Summary: It’s All Saints’ Sunday. This is the Sunday when we are reminded, once more, that our God is not a God of the dead but the living. Today, we remember that Christ’s Church not only includes the saints on earth but also the saints in heaven.
It’s All Saints’ Sunday. This is the Sunday when we are reminded, once more, that our God is not a God of the dead but the living. Today, we recognize that those who have died in Christ are not dead but alive! Today, we remember that Christ’s Church not only includes the saints on earth but also the saints in heaven.
What does that mean? It means that whenever and wherever the Church gathers on this side of heaven, we see only the tiniest fraction of her! For most of the saints have already passed through this vale of tears and are now in God’s eternal presence. We, the saints here on earth, are in the minority. We’re just a small fraction of all the Christians who have ever lived.
When we realize this--that we are but a tiny fraction of the Church--it should not fill us with sadness. To the contrary, such a truth comforts and encourages us! For when we gather to worship, there is more here than the earthly eye can see. With the eyes of faith, we discover that when we gather as God’s people, it’s never less than with all the saints of heaven!
Listen to how the book of Hebrews describes it:
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to innumerable angels in festive gathering, to the Church of the Firstborn, whose names have been written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks a better word than Abel’s (Hebrews 12:22-24).
So when we gather for worship, we aren’t the only ones present. The angels of heaven are with us. The spirits of the righteous made perfect are also with us (they’re the saints of heaven). But most of all, when we worship, Jesus is here. He is here with His body and blood, giving to us His new covenant of forgiveness.
The saints in heaven are not that distant and far away. It is as the Book of Hebrews says: They surround us. They are that magnificent “cloud of witnesses,” worshiping with us and encouraging us to run the race of faith (Hebrews 12:1). And by God’s grace, we will one day join that triumphant-victory celebration without end. All the saints gather as one, standing before the throne of God and the Lamb, clothed in white garments, living Christ’s cross-won victory to its fullness. They chant aloud: “We are saved by our God who sits on the throne and by the Lamb!”
Yet, others also join the saints in worshiping the Blessed Trinity: the angels, the elders, and the four living creatures. That heavenly choir sings: “Blessing, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honor, power, and might be to our God to the ages of the ages! Amen!”
That’s the liturgy of heaven. The liturgy centers on the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. As it is heaven, so it is on earth. Christian worship centers on Jesus Christ. Here, on earth, Jesus is present to bless us with His words of pardon and peace. Born of the Virgin Mary, He is here with His body, and also with His blood, to give us His forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
Worship, as it is supposed to be, points us away from ourselves and our interests toward Jesus Christ and what He wants to give us. That’s how it’s supposed to be. Even the architecture in the Church is to point us to Christ and His gifts.
A hymn we sometimes sing brings this truth out well: “Here stands the font before our eyes, telling how God did receive us. The altar recalls Christ’s sacrifice and what His Supper here gives us. Here sound the Scriptures that proclaim Christ yesterday, today, the same, and evermore, our Redeemer” (LSB 645, stanza 4).
The liturgy does not belong to us but to the Triune God. That’s why we call it the Divine Service. It’s God’s service to us though His Word and Sacraments. Salvation belongs to our God--and that is what He gives us here in His Word and Sacrament!
We do not come here to be entertained but to be edified. We come here to be strengthened in the faith. We learn from the saints and angels in heaven how to worship God, how to receive His gifts in faith, and how to confess Jesus as the founder and finisher of our faith.
“Who are these saints?” the Apostle John asked, referring to the saints in heaven. The answer? “These are the ones who are coming out of the terrible suffering.” They are people like you, like me. They have had their share of heartache and pain. They struggled day by day, hanging on when it may have seemed hopeless. They are people for whom faith didn’t come easily. They are people who struggled to trust in God, to believe, even when their many troubles told them otherwise. By faith, they knew that God was still in control, that He still loved them, was still forgiving them, and still keeping them in the faith.