will be like him. We will see him as he is and we will be glorified with him. What is ours now through faith, hidden from sight, will be revealed. This is our Christian hope and it is this hope that purifies us, cleanses us, and makes us holy.
The hymnist puts it this way:
It is this anticipation of heaven that purifies us while we are living here on earth. Remember how Jesus said to his disciples, “I go to prepare a place for you”? Where did he go? Did he ascend up into glory to set things in order for us? No, he went to the cross. That’s where he set things in order. That’s how he prepared the place for us. Our hope for glory is grounded in Christ bearing our shame. As surely as his blood was shed; as surely as we were washed in that blood in Holy Baptism; as surely as we trust in Christ’s blood and righteousness; so surely we are wearing white robes of innocence right now. We live in hope of the glory to be revealed in us when Christ returns in glory.
When you know that heaven is your true home and that you are only a pilgrim here on earth you know as well that your true identity is in the things that are above and not in the things that are below. St. Paul writes:
The celebration of All Saints’ Day is the celebration of God’s faithfulness to his children. We who have lost Christian loved ones this past year celebrate today that they are now enjoying their Sabbath rest. God has wiped away every tear from their eyes.
But we celebrate not only the victory of the saints in heaven. We celebrate what God gives us here and now. The status of being God’s child means that we look at the world in which we live in a certain way. We don’t trust in its promises, because we know that it is going to be destroyed someday. That which perishes cannot promise anything permanent. The treasures of this life are fleeting. It is all what the Preacher said it was so long ago: Vanity.
Consider the world in which we live. We are strangers to its religion, values, and most firmly held beliefs. Yet we know the One who rules this world. We know the One who has redeemed this world. We know the One who even now, as I speak, calls out of this world his holy people – called to be saints – from all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues – and he governs this world for their benefit. Our Father in heaven rules this world for the sake of his elect, his chosen, his dear children.
You don’t have to wait till you get to heaven to claim it as your home. As we think of those we love who have gone before us into glory remember that we enjoy the bond of Christian fellowship with them right now. It will never be broken, for it lies in the hands of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Rolf D. Preus