The Epistle to the Hebrews gives us the best summary of the Feast of All Saints: “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, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:1-2). Today the Christian Church remembers all of those faithful who have gone before us, those who rejoice with us in heaven, who live in greater light than we, that multitude which no one can number, whose hope was in the Word made flesh, who died in the faith, and who live before the throne of God and praise Him each day in His temple.
And although we as a congregation are not remembering anyone from our flock who has transferred their membership from Epiphany to the Church Triumphant, each of us have been touched by death, many of us in the last year. We all have someone—family or friend—who now resides in St. John’s vision of heaven, worshipping in that great multitude that no one can number. And although we miss them dearly, we rejoice because St. John told us what they are doing: their tears are being wiped away by the Lord. They wave the victor’s palm branch and sing day and night: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb.” And we sing with them today. We joined in the words of that new song as we sang This Is the Feast. We’re about to join with them as we sing the Sanctus. All of that is to say, Jesus’ Words are the only words that matter here: “Do not weep, for [they are] not dead.” (Lk. 9:52)
The reason the Feast of All Saints is such a joyful day is because we are reminded that those who have died in the Lord are finally free. We are afflicted by sin—our own and the sins of others. We are saddened by life in a dying world. We are poor in spirit, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, persecuted for righteousness’ sake, reviled and persecuted. We know that the life we live is nothing like the life God intended us to live when He created our first parents in Eden. We were supposed to be in constant, perfect communion with God, walking with Him in the bliss of that sacred grove. We were supposed to interact with one another perfectly, living in wonderful union with one another, not sad or ashamed or angry or divided.
And for those whom we remember this day, that is no more! They do not know sadness or fear or anger or disease or death or anything else ushered in by Satan and his deadly deception. So we rejoice for them this day. We give thanks to the Lord that He removed them from this vale of tears. We miss them in ways words can never express, but as much as we miss them, we are happy for them. They experience what Adam and Eve knew in Eden, even if it was very brief. And we are slightly jealous. We’re ready to be with them! We’re ready to experience the same for ourselves. We’re ready to go to that happy place beyond all tears and sinning. We’re ready to take up the white robe and the victor’s palm, to rehearse with the choirs of saints, to fall down before the Lamb who was slain.
All in God’s good timing, dear Christian. One day this will be yours. One day Jesus will come to you and say to you “Arise” and you will be taken to His presence, standing with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. One day you will stand in the kingdom of heaven, receiving perfect comfort, being satisfied, seeing God face to face.
Until then, you have the Lord’s Supper. This is the greatest gift you have on this side of eternity. This is a foretaste of the feast to come. Here you are united to Christ, your fellow Christians here, and the Church Triumphant. The Lord’s Supper is where we receive the greatest comfort when we miss our loved ones who are in heaven. The sainted Lutheran Pastor Berthold von Schenk summed it up perfectly in his book The Presence, which he wrote in 1945 while serving at Our Savior Lutheran Church in the Bronx. He writes:
“Our human nature needs more than the assurance that some day and in some way we shall again meet our loved ones ‘in heaven.’ That is all gloriously true. But how does that help us now?
“When we, then, view death in the light of the Communion of Saints and of Holy Communion, there is no helpless bereavement. My loved one has just left me and has gone on a long journey. But I am in touch with her. I know that there is a place where we can meet. It is at the altar. How it thrills me when I hear the words of the Liturgy, 'Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven,' for I know that she is there with that company of Heaven, the Communion of Saints, with the Lord. The nearer I come to my Lord in Holy Communion, the nearer I come to the saints, to my own loved ones. I am a member of the Body of Christ, I am a living cell in that spiritual organism, partaking of the life of the other cells, and sharing in the Body of Christ Himself.
“There is nothing fanciful or unreal about this. Indeed, it is the most real thing in my life. Of course I miss my loved one. I should miss her if she took a long holiday trip. But now, since she is what some people call dead, she is closer to me than ever. Of course, I miss her physical presence bitterly. I miss her voice and the sound of approaching footsteps. But I have not lost her. And when my sense of loss becomes too great, I can always go to our meeting place at the Altar where I receive the Body and Blood of my Lord that preserves my body and soul just as it has preserved her unto everlasting life. Do learn to love the Altar as the meeting place with your beloved who have passed within the veil. Here again the Sacrament is the heart of our religion. The Blessed Sacrament links us not merely to Bethlehem and Calvary, but to the whole world beyond the grave as well, for at the Altar the infinite is shrined in the finite; Heaven stoops down to earth; and the seen and the unseen meet.
“Oh, God, the King of Saints, we praise and magnify Thy Holy Name for all Thy servants who have finished their course in Thy faith and fear, for the Blessed Virgin Mary, for the Holy Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, and Martyrs, for all Thy other righteous servants; and we beseech Thee that, encouraged by their example, strengthened by their fellowship, we may attain unto everlasting life, through the merits of Thy Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.” (The Presence, pp. 131, 132) Amen!
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.