This morning we celebrate the festival of All Saints. We Lutherans don’t believe in purgatory or some intermediate state like the Roman Catholic church. We believe that those who have died and fallen asleep in Jesus are with God right now in heaven. Because that’s simply what God’s Word says in the Holy Scriptures. So we celebrate the lives of those who have died in Christ. They are resting peacefully in heaven, with all the saints, the angels, and archangels and with all the company of heaven and yet, they are awaiting the resurrection, when their bodies will rise from the grave and be united with souls.
This morning in our First reading, St. John, the writer of the book of Revelation is lifted up into heaven, and receives a glorious vision of the splendor of paradise. All the angels are standing around the throne, all the saints, worshiping the Lamb of God on the altar. People of all nations, tribes, and languages are standing, worshiping, kneeling, and bowing before God. They are all dressed in white robes of Christ’s righteousness singing and praising God waving Palm branches in their hands.
They are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Their labors are over and their rest is now won.
Everything that they believed in their hearts by faith they now see with their own eyes. They see God face to face. Their sufferings are done. They are comforted now. And every tear is wiped away from their eyes.
Today more than anything is meant to be a day of encouragement. We are called to remember our parents, our friends, our relatives, who confessed Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and died a Christian death. We rejoice in this victory – that they are with God now. In His glorious presence. We are reminded that this short life is not all there is. In fact this life is not even worth comparing to the glory to be revealed to those who trust in God and wait for the day of His glorious appearing when he shall come again with his armies of angels to close out this evil age and usher in the new.
Today we remember all the saints whose work is complete. It’s encouraging to remember that our burdens and troubles, as difficult as they are will not last forever. That someday we will join the host heavenly host arrayed in white.
But you’re not up in heaven with God yet. Your tribulation is still going on. You are still struggling with sin. You are still battling anxiety, despair, and unbelief. You are still being reckless in your relationships, harming others, and being hurt. But your troubles will not last forever. You are still running your race, working out your salvation with fear and trembling by the grace of God.
If you’ve ever played a sport you know what it’s like to be on the field. Most sports are exhausting and draining. The field of play wears you down. You get hit, fouled up, and hurt. But what’s more encouraging than looking up at all the bleechers, and seeing all the people cheering you on. The Word of God speaks of something similar in Hebrews chapter 12 verse 1: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
The Christian life is much like this. It’s certainly not a game it’s as real as it gets. But it is akin to marathon. It’s long and exhausting – taxing on the body and spirit – but we don’t lose hope. We keep moving. Pressing forward, always looking toward Christ – not dropping the baton of faith.
Christianity is not for sissies, it’s warfare everyday. St. John who wrote the book of revelation and saw this vision of heaven is the only apostle as far as we know who was not crucified, cut open, filleted alive, or beheaded. That’s what happened to all the other apostles. But John lived to be an old man, forced into exile on the island of Patmos where he received the revelation read to you today. And when he looks at heaven he is looking at the Lamb – which is Jesus – was was slain – but now lives. And He sees everyone coming out of the great tribulation – all people of every nation, of all languages worshiping in heaven. No names are mentioned, but they are all there. Surely St. Peter and St. Paul, St. Mary, and James. St. Francis, Martin Luther or Mother Theresa, surely they belong. But we don’t call today All Saints Day for nothing. The ALL is important. Because the All must mean you. Because Christ – the Lamb of God – was sacrificed and raised up for you too. So when St. John sees the vision of heaven – he also sees a vision of you.
It’s you with the Palm Branches in your hands, it’s you dear Christian, who delights in the forgiveness of sins, being washed in the blood of the Lamb - reaching out for the body and blood of Christ week and week here at this altar – before the same Lamb of which the saints surround in heaven. So St. John also sees you when he looks out at this glorious vision. A Saint is not just some professional famous Christian hero. Saints are all true Christians, which is to say, you are actually in the Bible. You are in the book of Revelation. St. John sees the likes of you.
Your race, your marathon is not done yet, but don't lose hope. Christ has gone ahead of you and blazed the trail of your salvation. From Calvary to the empty tomb the victory has been won. Our Lord said "it is finished." So press forward and be of good courage. Jesus says "I am the way, the truth, and the life." In the communion of all the saints gathered into the one body of God’s Son, He has surrounded us with so great a cloud of witnesses that we, encouraged by their faith and strengthened by their fellowship, may run with perseverance the race that is set before us and, together with them, we will at last receive the crown of glory that does not fade away. In the name of Jesus. Amen.