November 1, 2015 AD
First Reading: Revelation 7:9-17
Epistle: 1 John 3:1-3
Gospel: Matthew 5:1-12
Whenever we say the Apostles’ Creed— and if we follow Dr. Luther’s instructions in the Small Catechism we say the Apostles Creed twice a day, morning and evening— whenever we say that Creed we confess our faith in the Holy Christian Church the Communion of Saints: the Holy Christian Church which is the Communion of Saints. And it is especially on this Festival of All Saints that we rejoice in this truth— or, to speak more accurately, in this blessed reality.
It was Pastor Wilhelm Löhe, one of the great Fathers of the Lutheran Church during the nineteenth century, who said:
When I was young I thirsted for an eternal fellowship. Now I know an eternal fellowship which becomes more and more close and binding— the holy Church! From it death shall not separate me, but death will for the first time bring me to complete enjoyment of love and fellowship. [For] there is one eternal Church, part to be found here, and part to be found in eternity.
I believe in the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints— here on earth and there in heaven. As we sang in William Walsham Howe’s wonderful hymn:
O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine:
Yet all are one in Thee for all are Thine.
Or as we sang in the sermon hymn:
One family we dwell in Him,
One Church above, beneath:
Though now divided by the stream
The narrow stream of death.
I believe in the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints.
Long before the coming of our Lord the author of the Book of Proverbs said: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Well in the first reading from Holy Scripture we have a fragment of the vision of Saint John exiled on the island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea. We usually call that vision The Revelation to Saint John. And at its very beginning Saint John says, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day”— the day when all the seven churches of Asia Minor to which he wrote would have been gathered for the weekly celebration of the Holy Communion on the day of the Lord’s resurrection. The late Austin Farrer put it this way:
One Sunday it happened that St John could not be at church with his friends, for like Elisha, like Jesus, he was taken by the armed men and held in prison. But God consoled him with a vision: he saw the Christian sacrament that morning not as we human beings see it, but as it is seen in heaven. His spirit went up; he saw the throne of glory and the four cherubim full of eyes in every part who sleep not saying Holy, Holy, Holy. And he saw the Lamb of God: a Lamb standing as though slaughtered; a Lamb alone worthy to open for mankind the blessed promises of God. He saw the Lamb, and then the angels. I saw, he says, and heard the voice of many angels round about the Throne, the number of them ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice: Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to be receive power and riches and wisdom and honor and glory and blessing…
And he saw the saints standing before the throne of God and the Lamb. And who are the saints? Those who had come out of great tribulation and had washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, the gentle Lamb who leads to springs of living waters and wipes away every tear from their eyes.
You and I are not yet there. We are only on the journey; they are at journey’s end— in the nearer presence of the Lord in whom is all our life and hope. As Pastor Löhe said, “There is one eternal Church, part to be found here and part to be found in eternity.” But it is one eternal Church, and both here on earth and there in heaven Christ’s people worship before the throne of God and the Lamb. In heaven the saints see Him. Here on earth we find Him hidden under the outward appearances of bread and wine. But we with the saints in heaven acclaim Him as the Lamb slain for us all, washing away our sins through His most precious Blood, feeding us with the heavenly Food for our journey— His Body given, His blood shed— and worshipping Him as do the saints and the angels in the words of the thrice holy hymn: Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth: Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory. Hosanna in the highest!
I believe in the Holy Christian Church: the Communion of Saints. God grant that we may rejoice not only on this All Saints Day but every day in that blest communion, fellowship divine, until we too are called to Christ’s nearer presence and join in worshipping Him before the throne of God and the Lamb.
And now the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, to live everlasting. +Amen.