All Saints’ Day (B)
November 1, 2015
“A Glimpse Into Heaven”
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the first reading from Revelation, which was read a few minutes ago.
A brief review of the selection of a bookstore or especially a website like Amazon will reveal that there are countless books, movies, TV shows, and songs that talk about Heaven. People are fascinated by Heaven and so they buy books that claim to know what Heaven will be like. They listen to country songs about children as borrowed angels, and they’ll watch movies that have bizarre portrayals of the afterlife. Most of these books and movies and songs are theologically flawed, and a very large majority of these are blatantly inaccurate and misleading. And yet despite their myriad of flaws, the popularity of these descriptions of Heaven reveals that people desperately want to know what awaits them when this life is through. In reality though, it’s a shame that they don’t spend more time looking to the only source that tells us what Heaven is really like. The text for the sermon comes from the book of Revelation, and in this powerful book of the Bible, Saint John gives us a glimpse into Heaven.
For 1275 years, All Saints’ Day has been set aside to remember those who have died in the Christian faith. For almost thirteen hundred years, the Church has taken the time once a year to thank God for the faith of our fellow saints and for their examples of the Christian life. But most of all, we praise God for His faithfulness to the saints as He kept them in His grace and mercy. Today we remember men like Saint Peter and women like Saint Mary, and we remember the saints who were part of our lives and have now entered their Heavenly glory.
Saint John writes, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands”. Through John’s revelation we’re blessed to see our loved ones standing around God’s throne, where they have become what John, in our Epistle, calls “like [Christ]”. On this All Saints’ Day we’re reminded that Christ keeps His promises. The souls of the saints aren’t stuck in Purgatory, their souls aren’t just hanging out somewhere, and their souls haven’t died with their bodies, instead they’re with God. When Christians die, their souls gather around the throne of God where they praise and worship Him for the salvation He has given to them, and to us. And as we listen, we hear the whole company of Heaven sing, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” as they proclaim the hope of all the saints.
Now, there’s no doubt that when a loved one dies those who are left behind are left to mourn. Death isn’t natural and it hurts. But another comfort to the Christians who are left behind is that as we gather at the Lord’s Table, we gather with the living believers and we gather with the saints who have gone on before. Did you wonder why we’re having communion today? Secretly, it’s part of my plot to get us to celebrate the Lord’s Supper every Sunday. But the not so secret part is that as we gather today to celebrate the lives of the saints, it’s fitting that we commune with them. This is why, right before communion, the Proper Preface ends with, “Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of Heaven we laud and magnify your glorious name evermore praising you and saying.” We end it with those words because every time we commune, we get a little glimpse into Heaven which reminds us that we’re united with the saints of every age. Moses and Peter, Ruth and Priscilla, Dan, Dave, Herm, and Dick, Reka, Joanne, and Gladys and all the other saints gather with us to celebrate the salvation that belongs only to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. And this celebration of our salvation can occur no matter what is going on in our lives.
Take Saint John for example. When John received his revelation in 95 A.D. the Emperor Domitian had unleashed a terrible persecution of the Christians. Christians were being tortured and killed because they refused to worship to the emperor. And as could be expected, in the face of these terrible events, some Christians were being tempted to forsake Jesus. In a way, who could blame them? But then, in the midst of these terrible events, the Lord reveals to the Christians a glimpse into Heaven. Through John’s vision they’re comforted and assured of Christ’s power and His final victory.
John writes, “Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, ‘Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?’ I said to him, ‘Sir, you know.’ And he said to me, ‘These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’” John shows the frightened Christians that because Christ shed His blood for them, they need not fear death because the end result is glory in Heaven. Man may take their lives, but no one can take from them the seal of God nor their white robes. What God has sealed and washed cannot be undone by sinful man, no matter what awful thigns sinful man may inflict upon the faithful.
However, the glimpse we get of Heaven wasn’t just for the persecuted Christians, it’s for all of us. Saint John writes, “Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called…‘Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.’ And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel.” These verses have caused a lot of consternation among various religious groups because it sounds like God is only saving 144,000, but that’s not what God is saying. Rather, the number 144,000 symbolizes all those who are saved – and it’s way more than 144,000. In fact, you are all sealed by God and this means you are His. He has labeled you as His faithful child and He will preserve you in the face of tribulation.
Now hopefully most of you know where we were marked the first time – in our baptisms, right? That’s true, that’s where we were marked the first time, but sealing that occurs here in Revelation is the daily sealing that we experience as God speaks to us through His Word and through the Lord’s Supper. It’s in these, and in Baptism, that we find strength, encouragement, and faithfulness in the face of problems that come our way. The truth is that we’ll all face trials at times, and it’s during these times that the seal of God will enable us to endure.
The elder told Saint John that those in the white robes had gone through the great tribulation, and one day that will include you as you finish your life and enter God’s presence. Like those saints who went before us, through faith in Christ you have washed your robes in the blood of Christ. By washing your robes in His blood you know that He is with you in the face of your great tribulation. God will never forsake you, but He comes to you in His Word and in His Holy Supper where you put on the divine protection that ensures your faith will endure. This holiness is yours through the forgiveness of your sins, and because you’re forgiven, because Christ has washed you, you get a glimpse into heaven which promises you that things are going to get better.
And in some familiar words, John promises that better things are coming. He writes, “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will shelter them with His presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their Shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Life is hard and it will bring sorrow. Life also brings death. Life brings times of spiritual hungering and thirsting that never seem to go away, and this world seems to offer nothing but the great tribulation.
But John gives you this glimpse into Heaven to show you that better things wait! We will be satisfied! We will be preserved. We will be saved. As we look into Heaven we see our loved ones, and we can see ourselves surrounding the throne of God. We see ourselves comforted by our Savior as He leads us beside still waters. We see eternal joy as God wipes our tears away and gives us our glorified bodies free of all pain and sin. And as we look into heaven, we can see ourselves falling on our faces before His throne praising Him as we too cry out, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” All this is yours, it’s yours right now. It’s yours because Christ is the Lamb of God shed His blood for you and by doing so, has put God’s seal of love, forgiveness, and approval on you.
I was told not too long ago that Heaven sounds boring. There’s no marriage, no having children, and none of the things that seem to make us happy here on earth. But as we listen to John today, we have to see that Heaven isn’t boring, it’s glorious. Heaven is basking in God’s presence, having all our sins and fears and tears taken away for all time. Heaven is praising God for the salvation He has given to us. Heaven is eternal freedom from the Sin that afflicts us in this life. Heaven is where we will be like Christ, and it’s into this promise we put our trust. Life is hard and today as we remember those who have died, it becomes harder. But we’re not alone, and we’ll never be alone. God has marked us in our baptisms and He seals us every time we commune here at His altar. You may not always think of yourself as a saint, but as we come before God on this All Saints’ Day, we praise Him that through the cross of Jesus He has made us all saints – saints sealed for all eternity.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.