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Sermon for All Saints

by Rev. Brian Hamer ~ November 7th, 2011

Sermon on the Propers for All Saints’ Day

All Saints’ Day

+ 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)

As most of you know, the Collect of the Day is a prayer that collects the themes of the day into one carefully-crafted prayer for congregational use. It serves as a transition from the Entrance Rite to the Scriptures lessons, summarizes the propers of the day, and gives us a prayer to use the rest of the week. The collect for All Saints’ Day is especially fitting since it beautifully captures the prayers of the saints, for the saints.

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 of the equation. In a broader sense, it means those who are in communion with Christ by faith. There is one church or one communion of all believers. It is also called a fellowship, the Greek word for 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 Cor. 12:12-31). 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 of a metaphor than to say that the flesh of the incarnate Jesus or the bread of the eucharist is the body of Christ. None of them is ‘like’ his body . . . each of them is the body of Christ” (J. A. T. Robinson, The Body, 51). The church is the body of Christ, as sure as Jesus really took on a body and as sure as that body is sacramentally present in the Lord’s Supper. See the good news this is for you, Dearly Beloved! As Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, so you have died to sin through Holy Baptism. As the body of Christ rose from the dead, triumphant over sin and death, so you have risen to a new life of being Christ-bearers to this dying world. As Christ ascended into heaven, so you, too, will one day ascend and dwell there with Him. O great mystery, that you should be the very body of Christ! And it’s all possible because He has knit you, His elect, together into one body.

Grant us grace so to follow Thy blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living. 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” (AC XXI). The sanctoral cycle in the church year, those days set aside to remember the saints, presents full-strength Law and the full consolation of the Gospel. Under the Law, the cycle of saint’s days and All Saint’s Day remind us that we have faltered where other saints have stood fast. Indeed, one of the things that strikes me about the saints who have their own minor festival or commemoration in the church year is that most of them were willing to die for the faith. Even the men etched in our stained glass windows generally died as martyrs, often times in the most gruesome ways imaginable. Are you willing to die for your faith or do you crumble under pressure when others challenge your doctrine and practice? Repent! For you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood!

But, under the Gospel, All Saint’s Day preaches the good news that in Christ we are as saintly as the saints gone before us. 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” (confirmation rite) rather than fall away from the church.

That 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. They have been baptized. They have cast off the old self through repentance and heard the word of absolution, “I forgive you all your sins.” They have received Christ’s body and blood in their mouths to sustain them in the battle and bring them safely to eternal life. And so have you, all the saints! So when God looks at saints like you, 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. And you long for the unspeakable joy of standing in His presence to worship the Lamb without ceasing.

And so today’s collect, along with all the propers for All Saints, preaches the good news that we are saints in Christ, with all the privileges and joys of the great company of believers on earth and in heaven. All Saints is the most comprehensive of the days of commemoration in the church year, encompassing the entire scope of that great cloud of witnesses with which we are surrounded (Heb. 12:1). All Saints shares with Easter a celebration of the resurrection, since all those who have died in Christ have been raised with Him (Rom. 6:3-8). It shares with Pentecost a celebration of the ingathering of the entire church catholic, in heaven and on earth. And the Feast of All Saints shares with the final Sundays of the Church Year an end-times focus on the life everlasting and our longing for the unspeakable joys of heaven. In all of these emphases, so beautifully expressed in our Collect of the Day, this feast preaches the good news that “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

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