Sermon delivered on All-Saints’ Sunday A, November, 1, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.
If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.
Lectionary texts: Lectionary texts: Revelation 7.9-17; Psalm 34.1-10, 22; 1 John 3.1-3; Matthew 5.1-12.
In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today is All-Saints’ Day where we remember the communion of saints and the promises of God that stem from our resurrection hope. So this morning I want to ask you this: What does it look like when God wipes away all of our tears? After all, our tears are legion and a sign that things are desperately wrong in God’s world and our lives. So what does it mean to have God wipe them away? May I have the faith, courage, and holy imagination to proclaim this message boldly and may you have equally the faith, courage, and holy imagination to embrace it.
Today is a day we need to get real about our human condition and the world in which we live. To be sure there is spectacular beauty in our world and our lives. We see it in creation and in relationships and people we hold near and dear to our hearts. We see it when we gather as God’s people in Christ to worship God, to listen to God’s Word, and to partake in holy Eucharist each week. We see God’s beauty anytime we see true goodness, kindness, compassion, and justice. We see beauty in music, art, poetry, and prose. So let us acknowledge that there is wondrous beauty and goodness in God’s creation because as holy Scripture tells us, God created everything good and intends for it to function and be that way (Genesis 1-2).
But let us also acknowledge and lament the fact that something is desperately wrong in God’s world and our lives. This is not God’s doing. It is a product of human rebellion in paradise that allowed the dark powers of Evil to gain a foothold into God’s good world to defile and corrupt it and us, and resulted in God’s curse on his good creation. We see the awful results of the corrupting power of human sin and the dark powers of Evil everyday: from the lawless mobs in some of our cities to human trafficking to drug addiction that tears apart and sometimes destroys lives and families to the rising divorce rate and breakdown of families that causes a legion of other problems for us individually and collectively to the acrimony and rancor in our nation’s politics to disordered relationships that cause emotional trauma and devastation to COVID that sickens us and sometimes kills us and makes us isolated and afraid to cruelty toward animals to pollution and waste and a myriad of deadly diseases, we don’t have to look very far to see that along with the wondrous beauty and goodness we behold, things are also terribly wrong in God’s world and our lives.
Closer to home, many of us have experienced the reality of living in God’s good but cursed and Evil/Sin-corrupted world. In just the last few weeks Father Bowser lost a younger sister to cancer, the second sibling he has lost to that wicked disease. His 97 year old mother has had to endure what no parent should have to endure: the loss of two children. Never mind that they were adult children. The fact remains that parents normally die before their children and she wonders why she is still alive while her beloved daughters are not. Where is the justice in that?
Then there are Nathan and Ashley, who recently suffered a miscarriage of their unborn son, Daniel. Death has robbed them of ever knowing their son in this mortal life and experiencing the joys and sorrows of raising him to adulthood. The couple did nothing to deserve or warrant this, yet it happened anyhow. We will remember Daniel at our roll call in a bit and celebrate that he is known by Christ and is in Christ’s loving arms. But the fact remains that Ashley and Nathan have had to endure an incalculable loss—the death of their unborn child with all of their attendant hopes and dreams for their child crushed. We can only imagine their sorrow and deep sense of loss and injustice.
Or consider our own Doug H., a young husband and father of three who is stricken with a serious form of cancer. We pray for healing and beseech the Lord to answer our prayers. But the fact remains that the family is terrified of the awful possibility that the evil of cancer has the potential to rob them of their beloved husband and father. This is not what God created us for or intends for us as his image-bearing creatures. The most common phrase in all of Scripture is, “don’t be afraid,” an indication that there are lots of things in this world that make us afraid. The H-Family can testify to this sad reality.
