Sermon for the Feast of All Saints, AD 2021

Matthew 5:1-12

Today we remember all those who have died in Christ and passed from this valley of sorrow into the arms of their savior. We do not distinguish saints as the Roman Catholics do, separating All Saints from All Souls. For all souls who die in Christ are saints – that is, they have been made holy by faith in Christ. We especially remember today those who have died in our fellowship in the last year, as you will hear in the commemoration of the faithful departed during the prayers.

This is not just a day of remembrance. Rather, the church considers their life as part of our own, and their future as our future hope. As we experience the sorrows of this life, we await the blessings of the next, the blessings that our deceased brothers and sisters in Christ now experience. We also learn from their example to trust in Christ, to hold in faith to His promise. The goal of this life, the end for a saint, is to be made like Jesus, to be conformed to His image.

Being conformed to Jesus’ image looks like the beatitudes – our gospel reading today. In the beatitudes, there is a separation between how things are on earth and how they are in heaven. We know this praying as our Lord has taught us – “on earth as it is in heaven.” Because of sin, we experience want and sadness and persecution now, but these have been made fruitful in Christ, bringing us into His Life – the life of the cross and resurrection.

Our Lord says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” This could be a summary of the entire gospel. The poor in spirit are not just those who are financially poor, though many Christians have lived their lives without the burden of wealth. The poor in spirit are those who come to God bringing nothing of their own. They are like the sick and distressed who called out to Our Lord, “have mercy on me, Son of David!” For all they had was trust in Jesus as the Son of David, the one who was bringing the kingdom of God.

That kingdom is his coming to save his people, His death for sinners and the proclamation of that death. The kingdom is hidden now, and not very glamorous. Every loved one who came to church to hear Jesus’ gospel proclaimed, every shut-in who receives the gospel into her home, is an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven. Even more, those who die in faith receive the fullness of that kingdom in the life to come. There they will see Jesus, the one who became poor in spirit, who emptied himself for us, in his glory ruling heaven and earth, as they too will be glorified.

Therefore, “blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” In this life there is mourning, we mourn the loss of our loved ones, but this mourning is not final. The mourning is answered by comfort. Comfort found in the work of Jesus. Jesus, who mourned over Jerusalem, that this people set apart for God would do nothing but reject the Lord and His prophets, and finally reject Jesus by putting him to death. As the nation of Israel rejected Jesus, he made a new Israel, the true Israel of those who believe. Those who mourn the loss of family are comforted in being brought into Christ’s family, the church, the family which will last eternally in his kingdom.

For “blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” The promise of an inheritance was given to Abraham, the father of all who believe. In Christ we are promised a greater land, the new heavens and the new earth. This inheritance is not one to be grabbed or stolen by effort. It is and inheritance by grace, given to those who hold to the Word of Christ. As Abraham, a wanderer, trusted that God would give him a land, so we too trust in a land to come, one we cannot see but hold to in faith. We know that even when for Christians it seems like there is no place in this world, no place to lay our heads, as Jesus said, there is a Promised Land we are set to inherit. That land is where those who died in Christ rest and will come to on the final day.

Not only rest, but the end of need, as “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” The lack of rest we experience is a hunger and thirst in the soul in its relation to God. Our Israelite fathers who wandered in the wilderness experienced an actual hunger and thirst with lack of sufficient food and water. The Lord provided for them with manna and quail from heaven. They were in a very real way directly dependent on God in hunger and thirst. The greater hunger is the hunger for righteousness which can only be satisfied by God. As Christ says to the devil in the wilderness, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” As we travel in this life, this wilderness, coming to hear the Word of God on Sunday can seem to be like a short oasis in the desert. We may even wish we had never known of this need. Why can other people be blissfully unaware of their spiritual hunger and thirst, even people we know, while we are dependent on Christ? That dependence is good. That hunger and thirst is a good sign. If you do not hunger or thirst you are dead. Now you live, living in Christ, facing hunger and thirst while he provides sustenance for you as manna in the wilderness. Yet when you reach that promised land, as those who have died in Christ, you will no longer hunger, not because you are dead, but because you are satisfied. The righteousness of God will be fully revealed to you.

This righteousness is found fully in Jesus Christ, as described in the next beatitudes, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” These describe true Christian righteousness. For those who are in Christ, who hold that we have these great promises – a kingdom, comfort, a land of rest, satisfaction – what do we need to hold against others? Let us not retaliate even when others deserve it, pure in heart towards God, making peace with all as far as it is with us. Christ came to us – God became man and did not hold our sins against us, but out of his great love for you was merciful toward you. Though you all have rejected him, He made peace with God by his own blood, and sends his Spirit to purify our hearts so that we may see God. All who believe are saints who trust in this work of Christ.

A hallmark of saints is to suffer, for Jesus suffered as well, yet with the poor in spirit, those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake will have the kingdom of heaven. The vulnerability of forgiving and making peace with all is the same vulnerability that Jesus took on when God became man. He took that persecution for our sins. We take that persecution and become more like Jesus, and more like the saints who have come before us. If we suffer for Christ in this life, it is because we are like the prophets who came before us. We are showing the family resemblance.

Rejoice all you who suffer, who hunger and thirst, the meek, the mourners, and the poor in spirit. Christ has risen from the dead and brings you into his life. Just as he rescued the church in the wilderness, the church in persecution, so he rescues you. Not only can you rest in the assurance that your loved ones who died in Christ now have eternal rest and reward, but you can know this promise is for you. It is a promise which transcends and transforms all suffering and need into a beautiful completion. That beauty will be seen fully in God’s radiant face, as you serve him, sheltered by his presence, guided by the Lamb away from hunger, thirst, and heat to streams of living water. And He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Amen

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