Text: Revelation 7:2-17
Date: All Saints Day (Observed) + 11/6/16
You can’t have All Saints Day without Reformation Day. Even though the Reformation is commemorated now for only 499 years since 1517 and All Saints was first attributed to having begun 1,643 years ago by St. Ephrem the Syrian in 373 ad, still you can’t have All Saints without Reformation. For the reality is more than a calendar issue, the celebration more than the mere commemoration, the spiritual transformation more than just signing up on the dotted line of the required document.
You can’t have All Saints without Reformation. That is: Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me,” and, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 9:23, 14:27). Reformation is all about the cross, self-denial, taking up your cross and following Jesus. In other words, Reformation is all about daily repentance of sin and a faithful believing, following and walking in the way of God. The reformation of true repentance and faith in the heart has been the way throughout the entire history of the world. It’s the way it always was and it’s the way it always will be. “Reformation” has always been the way of salvation. Therefore, you can’t have All Saints without Reformation.
In the vision given St. John he sees the great multitude of all believers at the last day. When one of the elders rhetorically asked him, “Who are these, clothed in white robes?” the answer was not “These are the ones who got their act together, cleaned themselves up and lived lives moral enough, good enough, righteous enough to earn their ticket into heaven,” in other words, lives that needed no reformation, no repentance.
It’s important to say that since this is precisely the way people think, all people whose minds and spirits have been darkened, blinded and spiritually disabled since birth because of sin, inherited sin. And what is sin? Is it merely a little slip up? If it were you’d think you could work your way out of it or at least cover it up good enough so that even God won’t notice. No, sin is that total depravity, that utter disconnect from God, from life, leading only to death. All have sinned. All are sinners. All die. Therefore all are in need of the reformation of repentance and faith.
God here tells John and us, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation.” What is “the great tribulation”? It is the struggle of Reformation. And they are coming out of it, being delivered from the struggle by means of denying themselves, repenting of their slavery to sin, taking up the cross of Christ and following Him; emptying ourselves of self in order that God may fill us with Christ, with forgiveness, righteousness and life; in short, by means of God’s pure grace.
On Reformation Sunday we heard “a loud voice,” the voice of an angel with an eternal gospel to be announced to all creation. We identified Martin Luther as one of those special voices. This Sunday, on All Saints, we heard “another loud voice.” But this isn’t an angelic voice from heaven but the voice of “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.” Who? None other than you and me with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. That company includes not only the famous holy saints of old but you, your departed wife, or husband, your father and mother and grandparents, maybe your brother, sister or child, your Christian friend. Though we do not see them nor can number them some of them we know and they are very much alive today. They are with Christ. They are with the Lord. And so are we. Together we proclaim God’s call and God’s praise with a loud voice.
While every time we gather before this altar, this word, these sacraments, we are, like them, before the throne of God. We love because God first loved us. We serve him day and night in our vocation because God first served us, served us by making us His own possession by the burial of Holy Baptism into Christ, serves us by bespeaking us righteous in Holy Absolution, serves us by keeping us spiritually alive by feeding us with none other than our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in His Word, His Body, His Blood. God serves us by sending His holy angels to guard, protect and defend us and, at the last day, to gently transport our very living souls into His eternal presence.
Today we celebrate All Saints, the whole number of the redeemed, those who have gone before us, those with whom we today live and love, and those who have not yet been born—all sinners coming out of the great reformation tribulation of repentance and faith into the eternal mansions promised by Christ.
Glory to God! This, this is the feast of victory for our God, Alleluia.
Worthy is Christ, the Lamb who was slain, whose blood set us free to be people of God. Power, riches, wisdom, and strength, and honor, blessing, and glory are His.
Sing with all the people of God, and join in the hymn of all creation: Blessing, honor, glory, and might be to God and the Lamb forever. Amen
For the Lamb who was slain has begun His reign. Alleluia.