In which I explain why it is not only a good thing to celebrate the saints, but a necessary one. (HINT: It points to Jesus.)
All saints day was yesterday – November 1. Scripture tells us that God hears our prayers and promises to answer them. And so we pray to our Father, who art in heaven. Scripture gives no promise that the saints hear us. So we don’t pray to them. But we do remember them. Saints are not just those who have done some super deeds. In fact, saints don’t become saints by their works at all. Jesus work makes a saint. It is his holy precious blood and his innocent suffering and death that makes us holy and righteous in the sight of our heavenly Father.
And the Holy Spirit brings that forgiveness to you in the preaching, in the absolution, in the water, in the body and blood. That’s how the spirit works – through the holy Christian church – that is the communion of saints, to bring you the forgiveness of sins.
And this communion of saints is all of the baptized. All those who have been plunged into that life giving water, rich in grace, the washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit. In the blessed water all your sins are forgiven, and you stand as a saint before God. And yet, All Saints day limits the field somewhat – we don’t celebrate all the saints, that is, all the baptized. We celebrate those who have gone before us in the faith, who have died under the sign of the cross, and who now wait the resurrection of the dead, even as they rest in Abrahams bosom.
And we celebrate All Saints day, because of the creed. As we confess in the Apostles creed, “I believe that God has made me and all creatures.” When you confess, “God has made me… given me my body and soul… house and home… guards and protects me from all danger” you are confessing a God whose works are seen in creation. Now that may seem an obvious one. But quite often, we don’t fully appreciate that God works in and through history. God is God out there, and here we are – on our own? waiting for him to light a fire inside of us to guide us? We abstract God’s work, and make it some sort of random movement in the heart, rather than the sure and certain word of Forgiveness brought to us in this place – his holy church. God works through history. Through specific times and places. First century Palestine, a young girl saw the angel, and conceived in her womb when she believed the word of the angel. The Blessed Virgin Mary was mother to Jesus. Her husband, Joseph was good and righteous man we are told, and so took care of her, even though the baby was conceived of the Holy Spirit, not from him.
Jesus really walked the earth, he ate, slept, was tempted by all the things that tempt you – but did not give in. He really was unjustly condemned, hanging on a cross for your sins. He died. His corpse placed in a tomb. And on the third day, the body was alive again. Historical facts, and through those, God brings you salvation.
But he didn’t used to work through history, and now just wanders about. He still does. Last year we celebrated the 100th anniversary of Trinity. 100 years of proclaiming the Gospel. 100 years of hearing that message of forgiveness for Jesus sake. 100 years of baptisms, of communions, marriages and funerals.
For most of that history, the Spirit worked through word and sacrament at 11th and Maple. For the last twenty years, here, at 1004 Willow. The church is not an abstract ideal. It is real people in a specific place hearing the Word. People like Elizabeth Geringer, who fought the good fight, and finished the race this past year, and now there is stored up for her a crown of righteousness.
And God worked through the ministry of men, called to preach in this place. Dannenfeldt, Schabaker, Guenther, Rehwaldt, Hoyer, Becker, Karkau, Bornemann, Last, Oberheu, Marquardt, and Rogness. These men, now sainted, brought the body and blood of Christ to the people of Platte County. When they spoke the word of Christ, heaven and earth collided, those who were dead were now alive, those who were lost were now found, and the poor had the Gospel preached to them. They now rest from their labors, and all their works do follow them.
And it is not idolatry to give thanks to God for his gifts. We give thanks to God for the gifts he has given this congregation. Faithful mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, friends and family. Whomever it was who brought the members of this congregation to the church over the years. God established this congregation by his Holy Word. And the members, under his care, have maintained that gift. Additions, renovations, and finally new building. It is a trust given to us to use, and to pass on. Not just the building, but the Word spoken hear, the gift of forgiveness given. And we thank God that he has given us his holy church – made up of real people – to bring that word to us.
All Saints day is really a thanksgiving to God for his wonderful gift of the church. Those who have gone before us under the sign of faith, who have been transferred to the church triumphant. Who now stand as examples to us to faith toward God and love to our neighbor. That’s what we celebrate.
And on this day, as we do every Sunday, we join them in song. We join them around the throne of God and the lamb. We join with angels, and archangels and all the company of heaven, as we laud and magnify his glorious name. And we feast at the heavenly banquet – brought down to earth for you. The body and blood of your Lord, a foretaste of the feast to come. And when you eat of it, you are, by God’s grace, brought into the presence of the saints, and the angels and the archangels, and the Lord Jesus himself.
Oh it doesn’t look like much. Just a small group bending at the altar, quietly eating and drinking, and then going on their way. But it is so much more. It is you, joined to Christ receiving forgiveness, and joining then with all the church throughout all ages. The saints that have gone before, the Geringers, and Danenfeldts, and Bornemanns, and so on. They feast day and night at the table of the Lord. We have only a brief instant, and then we go back to our work.
But our work – raising children, earning a living, helping a friend, is holy work. It is the work of the saints. For that is what they did, trusting in God to forgiven their sins. And that is what we do. Follow their example, looking to Jesus, and loving those around us. God has placed us here, at this time, in this place, to receive his gifts, and do his work in the world.
Just as the saints did who have gone before. Trusting not themselves, but Jesus. God gave it to them to do, and now it is ours, and we await the final consummation, when we will join them not for a few minutes at the rail, but for all eternity around the throne.
Grant this Lord unto us all.