The fact is that every one of us here or watching via live-streaming this morning knows the pain of loss or sickness or alienation or disease. One of our parishioners had his parents killed by a drunk driver years ago, snuffed out in the prime of life. Where is the justice in that? Our young people who live alone are suffering from isolation and loneliness, not to mention real questions about their professional future. All these things cause great anxiety and worry. Where is the justice in that? Some of our older parishioners (you geezers know who you are) lament the onset of infirmity and old age with its attendant diseases and disorders and frailty and loss of independence that often causes a loss of human dignity and perceived self-worth. Where is the justice in that? We have about half of our parish who are staying at home because of real and legitimate worries about contracting COVID. This has the effect of isolating them from their parish family and causes depression and anxiety for some of them. For those of us who choose to come to worship in house, our worship is constrained. We wear masks, social distance from each other, and our parish gatherings and celebrations are either canceled or greatly muted. This is not God’s will or intention for how his people are to live and worship as a parish. Where is the justice in that?
At the Eucharist we will read 78 names at the Roll Call of the Victorious, those saints who have died in the peace of Christ and are now part of the Church Victorious. 78 names! This means that for the friends and families of those 78 saints here in person or watching this morning, we can no longer enjoy their physical presence. We can’t see them, hold them, hear their voices, smell their smells, or enjoy the sweet fellowship of their love the way we could when they were alive in this mortal life. For those of us who lost our saints recently (we will read their names at the beginning of the roll call), the pain of separation that death causes is probably still pretty sharp or raw. For those of us who have had to live without our beloved saints for some time now, we learn to live with the dull ache their absence causes in our lives. Every one of us in this room today knows what I am talking about because Death has robbed every one of us of a beloved saint. Whether recently or long ago, the pain is real. For me, I have had to learn to live with the dull ache over a son that I have not seen or heard from in over eight years and the death of my beloved parents and grandparents. There is nothing good or right about any of this. These things produce buckets of tears for us. Many of us try to put on a brave face and hide our tears from others. But we all know those tears are real and they are present because our hearts ache over our pain, separation, and loss. There is no justice in any of it. It diminishes us as humans and makes us afraid, anxious, and lonely.
But—were you waiting for the great conjunction but?—the pain of death and the sting of Evil, Sin, and living in a cursed creation do not have the final say, thanks be to God. That is why celebrating All-Saints is so important for us. To be sure, it allows us to remember our beloved who have died in the peace of Christ, never a bad thing! But All-Saints also proclaims a far greater promise. Scripture tells us God did not curse the creation because God hates his creation or us. God’s curse can be seen as simply allowing the corrupting effect of our sin and the powers of Evil to manifest themselves in awful ways to despoil God’s good world and our lives. There is a great mystery in all this. But God cannot ultimately let Sin and Evil prevail and so the story of Scripture is the story about how the good and loving God is putting right all that is wrong and corrupt and unjust and evil in God’s world and our lives. In other words, God is busy at work in our lives in and through Christ, wiping away our tears, partially in this life but fully in God’s new creation.
We get a glimpse of this from St. John’s vision of the heavenly throne room in our NT lesson from Revelation this morning. We need to be clear about this. This vision is not some vision about the future. It is a vision of what is happening right now in heaven, God’s space and the control room for all of creation. There we see a glorious vision of the redeemed in Christ, saints from every tribe, language, and nation. They are dressed in white, NT symbolism proclaiming that they and their sins have been washed clean by the blood of the Lamb who sits upon the heavenly throne. They have endured the great tribulation—most likely a reference to being persecuted for their faith but that could also certainly include the various tribulations with which we all have been afflicted in this mortal life. The point is their suffering, sorrow, and loss are forever wiped away, along with their tears. We know this is complete because God the Father is the one who is doing the wiping. Think about that and let it sink in. God the Father himself wipes away our tears forever.
