Text: Matthew 5:1-12
Date: All Saints’ Day (Observed) + November 5, 2017
“Behold, all souls are mine” says the Lord; “the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine.” God here speaks as the Creator of all and therefore the possessor or owner of all. But then immediately He says, “the soul who sins shall die” (Ezek 18:4). St. Paul writes, “because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man” (Rom 5:17). Since the very beginning what God designed to live eternally, sin has destroyed with its just wages. Therefore, all die.
Death is a mystery. There’s something in all of us that says death is not right. Indeed, St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians called death not a friend but “the last enemy” (1 Cor 15:26). The mystery is in the question, “where are the dead?” When someone close to us dies we cannot believe that they simply disappear or cease to exist. Though many go too far deifying the loved one saying that, somehow, he or she is “looking down on us,” still, we just know they went somewhere. And so God’s Word agrees and reveals that, while the body is buried and decays, the soul, that which animated the body and gave it character and meaning, lives on. But where? We are now coming upon the last days of the Church Year that speak to the coming judgment of all flesh, the warning of hell or the promise of heaven all dependent upon one thing, whether a person received God in His grace through His Word and in the Person of Jesus or whether they rejected Him.
Today we’re told that many, that is, “a great multitude that no one could number” (Rev 7:9) live on who have received Christ and continue to praise Him now face to face, free from sin and death, waiting for the promise of the resurrection of the body. The question is asked in our First Reading, “Who are these?” We call them “saints,” from the Latin word Sanctus meaning sacred or holy.
Now, I’m sorry to have to criticize George and Charles Merriam, and their friend Noah Webster, who unfortunately rushed to the Roman Catholic definition instead of the Bible, saying that a saint is “a person who is officially recognized by the Christian church as being very holy because of the way he or she lived.” No! Rather, the Bible calls everyone who has received and believes in Christ by faith to have been declared holy saints by God already. All Christians are “simil justus et peccator,” that is at the same time justified while still a sinner, saint and sinner at the same time. This will change through the final door of death. On this day we remember our holy, sainted loved ones who died in the faith.
Jesus, in His famous Sermon on the Mount described this sainthood of believers through the eyes of this sinful world when he said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” He speaks of eternal life saying what we “shall be” but are not yet. Nevertheless, that’s true because of the first beatitude saying not that the kingdom of heaven “shall be” for the poor in spirit, but already “is.” A present possession by faith.
That’s because we are not declared officially as saints by the Christian church “because of the way he or she lived,” but are declared saints of God, sinners made holy not by our works but solely because of the works of Jesus, we being declared holy by God on account of our faith in Him.
By faith in Jesus you are one with all the saints, yours is the kingdom of heaven. Even though we be rejected, persecuted for it by the world, nevertheless yours is the kingdom of heaven. Yet there is more, more than we can see with our eyes now.
We carry this possession of heaven, this membership with all the saints now by faith though we still feebly struggle while they in glory shine. There shall be comfort for us who now mourn, mourn over the unbelief, sin, random violence and death all around us in the world. We look forward to our inheritance of all God has created, not with pride of person but with the meekness of thankful hearts. We shall be satisfied with the holiness and righteousness for which we now only hunger and thirst. We shall receive God’s mercy because we have already tasted it for ourselves and freely share it with others. We shall see God. Though yet for now no one can see God and live, in heaven the beatific vision will fill our hearts become pure through the elimination of sin.
It is because of this “already but not yet” in which we spend our days now that we remember the saints who have gone before us; not in order to pray to them asking them to put in a good word for us, but for the encouragement of their example of faith while they lived. So we remember especially the famous ones, the glorious company of the apostles, Peter, James, and John and the other nine, witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. Remember also those whose lives were changed because of Jesus during His earthly ministry, John the Baptist, Mary, Lazarus, Joseph of Arimathea. Remember also “the goodly fellowship of the prophets,” Moses, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. Remember “the noble army of martyrs,” those who throughout history gave and to this day still give their own lives for the truth of the Gospel.
Then there are the less famous, known to only a few, maybe even only to you, our sainted friends and relatives who have gone on before us with the sign of faith. Remember that through the mystery of the silence of those who so softly rest, we are still one fellowship, a blest communion and fellowship divine, we still struggling as the Church Militant, they in glory as the Church Triumphant. Yet all are one in Christ, for all are His.
That’s part of what makes our participation in the holy communion of our Lord’s Body and Blood such a joyful thing. For as those who have gone before us are with the Lord, and here in His supper the same Lord is with us, so are we here with them all more closely, “with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.”
Already, not yet. St. John says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn 3:2). That is the great hope that resides and remains in hearts of faith through all mourning, in meekness, in the mercy and peace of Christ to whom we look for the sake of His passion, His blood shed for us, His triumph over the grave for us.
Already, not yet.
In Him “there breaks a yet more glorious day:
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of Glory passes on His way. Alleluia!