All Saints’ Sunday, year A, 2014 (preached on November 2, 2014)
first reading: Revelation 7:9-17
Psalm 34:1-10, 22
second reading: 1 John 3:1-3
gospel reading: Matthew 5:1-12
In our adult forum this morning, we continued our discussion about the sacrament of Holy Baptism. We reviewed what is taught in our catechism regarding this most precious gift of Christ – that through it we receive 1)forgiveness of sins, 2)deliverance from death and the devil, and 3)eternal salvation, as the Word and promise of God declare.
We are taught that it signifies that the “Old Adam in us… should be drowned by daily sorrow and repentance and be put to death, and that the new man should come forth daily and rise up, cleansed and righteous, to live forever in God’s presence.”
Baptism is that THING, the promise, that we return to again and again throughout our lives – that though it happens only once, is drawn upon continuously. Every time we are bold enough to ask God to forgive us, we are doing nothing less than returning to and remembering the promise God made to us in Holy Baptism.
One of my favorite passages from Luther is found in his Large Catechism in the section on Baptism: “To appreciate and use Baptism aright, we must draw strength and comfort from it when our sins or conscience oppress us, and we must retort, ‘But I am baptized! And if I am baptized, I have the promise that I shall be saved and have eternal life…. No greater jewel, therefore, can adorn our body and soul than Baptism…”
You may be asking yourself, “Why all this quoting Luther, when Reformation Sunday was LAST week?” “Why all this talk about Baptism on All Saints’ Sunday?” “Why talk about the happy occasion of Baptism on what many consider to be the very somber day of All Saints’?”
Well, we need to start by remembering the true meaning of these things. I stated a few moments ago that the gifts of Holy Baptism are forgiveness, deliverance from death, and eternal salvation. Baptism into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is our only key to the gate of heaven. The feast of All Saints, while somber in remembering those we have lost for now, is really a celebration of their passing through that gate of heaven.
We may approach this feast with grief, but it is grief mingled with hope and comfort. The hope and comfort written in Revelation, when there is no more hunger or thirst, and when God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. The hope of the psalm that the Lord delivers us, and that we will lack for nothing that is good, and not be punished. The hope written in the first letter of John, that we ARE God’s children, and we will be like him. The hope we receive from Jesus himself in the beatitudes – receiving comfort, mercy, blessings and the kingdom of heaven.
The feast of All Saints is also a day NOT just to remember the blessed dead, but the saints of here and now – celebrating the life you and I and all the baptized live in faith. And we live that life beginning with our baptism.
We remember all those we loved who have gone before us, and it is good and proper to do. But to completely observe the feast we also need to hold up a mirror and see ourselves – for we too are saints. Saints who still sin, but saints nonetheless. We are made saints through the water and the Word – in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
For this reason, All Saints’ Sunday is one of the principle baptismal feast days of the church’s liturgical calendar – along with the Vigil of Easter, Pentecost and the baptism of our Lord – it is a time the Church says is especially good to bring people into the kingdom through the sacrament.
The gift of baptism we receive through Christ unites us with St. Peter, St. Lucia, St. Hildegard of Bingen, St. Martin Luther, St. Henry Muhlenberg, St. Anna Obernier (my great-grandmother), St. Aaron (my father-in-law), and St. Harold – our brother in Christ who entered the Church Triumphant in February.
Our baptism unites us to all these saints of the past, and unites us as believers in the here and now, as we gather together to worship, learn, and serve God and one another.
All Saints’ Sunday reminds us that we are part of this great communion of saints that we confess in the creeds. It also reminds us that our faith is more than a one-on-one relationship with Jesus, but that our baptism also connects each of us to the other.
Our baptism intimately unites the past with the present AND the present with the future.
What tremendous gifts Jesus has given us, to forgive and free us, and to promise us a place with him forever – to reunite us with those who have gone before, so that as St. Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians, even though we may grieve, we do so with HOPE.
Today, we remember those who have died in the Lord, not with despair, but with a sadness mixed with joy. Today, we look at our own lives and are strengthened by knowing that even though we still sin and fall short, we are part of a forgiven people, each one of us saints in the here and now.
And we are made saints through the sacrament of Holy Baptism. For in this great gift God binds God’s self to us, and we are bound to one another as brothers and sisters – now and forever.
As we sing in today’s great hymn: “Oh blest communion, fellowship divine, we feebly struggle, they in glory shine. Yet all are one within your great design. Alleluia! Alleluia!”