So what happens when God wipes away our tears? Both Old and NTs give us glimpses of this. For starters, when Christ returns to usher in God’s new world, the new heavens and earth, the dead will be raised to new bodily life and all things renewed. We aren’t told much about what the new creation will look like other than the fact that we who belong to Christ will get to live directly in God’s presence forever—how awesome and glorious will that be!!!—and the domains of heaven and earth will be forever fused together (see, e.g., Isaiah 25.6-9; 1 Cor 15; Revelation 21.1-7). We know too that as St. John tells us in our epistle lesson, whatever it is we will be in the new creation, we will be like Christ, i.e., we will have a new physical body in the manner of Christ’s. Recall from the resurrection narratives that Christ’s resurrection body was similar to his mortal body but also radically different. The disciples could see their crucified Lord, touch him, eat with him, and hear his voice. They knew it was Jesus and Jesus had a body. But it was also a brand new body that could appear and disappear in locked rooms, a body that was now immortal and impervious to death (see, e.g., Luke 24; John 20). So too will we have old and new bodies when Christ raises us from the dead. We will be recognized and known by Christ and those whom we have loved (the old). But our bodies will also be transformed into perfectly beautiful bodies, bodies that are impervious to sickness, disease, infirmity, hunger, and death. We will not be plagued by anxiety or depression or disordered desires. We will be embodiments of perfect health and humanity (the new). I must be circumspect in my descriptions about our bodies/existence in the new creation because the NT is circumspect in its description of both. But that misses the point here and we should not focus on what our bodies will look/be like.
What we should focus on is this. When the new creation comes in full at Christ’s return, God will put to right all the injustices and hurts in the old world. God will judge and banish the wicked and evil, all things—spiritual and human—that serve as agents to corrupt, defile, hurt, and destroy God’s image-bearers and the rest of creation. Unjust/untimely deaths will be put to rights forever because the dead will be raised to die no more. Ashley and Nathan, e.g., will get to meet their son, Daniel, and get to know and love and enjoy him forever. Can there be a more perfect form of justice?? At Christ’s return all things will be restored to their perfect beauty and goodness in the manner that probably will exceed the beauty and goodness of God’s first creation. Only God has the power to do this and only then can our tears vanish forever because all the loss, hurt, suffering, sorrow, separation, alienation, deformity, ugliness and all the other forms of evil and corruption will be forever done away with, never to bother or hurt us or weigh us down anymore. This is a free gift to those of us who belong to Christ. We have done nothing to deserve the gift but it is ours for the taking because of the great love and mercy of God made known to us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Can I get a resounding “Amen”?
Nor do we have to wait for the saving benefits of Christ’s love. We can enjoy them, albeit only partially, right now because God promises in the beatitudes that he will begin to wipe our tears away in this life so that those who mourn, for example, will be comforted as we have just seen. I am talking about our blessed hope, my beloved, the real and only hope that is based on the power and love of God, not some fantasy. Without it we would shrivel away and die a desperate and awful death. So we live by hope and an informed faith, a faith that is based on the historical reality of Christ’s death and resurrection and the revelation of God’s promises that flowed throughout the NT and the Church thereafter. That is why we attend to each other and weep and rejoice with each other. All Saints Day is not about whistling through the graveyard. It is about us as Christians embracing our hope and promise that one day God will wipe away our tears forever and usher in an eternal age where rejoicing and happiness and fulfillment and wholesomeness will be ours forever, all because of the blood of the Lamb shed for us to wipe away our sins and to defeat the Evil that presently bedevils us. That makes the present worth living for in faith, hope, love, and good courage (cf. 1 Corinthians 15.58).
For the love of God, my beloved, let us resolve to boldly embrace our resurrection hope and promise so that we are agents who embody faithfully the Father’s love made known to us in the Son and in the power of the Holy Spirit to love and minister to each other and the world, reminding one and all of God’s love for us and our very real and certain resurrection hope. As we do so, we will be living witnesses to the promise that one day God himself will wipe our tears away forever. Until that blessed day, God gives us the grace and ability to embody his love, mercy, compassion, and justice to each other. Let us therefore be bold in our proclamation and living. Death is destroyed and we will know and experience God’s complete restorative healing, justice, and love for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.
In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.