In the eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, the writer talks about the faith that motivated the saints. He begins to name the saints, using them as examples of what faith does. He chronicles the stories of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah. He concludes the list with saints known in that day. In the Epistle they are unnamed, unknown to us, but known to the writer, and, most importantly, to God. In the middle of the chapter, the writer summarizes the lives of these men and women: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”
As we celebrate All Saints’ Day, this is our confession about those who have preceded us. They died in the faith, confessing that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. They lived their lives in faith and trust, seeking their true homeland. In that, they are no different than us. All of us desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Today we thank God for the reward He has given to those who have finished their course, preserved in the Faith. They are safe with God in heaven. Their souls rest in Him, kept in eternal safety under His heavenly altar. The better, the heavenly country is theirs. Thanks be to God! May we not be long for this earth. Would that God come and rescue us from this vale of tears to be brought into His presence, together once again with our dear saints who have blazed the heavenly trail before us.
As much as All Saints’ Day is an opportunity for us to give thanks to God for the faithful who have gone before us, it’s a day of encouragement as well. It’s a day that re-focuses us, that sets our sights on the ultimate goal of our faith. As the Book of Revelation closes, Jesus promises: “Surely, I am coming quickly.” To that, the Church responds: “Amen! Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” In the early days of the Church, Christians greeted one another with the Aramaic word maranatha, which means “Come, Lord Jesus.” By this, they were constantly reminding one another of their great and true hope, the return of Jesus. They reminded one another that the only thing that would get them through the immense persecution they faced was the coming of Jesus to rescue them, to lead them to that better country made theirs by Christ.
Too often, we lose our cry of maranatha. We get caught up in the transitory, the earthly. We shuffle our money to get us through. We create policies to mitigate the bad. We strive to create a better earthly tomorrow for the next generation. It’s easy to become myopic, to forget about the distant reality that seems too far off, too fuzzy. We get caught up in the lesson drilled home in our youth: be patient! But today, the saints in heaven admonish us: Stop being patient! Stop being polite! Beg Jesus with the persistence of every diseased person in the New Testament: Come, Lord Jesus! Now! Quickly! Evil is increasing. The waters roar and foam. The mountains are moved into the heart of the sea. The love of many grows cold. Jesus, return! Take me to that better, that heavenly country You have prepared for me!
Today we are permitted to hear the distant triumph song. Today the Holy Spirit gives us a glimpse into heaven to see our loved ones there. Those you love who have died in the faith—parents, children, grandparents, spouses, friends—they are in that great multitude St. John saw, wearing white, holding the victor’s palm, and crying out endless praises to the Lamb who was slain. Their eyes are wiped free of all tears. They do not hunger or thirst. The sun does not strike them. The enemy does not attack them. See! They are safe with Christ!
Don’t you want that, too? Don’t you want to see the new heaven and the new earth? Then be impatient! Embrace and confess that you are pilgrim and a stranger on earth. Beg of Jesus admission to that better, that heavenly country. It’s promised to you, and because God cannot lie, that means it is yours. You just haven’t received it yet. So cry out, Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus! Come, O Christ, and loose the chains that bind us! Lead us forth and cast this world behind us!
That is your blessed reality, present and future. It is yours because you have been made the blessed of the Lord by Jesus, who endured persecution and rejection in your place. It is yours, it is the current lives of the saints because Jesus took on the whole world’s sin and put it to death on His cross. The Lamb slain has opened heaven to you. He has given the victor’s palm to the blessed dead in heaven, and He gives it to you. He has given His salvation to you through faith, created and sustained by Word and Sacrament, just as He did for all those who have gone before, whose pilgrimages have ended, having blazed the trail to their new and better country, following Jesus Christ, their Lord and Master.
So on this All Saints’ Day, as we remember our departed loved ones, find strength and encouragement in their example. They died in the faith, clinging to Christ and His cross. They were glad to see Jesus, to have their souls borne to their heavenly home. Learn to be impatient with this life, to cry out, “Come, Lord Jesus.” And He will. Soon you will be with Him, with all the saints, with tears dried, afflictions of the body done away with, sorrow and sighing no more. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
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.