The feast of all saints in the Lutheran Church is observed a little differently from its original intentions. Originally, the Feast of All Saints was established as a sort of “catchall” day for the Church to observe and give thanks to God for those men and women who had made a memorable contribution to the Church on earth, but for whatever reason were not given a set date on the calendar. They didn’t rank with Apostles and Evangelists, famous Martyrs, or others, so they were remembered as a collective group on the first of November.
As Lutherans, we love the saints. Often, we are falsely accused of throwing out the saints, refusing to commemorate them. To do such a thing would be a churchly crime! Instead, we hold the saints in highest regard! The Augsburg Confession reminds us that the saints are a blessed example: “Concerning the…saints our people teach that the saints are to be remembered so that we may strengthen our faith when we see how they experienced grace and how they were helped by faith. Moreover, it is taught that each person, according to his or her calling, should take the saints’ good works as an example” (AC XXI 1).
Somewhere along the line, the Lutheran Church combined the Feast of All Saints with a day called Totenfest, a day on which those of the congregation who have died in the previous year are remembered. So instead of today being a remembrance of people long departed, we mark it as a day to give thanks to God for our modern-day saints, those people of our congregation who rest from their labors and are with the Lord. Though they may not be Peters, Marys, or Stephens, people universally known and venerated, they are no less important to us. Those blessed dead who we remember were monumental in our own lives. They are mothers, uncles, siblings, spouses, friends—people who lived lives of faith that encouraged our own, people whose love for us reflected the love God showed to them. People like Lena or Cliff may not have their names on churches, but they are no less important. They are people God has placed into our lives to help us, people who were examples to us, people for whom we give thanks this day.
But as much as their past lives are important to us, their present and future lives are just as important. As we pause to give thanks to God for those who have gone before us, we are refreshed by Him as we are reminded that what that cloud of witnesses now enjoys we will soon inherit. Though we feebly struggle and they in glory shine, we are all one in Christ. We are a part of that blest communion, that fellowship divine! Just as they were Baptized into Christ, had faith in Him, and are now fully enjoying their heavenly citizenship, so are you. You are Baptized, you have faith in Christ. His saving death on the cross covers you, and soon you will join their number! You are already a part of that communion, you are just waiting to enjoy that reality fully.
And until you enjoy that reality fully, there are days of struggle. Sin and the devil torment us. The fight is fierce and the warfare long. We live in the Church Militant. We must bear our crosses for the time being. We live lives far from what God intended. We are hurt by the sins of others and by our own sins. We chase after things we think will give us joy, things that we think will give us the rest our soul desires, but we find out those things do not satisfy. They may placate our longing for a moment, but the pleasure is fleeting. On these days of struggle, of fight and warfare, on our ear steals the distant triumph song. We hear that song of that great multitude which no one could number, we hear the voices of our own loved ones in that heavenly choir, and our hearts are brave again and arms are strong. We are reminded that the sin and death, the sorrow and heartache which surround us and torment us will soon be over. We hear the heavenly chorus of alleluias and are heartened to know that soon our God will take us there to that happy place beyond all tears and sinning.
Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon you, that you should be called a child of God! You don’t deserve to be heartened by that distant triumph song, you don’t deserve to be a part of that blest communion. But it doesn’t depend on what you deserve! It depends on the infinite love of God that sent His Son to bear your sin and be your Savior! Those words of the Beatitudes from today’s Gospel don’t describe you, but they do describe Jesus! He hungered and thirsted for your righteousness; He mourned so that you will be comforted; He was meek, enduring cross and shame so that you will inherit the new heaven and the new earth; He took your sinful heart and gave you a pure heart so that you will see God.
Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven. What the blessed dead now enjoy, you will enjoy soon. The golden evening brightens in the west—this day of sin and sorrow will not last forever! Soon, soon to faithful warriors cometh rest. People like Lena and Cliff and the rest of our loved ones who have gone before us with the sign of faith are sleeping that sleep of peace in the calm of Paradise the blest. Soon you will join them, soon you will rest from your labors, soon you will be before the throne of God and serve Him day and night in His temple. There you will neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun will not strike you, nor any heat; the Lamb of God who has taken away your sin will shepherd you to the fountains of living waters, and He will wipe away every tear from your eyes.
In God’s good time you will take your place in St. John’s vision. He already saw you there, part of that group of every people, tribe, nation, and tongue, and soon you will see him looking at you. You will see again those loved ones who have already departed this life. You will join them, streaming through those gates of pearl, singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Our take on the Feast of All Saints may be a little different from its intended founding, but I think that’s okay. Today gives us a chance to pause, maybe to cry a little bit because we miss those who have gone before us, but it also gives us a chance to thank God four our local saints, those saints who lived in our houses and called us on the phone, those saints who encouraged us and loved us. They are at rest with Jesus Christ, and soon we will be there, too, taken from our struggle to glory. Soon we will behold God face-to-face, partakers of the unspeakable joys which God has prepared for us and all His saints.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.