Revelation 7:9-17 and 1 John 3:1-3
After a preacher died and went to heaven, she noticed that a New York taxicab driver had been given a higher place than she had. “I don’t understand,” she complained to St. Peter. “I devoted my entire life to my congregation.” “Our policy is to reward results,” explained St. Peter. “Now what happened, Reverend, whenever you gave a sermon?” The minister admitted that some in the congregation fell asleep. “Exactly, ” said St. Peter. “But when people rode in this man’s taxi, they not only stayed awake, they prayed.” (Ray Heit, Reader’s Digest.)
It is one of the true paradoxes of the Christian faith that we are able to celebrate with hope and give thanks for our lives and for our death. The Apostle Paul in his letter to the believers in Rome declared, “we do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves.” But in living and in dying we are firmly and completely in God’s hands. We are children of God, numbered among the saints, members if the great community of faith, recipients of God’s great love, believers in the resurrection!
Because we are people of resurrection hope, All Saints Sunday is truly a day where we as the church can shout “Amen,” and rejoice profusely for we live in abundant hope. Such rejoicing is an act of defiance in the face of the powers of death and darkness and an affirmation of our Lord’s promises and teachings. This is a day when we stand as the communion of saints in community around Christ’s table to share in the Eucharist and remember this truth: “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” What great hope!
Our passage from the book of Revelation, was written as a word of encouragement, hope, and comfort to Christians who were struggling with enormous loss of identity and the threat of losing their independence and even their lives. They were real people, experiencing the real world, struggling through ordeals great and small. Somewhat as we find ourselves experiencing the challenges of being a Christian in the world today. Life can be difficult and even as Christians we do grieve. All Saints Day holds more than a tinge of sadness since it does call us to confront death and to acknowledge our mortality. Like death, however, this life is not the last word. It too will pass away, and we cannot see clearly what lies beyond. Many have tried to visualize what heaven looks like or determine what our next life will be like – but in our limited understanding, we just can’t fathom it. Meanwhile, not all of life is joyous or easy or fun. We live in a world of constant, relentless change. So did ancient churches in Asia who heard John’s words from Revelation. We hunger and thirst for something more, something deeper and purer–something real. To all who are struggling to find hope or healing, perhaps the word we need to hear clearly on this day is Christ’s promise to “wipe away every tear.”
Grief in our lives can take many forms and comes from many sources – loss of loved ones, loss of health, loss of relationships, and others – and when stuck there it can seem impossible to move forward. It is there that we can hold on to our faith. God sees you, God knows the grief that weighs down your heart; he sees the things that oppress us – depression, addiction, – the challenges we face and the uphill struggles we are enduring. God sees you, blesses you, accompanies you. When you struggle, you are not being faithless. Even reformation leader Martin Luther recognized that where there is faith there is also struggle. Struggle, doubt, feeling overwhelmed, aren’t signs of failure or lack of faith, but are actually a testament to profound faith as we wrestle with such deep questions and thereby take God seriously. (idea shared by David Lose at http://www.davidlose.net/2014/10/all-saints-a/)
And so when we feel at our most low, and wonder if we have lost our faith, God names us among the most faithful. Blessed are those who struggle. Did you know that in the New Testament, the word “saints” is used as a title for all Christians. Saints are not just those revered few who have achieved uncommonly holy feats, but Christians young and old, living and departed, and even those who are still yet to be born, us included! We are not worshipping our ancestors today, but instead we are proclaiming the good news that we are a part of a people, that we are a part of a community, and not individuals unto ourselves. The Christian life is not a solo endeavor, but one lived out in community—in a community that extends and exists even beyond our earthly realm. We are a part of the people of God in life and in death. Christ has brought us together and has made it possible for this great hope. For upon the resurrection of Christ we stand. If we die with Christ we will also live with him. (Romans 6:8)
So on this All Saints’ Day – we remember with gratitude, the faithful departed. We honor their loss, we remember their lives, we give thanks for their love and for ways large and small they have touched our lives. We give thanks, too, for those who are yet living, those saints who continue to guide us and share life with us. We give thanks for our own lives, through difficulties and changes that life’s passage entails, we are not defeated. Hear again this promise: Jesus will wipe every tear from our eyes one day, and in the meantime remember that Jesus sees our struggles and knows our grief. Indeed, he has borne them in his cross and bears them with us even now. For life is brimming with hope, pointing clearly to the source of life God in Christ Jesus. Rejoice and be glad. We are children of God, precious and beloved in God’s sight.
In the power of the Holy Spirit, we now go into the world, to fulfill our calling as the people of God, the body of Christ. Go in peace. Love and care for one another in the name of Jesus, and may God give you grace to follow the saints of Christ in faith, hope, and love, may the living word bloom and grow within your hearts and minds, and may the fruit of the Holy Spirit be present in your lives, both now and forevermore. Amen