Many Saints, One God
All Saints’ Day [Observed]
Twenty-First Sunday after Trinity
November 5, 2017
The apostolic greeting, Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, is the greeting to all Christians of all times, saints in the Lord. And that is what you are. You are holy, pure in the sight of God. Washed in the pure Baptismal waters.
It was not always so. You are now a people, once you were not a people. You are holy, once you were held in the bondage of sin. What hope was there? What could be done? How could sinful people ever hope to gain freedom from sin?
About a quarter century before Christ a building was dedicated in Rome to all of the gods. It was the pantheon, pan being all and theon being god. And the Romans did believe in many gods. But the Triune God claims that divinity for Himself alone. In 610 a.d. Boniface IV rededicated the pantheon as a Christian basilica in honor of Mary and the martyrs, those who died for the Christian faith. Eventually there came to be a day in the Church Year commemorating all the martyrs. And then eventually that day became a day to commemorate all the saints, which is what we celebrate today in All Saints’ Day.
And there are many. Many saints who have gone before us. You know many of them. Abraham, David, Moses, Isaiah, Elijah, Peter, Mary, James, John, Paul. And there are the ones who are not generally as well-known. Abel, Nahum, Hezekiah, Elizabeth, Deborah, Lydia, Barnabas, Matthias. And there are many since Bible times. Ambrose, Augustine, Polycarp, Luther, John Hus, Martin Chemnitz, C.F.W. Walther, Charles Porterfield Krauth.
Whether or not you know all of these saints, their life work and writings have been handed down to us and we have been blessed because they faithfully carried out the work of the Lord in making the Gospel known.
But the festival of the Church year is not only about the famous ones who have gone before us. Think of the thousands upon thousands of ordinary people who lived ordinary lives throughout history who day by day lived under the grace of God and each day woke to a new day of raising their children in a Christian home, each day going to work to provide blessings to society and to provide a home for their own family. Each day they woke to the reality that they were Baptized into Christ, just as those who first were as recounted in the book of Acts.
The saints of God of Abraham’s time lived very different lives than you do but they were recipients of the same promise that you are. Those Christians in the Middles Ages had different experiences than you do but were hearing the same Gospel you hear. The saints of God have lived in different places and different times but have all been bound up in the same Lord, the same faith, the same Baptism.
And you have your own personal list of saints that Christians who don’t know you wouldn’t know. Augustine may have been a theologian on a par with the apostle Paul, but you have a personal connection and a grieving heart for your grandmother or grandfather, or your husband or wife, your brother or sister, your daughter or son. Thousands of years have gone by with the death of countless saints, but it may have been only a few years since the death of your loved one. You long to be with your loved ones again.
So many people across the ages have put their trust in false gods. But the people we give thanks to God for on this day put their trust in one God. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. David’s son, and David’s Lord. The God of creation and redemption, the Father, Son, and Holy Sprit. Many saints have believed in the one God.
And those saints include you and me. We are just like all those saints who have gone before us. We live in a fallen world and in our own sinful flesh. We live in a world that scorns us for believing in just one God. We live in a body that is wrapped up in the sinful nature. All those saints who have gone before us had hope only in the one true God. It is an encouragement to us that He blessed them abundantly in all their trials and forgave them all their sins. There is hope for us as well. It is the same hope they had.
You and I are never alone. We have the great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us. We have each other as we gather here in the House of God and receive the same forgiveness of sins God has been delivering to His people across the ages in cathedrals and in simple country churches. When you go back and look at the lives of those saints in the Bible and those since you see that though the times and situations they lived in were very different, their struggles were not so different. They struggled with doubt, with temptation, with illness, with tragedy, and with persecution.
Once they drew their last breath, they were released from all of that. If you want to know how that looks, you see it in the first reading today from Revelation. It is a window into heaven. The saints who have gone before us are before the Throne. There is only joy and glory. There are no tears or sorrow or death. They are released from everything that burdened them here on earth.
And you know what they are doing? They are celebrating. They are enjoying the Eternal Feast of the Lamb. Jesus Christ is pouring out for them all the eternal blessings of the Triune God. They no longer need forgiveness but that doesn’t stop them from feasting at the Lamb’s banquet table. No one has ever known a feast like this. When you get there you will see that it is beyond our grasp to comprehend.
However, and this cannot be emphasized enough, the festival of all saints is the festival of all the saints. You and I are actually given the invitation to celebrate in this feast. Granted, it is not in the glory that the saints in heaven share in. And granted also that it is for you and me for the forgiveness of our sins. But it is the same Feast. It is the same banqueting table of our Lord. When we commune here at His altar we are communing with the angels and the archangels and all the company of heaven. We are communing with each other and with Abraham and Paul and Luther and all those saints you don’t know but will know exactly when you get to heaven and with your loved ones who were taken from you before you were ready for them to be taken. Here at this altar you are nowhere else more one with them than you are when you are communing with the very body and blood of Christ and His countless host of saints.
The apostolic greeting is to the saints. When the apostles greeted the saints they did so as sinners to sinners. But sinners who had been made holy, holy in the precious stream of Baptism. Holy, as we see in the first reading today, in the blood of the Lamb. Holy as those who are poor in spirit. That is what you are, holy. You are poor in spirit. Blessed are you for yours is the Kingdom of Heaven.
You mourn the loss of your loved ones, but blessed are you for you will be comforted. You are meek, weak in the eyes of the eyes of the world, but blessed are you for you will inherit the earth. You hunger and thirst for righteousness, for the only hope there is in the world, and blessed are you for you will be satisfied. You are merciful, blessed are you for you will receive mercy. You are pure in heart, blessed are you for you will see God even as those you long to see again are already seeing Him face to face. You are a peacemaker, blessed are you for you will be called sons of God.
You are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for the sake of Christ. Blessed are you for yours is the Kingdom of heaven. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven. For so they persecuted the prophets before you. Rejoice and be glad for you commune even now at the altar of our Lord with the many saints and the one God. Amen.