Summary: A sermon celebrating all Saints’ Sunday, saints of the past, present and future.
Sermon for All Saints’ Sunday Yr B, 5/11/2006
Based on Isa 25:6-9 & Rev 21:1-6a
By Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
“Celebrating all of the saints”
Well, here we are on All Saints’ Sunday. Today we are especially mindful of the merging of the past, present and future. It is a Sunday when those words of our creed are particularly instructive and meaningful: “we believe in…the communion of saints.” Today, we celebrate all of the saints—past, present and future. We give thanks to God for those saints who made a difference in our lives and have gone ahead of us to their eternal reward. We take great delight in the presence of one another here today, and appreciate the many blessings we receive from one another as Christ’s family known as Grace Lutheran Church/The Good Samaritan Society’s South Ridge Village (readers please name your own community here). We look with faith and hope into the future, when we are united with all the saints in heaven, and our joy shall be complete as we join in the unending hymn of praise to our One, Holy, Triune God.
This celebratory mood of All Saints’ Sunday is truly enhanced as we consider the words of Scripture from Isaiah and Revelation today. The prophet Isaiah writes with much joy and hope, in anticipation of that Great Day when the LORD shall prepare for and welcome all of his people to a wonderful banquet feast of rich food and well-aged wines. Indeed, the saints shall celebrate with exceeding joy the victory of our God, as the shroud, the sheet of death is destroyed and swallowed up—forever defeated, forever gone. On that day of salvation God will wipe away all the tears from our eyes. That’s certainly a day to celebrate and hope for!
Then, in our second lesson from Revelation, the celebratory mood of All Saints’ Sunday continues as John shares his vision of a new heaven and earth. A new creation without sin, death and the powers of evil. There is also a reference to no more sea. Why no more sea? Well, in the ancient worldview water was not only a symbol of life; it was also a symbol of chaos, disorder, death and evil. Thus, the new heaven and earth shall exist without such chaos, disorder, death and evil. The passage goes from strength to strength as we learn of the new Jerusalem, and God the Father and Christ the Lamb speaking from the heavenly throne, the “home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.” Such language is certainly reminiscent of Old Testament covenant language, filled with promise and hope. Verse four reiterates the passage of Isaiah: “he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.”
On this All Saints’ Sunday, we learn once again that we need not dread or fear death—ultimately thanks to God and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, death is defeated. Years ago Rev. Dr. William Willimon says he can remember his pastoral attempt to comfort a woman whose father had recently died. Willimon heard her say, “Well, the way I look at it, from now on, I’ve got somebody up there cheering me on.”1 Such a faith attests to the reality of our creedal confession that we believe in “the communion of saints.”
We recall all the saints of history: the “great cloud of witnesses” in Scripture, the Reformers, the founding ancestors of our church, the greats of our own generation, and our family and friends who have died. But we do not mourn, as those who have no hope. For they are in the new Jerusalem.
Some churches have a little semicircular communion rail around the altar. It symbolizes the great mystical union that, when we commune at that altar rail, the semicircle is completed around the throne of God in heaven. And when we chant “Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna,” we are singing together with the whole great host around the heavenly throne. We are bound with them in one great exultant song of praise to the Lord of Life and Death. What joy to know that circle is complete in our Eucharist together here!2
All Saints’ Sunday, a time to celebrate and remember the countless and remarkable saints of the past and the contributions that they made to our faith and the Church as a whole. All Saint’s Sunday, a time to look forward with hope and faith into that future day when we shall be with our God and all the saints who have gone ahead of us. Yet, it is important that we celebrate the saints right now, in the present too.