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Sermon for All Saints

by Rev. Brian Hamer ~ November 4th, 2008

Sermon on the Propers for All Saints’ Day

All Saints Observed

The Confirmation of Seth Johnson

2 November 2008

+ In the Name of Jesus +O almighty God, who hast knit together Thine elect in one Communion and fellowship in the mystical body of Thy Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, grant us grace so to follow Thy blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living that we may come to those unspeakable joys which Thou hast prepared for those who unfeignedly love Thee; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

– Collect for All Saints’ Day (TLH p. 93)

“O blest communion, fellowship divine” we sing in today’s processional hymn, borne on the wings of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ stirring tune (TLH 463.4). It is a fitting theme for our observance of All Saints’ Day and for the confirmation of Seth Johnson. And so, guided by the Collect for All Saints, today we rejoice in our identity as the “blest communion, fellowship divine.”

The collect for All Saints describes God this way: “O Almighty God, who hast knit together Thine elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of Thy Son Jesus Christ, our Lord.” Three key words describe our identity as one church: communion, fellowship, and body. The word “communion” here does not mean just the Lord’s Supper, although that is part and parcel of the equation. In a broader sense, it means those who are in communion with Christ by faith, i.e., the believers. There is one church or one communion, a far better designation than the word “denomination.” It is also called a fellowship, which probably echos the Greek word for sharing a common thing. In this case, it is the fellowship of sharing a common faith in Christ. Taken together, the synonyms “communion” and “fellowship” remind us that, though spread throughout the world, the church is knit together as one communion or fellowship in Christ, as sure as there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Eph. 4:5-6).

However, perhaps even more profound is the use of the word “body.” St. Paul often describes the church as the body of Christ. I suppose that most Christians would assume that St. Paul was speaking metaphorically or symbolically. Perhaps the word “mystical” in this collect has contributed to the confusion, leading people to believe that we are the body of Christ only in a spiritual or mysterious way, but not in reality. However, the word “body” in the New Testament doctrine of the church is no more a metaphor than to say that the body of Christ in the Lord’s Supper is a metaphor. As you all know from the Small Catechism, the Lord’s Supper is the very body of Christ, not just an image of His body. And so it is with the church. The church is the body of Christ in her very essence as the Christ-bearer to the world.

Perhaps nowhere is the oneness of the church clearer, Seth, than in the Lord’s Supper. Today you receive the holy chalice, not an individual shot glass. Think, Dearly Beloved, of the theological significance of one cup vs. several small cups. Several small cups suggest that the church is nothing more than a collection of individuals. And, of course, where there are individuals, there are personal needs, likes and dislikes, and more opinions than one can count. Some have suggested that the curious rise of shot glasses in the distribution of the Lord’s Supper came not so much from the fear of germs, but from a false teaching about the church as a generic collection of individuals. Maybe so. In any event, today we lift up the cup of salvation, we call on the name of the Lord, and we place the holy chalice on your lips to receive the very blood of Christ. And as you receive your first Communion today, Seth, think about the good news that as there is one cup, so you are knit together with God’s elect in one communion and fellowship in the very body of Christ.

The collect for All Saints petitions the Lord for “grace so to follow Thy blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living.” Today’s Gospel lesson describes the virtuous and godly living of Christ and those who are in Christ. Christ and His saints are poor in spirit, for they live not to themselves, but to others. Christ and His people mourn, for they suffer hear and now. They are meek, for they seek not the trophies of this age. They hunger and thirst for righteousness, for Christ longs to give us His righteousness and we long to receive it. Christ and His people are merciful, for Christ is merciful to us in His life and death, and we share that mercy with those in need. Christ and His people are pure in heart, for He is pure by His Divinity and we receive a clean heart through repentance and faith. They are the peacemakers, for He made peace by His blood and we share that peace with one another. Christ and His church rejoice as they are persecuted for righteousness’ sake–Christ unto death on the cross, His people willing to suffer all, even death rather than fall away from the church.

No wonder our Lutheran Confessions have this to say about the saints: “[Our churches] teach that the memory of saints may be set before us, that we may follow their faith and good works.” To be sure, we do not invoke the saints or ask for their help, for there is one Mediator and High Priest before God, Jesus Christ. But on this All Saints’ Day, we rejoice that the saints have lived lives of daily repentance, faith, and holy living. And we follow this pattern of repentance, faith, and holy living in the first three chief parts of the Small Catechism. The Ten Commandments bring us to repentance. They proclaim that God alone is our God and that we are to fear, love, and trust in Him above all things; that we are to honor His name and His Sabbath; that we are to love our neighbor as our self. And these we have not kept, so we repent. Where there is repentance, there is also faith. The Apostles’ Creed preaches the faith that saves us from our sin. We hear the good news that the same God who created our bodies and souls also redeemed them by becoming man, living our life, and dying our death. Where there is repentance and faith, there is holy living. The Lord’s Prayer preaches the holy life. It preaches that God is our Father, that His name is to be hallowed among us, and that God’s holy people are to lead holy lives “in all virtuous and godly living.” As our choral voluntary puts it, “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord . . . they rest from their labors, and their works do follow them.”

The collect for All Saints gives the reason for our blest Communion: “[T]hat we may come to those unspeakable joys which Thou has prepared for those who unfeignedly love Thee.” Today’s Epistle from Revelation describes these eternal joys. In His heavenly vision, St. John saw “a great multitude of saints that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” It was quite literally a vision of all the saints, doing what saints do: worshiping God in spirit and in truth. And we cannot stress enough the white robes worn by all the redeemed in heaven, what we call the “church triumphant.” The white robe in the New Testament is the robe of Christ’s own righteousness. The white robe says that these people, though sinners in this life, are clothed in Christ. Like you, Seth, they have been baptized. They have cast off the old self through repentance and been clothed in the robe that makes them righteous before God. So when God looks at you, Seth, and all the baptized, He does not see your sin. He only sees the Son of God and His perfect life and death. So you stand in relation to God the Father as if you were the very Son of God Himself – at peace with God as a very son of God by faith.

See how the white robe of your baptism, Seth, carries you through this life (the church militant) and into eternal life (the church triumphant). Your Christian life began in baptism. As you are confirmed in the faith, we have nothing new to give to you that wasn’t already given in baptism. Today, following a service that is similar to baptism, you simply confess with your mouth what others confessed for you when you were baptized. You renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways. You believe in God the Father, in Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit. And then I will say, “Seth, the almighty God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given you new birth of water and of the Spirit and has forgiven you all your sins, strengthen you with His grace to life everlasting.” Confirmation is a step along the way between baptism and eternal life. St. Augustine, speaking to people about to receive their first Communion, put it this way: “Innocence will be your infancy; reverence, your childhood; patience, your adolescence; courage [will be] your youth; merit, your adulthood; and nothing other than venerable and wise discernment, your old age.” And to this we can only add that your heavenly future will be to stand before the throne of God and the Lamb, to serve him day and night in his temple, and to drink from the springs of living water.

And so today we sing, “O blest communion, fellowship divine.” This hymn, along with the propers for All Saints and the rite of confirmation, celebrates who we are as the elect communion and fellowship of the body of Christ, the ones who follow the saints in all virtuous and godly living, and the ones who have the sure and certain hope of the life everlasting. Perhaps St. Paul said it best: “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19). + INJ + Amen.

Rev. Brian Hamer

Redeemer Lutheran Church, Bayside, NY

O Blest Communion, Fellowship Divine

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