Topic: Biblical Verse: Revelation 7:9–7:17
The Feast of All Saints (observed)
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
Autumn brings all kinds of distinctive things into our lives. The leaves are falling these days in all their brilliant colors, even as the days grow shorter. Children (and grown-ups) get costumes on and go out trick-or-treating. You can go visit orchards and enjoy fresh, hot spiced apple cider to warm you up as the weather cools off. Life after the summer has passed can be really pleasant. Except when it isn’t.
This past week, we felt the impact of the changing season as superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast. In the days before the storm, people across our region heard the forecasts of what was likely coming our way. They got ready. Families stocked up on supplies like bottled water, bread, batteries, and who knows what all else in advance of this historic event, partly because none of us could have known exactly what was going to happen. Would the power go out – and if so, for how long? Would there be flooding? Would this unusual weather system maybe even bring snow to our area? As Sandy moved through and past our area, though, it turned out that we didn’t get hit anywhere near as severely as our neighbors in New Jersey, New York, or West Virginia. The news coverage in these days after the storm has shown that people have lost much – beyond disruptions in power and gas, many families have seen their homes destroyed by wind and water. Around 100 people have been reported dead in the wake of the storm. What’s life after such disaster, such loss?
Other winds have been blowing this fall, leading up to the elections that will be held this coming Tuesday. To hear the various political parties tell it, these elections would mark a turning point for our country. Will it go this way? Will it go another? To be sure, many people will be impacted by the outcome of these elections at the national, state, and local levels; they’re worried. It’s entirely possible that the state of our nation will be changed as a result of what happens in the days ahead. It’s not possible for every candidate to win. What happens to them and their supporters when they lose? What will life be after the loss?
The storms that come throw things out of joint, breaking up life from the way that it seems like it should be. Where is God’s answer to all those voices that cry out to Him when the winds blow into our lives? Instead of all the trials, tribulation, and tears that we experience in life, why can’t things just work out the way that you or I think they should, keeping us from loss?
Our problem – yours and mine – comes from living in a broken world. And we are broken people. It shouldn’t surprise you to know that the storms that come in life are a sign that things aren’t the way that they should be. Indeed, events like superstorm Sandy are a sign of God’s judgment on our broken world – not merely in the way that some people have said, as punishment for specific moral failings, but as part of the curse against sin that came into the world after the Fall. Disaster and death aren’t meant to be, but they are very much a part of this world. When those winds blow us down, we know loss which reminds us that things are not the way that they should be. In our loss, we feel alone.
God’s people know storms in life. Sometimes, they’re the literal kind, like superstorm Sandy, bringing disruption and loss, causing physical hardships. More often, though, the storms come from living in a broken world with a culture that is hostile towards God. No matter how this election goes, for example, our country isn’t suddenly going to turn to God in repentance and embrace Jesus as the Savior that he is. If anything, we’ll likely see further persecution of the Christian Church. And so, we cry out to God for deliverance as we experience the trials of life, some which even bring us to the point of despair and defeat.
This weekend we observe All Saints Day, remembering those who have gone before us in the faith. We have lost members from our congregation here on earth, fellow believers who have been called to rest in Christ. In their deaths, we know loss and separation. Tears are a part of our experience as Christians. But we also know can know a comfort that overcomes all our tears, thanks to the Lamb of God.
God has answered the prayers of His saints. In case you’re wondering, saints aren’t only those people from the past who seemed to lead especially holy lives. God makes saints out of all kinds of people, including you and me. God’s saints include all those people who have been called to faith in Jesus as the one, true Son of God, to whom John heard the armies of heaven singing praises in today’s reading from Revelation 7. Out of His love for all the broken souls in this broken world, God adopts us as His children.
God’s ultimate answer to the storms of this life come in Jesus, the Lamb. He gives himself for us people who have been blown down by the trials and tribulations that we have earned. Jesus brings together the broken. That’s the picture that we see with John in that glimpse of the saints gathered around the throne of God in celebration, with the armies of heaven singing out in praise for the salvation that God has brought to His people. That salvation is life. In today’s Gospel text, Jesus tells of God’s blessing coming to unlikely recipients. But when he says, “Blessed are…” he’s not talking about people being happy, or even enjoying relief from the storms of the present time; rather, he’s pointing to what will be. Salvation is being in that community that God calls to Himself and in which He dwells – where He is with the people. That never-ending glory is what awaits God’s saints, broken people brought together in through the blood of the Lamb as He wipes away the tears from our eyes.
There’s this perception that Christians are just looking ahead to the “afterlife.” That’s way too limited! Our faith as Christians isn’t about afterlife, but about life after the Lamb. Since Jesus has ransomed you and brought you to God the Father, you experience life with God now and in the age to come after Christ comes again. God dwells with His people, today’s saints connected with the company of all the saints who have gone before us. The trials, tribulation, and tears that we know in the storms of life echo the great sufferings of the Church throughout time; however, you and I can live in the reality of the ultimate victory that Jesus has won. God delivers His saints, fulfilling the promise of the cross and the empty tomb. Salvation is the opposite of abandonment: through Jesus, you are not alone, you are not lost, even in times of loss.
As we remember All Saints today, we hear again that God makes saints even in you and me, calling us His children through Jesus, the Lamb. Life after Jesus has called you to be his own is not a life that’s lived free from pain. Trial, tribulation, and tears still come. But even in the depth of those times, you can rest assured that God stays with you and also connects you to all those people who are your brothers and sisters in Christ. You are not abandoned. Connected as the body of believers in the Church, you can both care for others and be cared for.
In these days of fall when winds of storms and elections and all the other tribulations of this broken world may blow, know that you are surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us and dwell with God. Join with your fellow saints in service to the people around you, especially when they are caught up in the storms of life. In these days after superstorm Sandy, our church body and other organizations are working to provide both hands-on and financial assistance to the people who’ve been hardest hit. You, as the Church, are the hands of Christ, connected with the saints here on the East Coast, the West Coast, and all around the world.
Life after Jesus is life lived with God. Jesus, the Lamb, welcomes you who were once broken into the company of the saints, and we join with them in celebration today.