All Saints Sunday Sermon November 7, 2021
texts: Isaiah 25:6-9, Revelation 21:1-6 and John 11:32-44
Heaven. Today we remember and celebrate the lives of all those who have died in the past year. And because of the pandemic we also include those who have died in the past couple of years. We remember them. We celebrate their mark on us; their imprint in our lives.
Part of that remembering touches on our mortality. We are mortal. We have birth dates, remembering the day we were born. We also have what we might call “heaven days” — the day we die.
Our readings for this day focus on the tension between these two events that mark our existence. They also reflect on the tension between being mortal—temporary, transients on this planet that we visit for a few short years—and the longing or sense of immortality that is imbedded in our souls.
“He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”
We are born and live as temporary residents in this fallen world, yet we somehow have a sense and longing within our beings that we were made for something more. Almost like a soul memory, a residual memory of God’s original plan for us. We were created for life. Not death. Mortality and all that goes along with it was never part of God’s plan. God is not the author life death, nor of the pain, misery and suffering that happens on this side of heaven. We can not blame God for children dying. We cannot accuse God of taking a loved one from us. Suffering, pain, sorrow and death are consequences of our fall into sin. The shroud of death that is cast over all people is our problem brought on by our rebellion against God and God’s goodness. It has marked our human existence ever since our exit from the Garden of Eden. But our souls, our inner being remember and long for that former reality. Babies, we are sometimes told, have a fresher memory of that then we do as adults.
Our readings for today focus on God’s plan of salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord. He came into our broken world to redeem us — bring us back into living fellowship with God through His shed blood — and restore us to that Garden of Eden existence. Life. Eternal life in the presence of God.
“And He (God) will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; He (God) will swallow up death forever” (Isaiah 25:7). This amazing verse then goes on to say, “the Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of His people He will take away from all the earth…” That theme is picked up in Revelation 21, our second reading for today.
You and I, today, are multi-dimensional saints. We straddle two worlds. Luther wrote about the two kingdoms of our existence. We are part of God’s kingdom of heaven. We have heaven in our hearts and souls. We have God’s very presence within us through the gift of forgiveness and our restored relationship with God. We forget that. We often have no conscious thought of that as we go through our troubled days. Yet it is a reality. It is true. Jesus lives in our hearts and souls. We have God in us! That is the reality of God’s kingdom.
Yet we also live on this side of heaven. We live in this physical world and universe. A world governed by corruption and greed. A world marked by power struggles, fear, doubt and suspicion of anyone or anything we don’t understand.
And, because of the two kingdoms that we straddle, we embody tension. A tension that we are never free form on this side of glory.
A hymn from the Lutheran Hymnal that I grew up with has a gospel song with this phrase, “I’m but a stranger here, heaven is my home.” It is not very popular today. Modern believers want us to invest in this world and care for our planet and people in the here and now. That hymn can smack of escapism and irresponsibility as citizens on this side of heaven. Yet I love that old hymn. It reminds me of what my soul seems to remember—that heaven is my real home. I still invest in this world. I still care for our planet. I still nurture and care for the people of this world that share this existence with me. But, and this is a significant but—we are created for something much more significant and real than what our eyes see here. We are created for life that is so incredible it escapes our imaginations.
And that is what we remember and celebrate today. An old phrase from my early days of ministry comes back to me: “We are glory bound saints with heaven in our souls.”
Jesus came to Mary and Martha to mourn and grieve with them their loss—the death of His dear friend Lazarus. He, the Lord of Life, the Prince of Peace; He who is the Resurrection and Life incarnate. Jesus stood outside the grave where Lazarus’ body lay embalmed with spices and wrapped in linen clothes. And He wept. Why? I believe He might have wept because death was never part of God’s plan for us. Maybe He wept because of our brokenness and sorrow. Maybe He wept because of the fallenness of our world and all the troubles we experience every day. Maybe He wept because He was bringing Lazarus back into this existence for another temporary few years. Maybe Lazarus wept too when he was brought back? His sisters certainly didn’t. They were astounded with joy and gratitude.
Today we remember all those whom we love and have known who have gone before us. We celebrate their mark and influence on us, our continued relationship with them. And today, we remember heaven, not as some distant imaginary place of fairytale dimension, but as a present reality that surrounds us. It is imbedded within us because God nows lives in and through us. It surrounds us as an invisible reality just outside of our perception. Just a breathe away.
Today we are filled with hope an anticipation of that promise that has begun and is in the process of being fulfilled with every breath we breathe. One day, we too, will wake up breathing celestial air. In the meantime we invest every part of our lives, hearts, minds and souls in living loving and caring lives here on this side of the veil. In Jesus’ name. Amen.