“Gathering for God’s Feast” by Pastor Steve Sommerer

All Saints’ Day November 1, 2020

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            Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

            The sermon text for All Saints’ Day is from Rev. 7:9-17 

            Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes - who are they, and where did they come from?”  I answered, “Sir, you know.”  And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation;  they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.  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 spread His tent over them.  Never again will they hunger;  never again will they thirst.  The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat.  For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their Shepherd; He will lead them to springs of living water.  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”  So far the text.

            All Saints’ Day is a day of remembrance and a day of celebration.  It binds us together in hope with our loved ones whose souls are with Christ, yet whose bodies rest in the earth, awaiting the day of Christ’s coming.  Not only the blessed dead in Christ are saints.  Scripture calls all who believe part of the great congregation of God’s saints, because they are justified through faith, declared to be holy, in the blood of Jesus.  Romans 1 speaks to you also when Paul writes, “To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints”, that is holy ones in Jesus.  

So today we rejoice in the blessed dead who are with Christ, we remember the blessing they have been to our lives.  And for those touched with sadness and grief, we find hope in the victory of faith. Isaiah proclaimed:  “Your dead will live;  their bodies will rise.”  1 Thessalonians 4 promises, “You who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who fallen asleep… we will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And so we will be with the Lord forever.”

            In our sermon text from Revelation 7, John gets a glimpse, a vision, of those who have died in Christ gathered around the throne of God before Jesus the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  He says it was a multitude “No one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language” singing praises to our Risen Redeemer.

            Those whom John sees “have come out of the great tribulation.”  The Church of John’s day, as it is in many parts of the world today, endured terrible persecution and often cruel death for their faith. Life wasn’t easy.  Yet, today when we endure suffering and hardship, when we experience the loss of a loved one or dire sickness, when pandemic strikes, when things don’t go the way we think they ought, we sometimes imagine God has failed us, that I shouldn’t have to suffer pain and loss.

            We’d prefer an exemption from the trials of the world.  But that’s a false theology seeking good things apart from the cross of Christ.  While God promises to watch over and protect His people and that “all things will work together for the good of those who love Him”, we aren’t promised lives free of sorrow and pain.  It wasn’t so for the apostles, nor will it be for you.  

            The way of the cross, of suffering and death is the way for all who are conceived and born in sin, even God’s saints.  Things won’t get better but worse, “the old order of things is passing away.”  Jesus never promised a bed of roses in this life.  Instead He said, “Anyone who would come after me must take up His cross and follow me.” Jesus cautioned the disciples, “I have told you these things that in Me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble, but take heart!  I have overcome the world.” 

So, why do bad things happen to Christians?  Why is there suffering?  Why doesn’t an invisible wall shut Covid out of our churches?   The answer rests in sin’s corruption of what God created perfect and holy.  Evil is an alien intrusion into God’s created order and is not part of His will for His people.  Yet, Scripture reminds us, even as we walk through “the valley of the shadow of death we will fear no evil, for He is with us.”  The God whom we praise this day didn’t remain a spectator, amusing Himself with our struggles.  God sent His perfect Son to be “born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those under the Law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.”  The crosses we bear in life, we are only able to bear with hope, comfort, and peace because the God-man bore the cross before us.  Isaiah called Jesus a “man of sorrows, familiar with suffering, yet He has borne our iniquities and carried our diseases.” 

All Saints’ Day can only be possible, because Jesus bore our shame and covers us in His righteousness.  2 Corinthians 5 says:  “God made Him who had no sin, to be sin for us, that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”  Jesus was judged and died for your sins, and through faith in Him you are covered in His radiant and blessed robes of righteousness. You have been baptized into Christ’s death.  Paul wrote:  “All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Through faith you share in Jesus’ victory – His work and His gift, and only in Him are you saints, holy in Him. 

The songs of All Saints’ Day as the song of our text before heaven isn’t a song of defeat and despair.  Our Lord Christ has raised the curtain of eternity for all who are His own.  This beautiful picture in our sermon text of the saints who departed this life in faith is for us a word of comfort, for there they gather around the throne of God and praise His holy name.  “Your dead will live.  Their bodies will rise.” 

Revelation describes the glorious heavenly city prepared for the children of God, a place of no more tears, no more pain, where we walk in the presence of the God who redeemed us through the precious blood of His Son.  Just as the disciples saw the glory of Jesus’ face on the Mount of Transfiguration, so in that city His radiance will be its light.

The books of Isaiah, Matthew, Luke, and Revelation all describe a banquet feast that God will throw for His Son on the last day.  John calls it the wedding feast of the Lamb.  On that day, Christ’s beautiful bride the Church adorned in the splendid, glistening purity of His forgiveness will be given to her husband our Lord Jesus.  At this wedding feast the saints will be welcomed into the salvation God has prepared for us. 

As you baptized believers gather around the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood, you participate here in the blessings that will one day be yours in Paradise. In the Lord’s Supper, heaven touches earth.  The ancient liturgy admonishes those who celebrate the Sacrament: Lift up your hearts; and we join to respond, “We lift them up unto the Lord.”  At each celebration, heaven joins earth, eternity breaks into time.

The body and blood of Christ received here is food for the weary traveler.  As you wind the unpredictable path of life toward your home with Jesus, you receive in His meal strength.  Like the Israelites nourished with manna from heaven during their wilderness wanderings, this blessed bread is eaten by the Church on her way from this world to God’s heavenly Promised Land.  The flesh of the true Lamb of God is eaten, as the first Passover lamb was eaten by the children of Israel.  This blessed bread is the manna, the life-giving bread from heaven. 

  In the Lord’s Supper, we look in two directions - back to the great sacrifice Jesus offered for us and for our salvation at the cross and forward to the Messianic meal in heaven, the wedding feast of the future, when Christ as bridegroom and the Church as Bride will be united at the “marriage supper of the Lamb.”  This meal is truly a “foretaste of the feast to come” for just as one day we will see God face to face;  so in this meal the timeless and eternal God-man Jesus Christ enters into our time and gives Himself to us, His very body and blood for our forgiveness, life, and salvation.

The blessed dead in Christ are “with the Lord.”  So also, we cling to God’s promise that He is not distant from us, hiding at an undisclosed location called God’s right hand.  Rather, we celebrate the God in our midst, Who never tires of bestowing His gifts.  Our first parents Adam and Eve fell into sin and were banished from God’s presence in Eden’s Garden, but in the Lord’s Supper God invites us back into His presence to give us Himself.   

In the midst of strife and struggles, God’s Church on earth gathers in simplicity and longing for Her feast.  So our believing dead gather at Christ’s table with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all the faithful for that final blessed banquet of salvation.  Even now, they sing, “Blessing, honor, glory and might be to God and the Lamb forever.”  In the Holy Sacrament we join their adoration, bound together with them by the One who gathers His family here and in heaven:  “This is the feast of victory for our God.”  To the end of time the feast goes on, until finally we take our place before God’s throne, even so forgiven in Jesus, we join our voices with prophets and apostles and all our departed dead with “angels, and archangels, and all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify His glorious name saying, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Sabbaoth, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord’.”  Amen.

And now may the peace of God which surpasses human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.