All Saints Sunday
Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is Jehovah; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude are environmental artists. They are known for wrapping huge spaces with fabric and for placing flags or umbrellas across a large area. They make their art to be aesthetically pleasing. Jeanne-Claude once said, "We want to create works of art of joy and beauty, which we will build because we believe it will be beautiful." Their work is permanent only in photographs; the fabrics eventually come down after a day or a few weeks. The work that goes into these projects often takes months, not only to plan and prepare, but to receive the necessary permissions to use the land. In one project called "Running Fence," they had to get permission from fifty-nine ranch families to cut across their land for a fence that was 5.5 meters high and 40 kilometers long, constructed in Sonoma and Marin Counties, California. They often have to hire lawyers to help with the bureaucratic paperwork necessary. They have wrapped buildings and coastlines, built pathways and covered valleys.
Though temporary, Christo and Jeanne-Claude will have a lasting legacy of their large outdoor projects through photos and memories. Someone is probably still talking about the day they walked through "The Gates" in Central Park or wondered why the Reichstag was covered in fabric. Art students will find their work in textbooks and will discuss the meaning or purpose; they will probably even discuss whether or not it is art.
I'm not sure everyone does about their work trying to create a lasting legacy for their lives, although there's a part of all of us that wants to be remembered. Some philanthropists give so that their name will be affixed to buildings in colleges or hospitals. Artists create art, writers write books and musicians make albums so that they will be remembered. Engineers put their mark on the world in bridges or dams or architecture. Politicians want to change the world with policies. We raise our children the best we can so that they will be a glory to us. We all know that one day we will die, so we do whatever we can to live on is memory even though we won't be here in flesh.
That's all that we have according to some religions. They don't look forward to a life that is eternal, but that will go on in memory. Others see our life after death as a chance to live again in a new flesh. Some suggest that we become angels, while others say that we become part of the cosmos. The Sadducees did believe in a resurrection of the body and others misunderstood what that would mean. The story of Christ tells us that not only will our spirits live on eternally, but we will have a new body as well. We will still be who we are but we will be changed. The resurrection body of Jesus was the same but different. Something happened between life and life; that same something will happen to us, too.
That doesn't make the reality of death any easier for us to accept. When someone dies, they leave us, and no matter how much hope we have that we will one day join them in the hosts of heaven, we miss them today. We grieve, as we should, because death is the consequence sin. Sin is in the world; it is a part of our lives and the wages of sin is death. Our memory might live on, but even that fades eventually. We remember a few names from history, but do we even remember our forefathers from just a couple generations ago? Watch a few of those "man on the street" interviews and you'll learn how quickly even the most important characters from history are forgotten.
The legacy we leave behind is never eternal. Buildings fall, works of art become faded, music and literature becomes outdated. Our children don't work so that our memory remains alive; they work towards the future and their own legacy as they should. Trends change and the work of the politicians a hundred years ago becomes obsolete. We know that no matter how much we try, we will never be eternal by our own work. While there is much about our lives that might be worth remembering like the lessons we have learned and the things we have accomplished, we can't spend all our time in the past.
Sunday is All Saint's Sunday, which we might think is just a day to remember the people who have died, but there is so much more to it than looking backward. It began in the early days of the Church when so many Christians were martyred for their faith. The day of their death was considered their 'birthday' because it was the day they entered into the eternal presence of God. They were remembered on that day with a feast or a festival and honored for their faith. First there were local commemorations but soon the feasts of the martyrs were shared and celebrated in many places. Eventually all the saints were honored both martyrs and those who are remembered for their faithfulness. Soon there were so many saints that it became difficult to honor them all on their individual 'birthdays.' If you look at a calendar of the Saints, you'll find that the list is extensive, with twenty or more names for each day. So the Church chose one day of remembrance, which eventually became November 1st. We celebrate on the Sunday of or just after that date each year.
We use this day to remember not only those that have been officially recognized as Saints, but also to remember those whom we loved who have passed from life into death. Usually we focus on those who have passed more recently, but the day is certainly a good time to recall those we have loved and lost. It is a way for the community of God to unite in our love for the great cloud of witnesses, the saints whom have attained the promise of eternal life in Christ.
All Saints Day is not just for those who have passed from death into eternal life. It is for us, too. We are part of the community of saints from the moment we are baptized into Christ; having heard the saving word of forgiveness we are welcomed into the loving embrace of our Father. At communion we partake in the bread and wine with all saints throughout time in space, getting a glimpse of the feast which those whom have already passed are already enjoying the promise.
God never intended for human beings to die. He created us to be in His image, to live with Him and to love Him for eternity. We were casualties of the battle between God and the adversary. Yet, we aren't innocent victims. In the freedom of God's love, human beings chose to turn away. It was just Adam and Eve on that day so long ago, but we were with them in the Garden of Eden, too. We have the same selfish and self-centered will that makes us turn our backs on God. The choice in the garden still lives with us and makes us see God with fear instead of love. God did not abandon us, however. He prepared a promise that would overcome even our selfish and self-centered will: the gift of salvation. We were exiled; we were cast out of the Garden to keep us from living an immortal existence in fear of our Creator. We are exiles, living in a foreign land far from our Creator.
But we have hope. We would still be exiled from God, except for His grace. He did not stay away, but came into our exile in the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ to live with us, to teach us and to ultimately die for us. Jesus faced everything that we face as human beings living in this imperfect and perishable world. Jesus gave up the glory of Heaven to dwell among us, living as we do. He knew what it was like to be human. He faced temptation, but did not sin. He knew what it was like to be tired, to be hungry, and to be lonely. He knew pain. He even wept.
God has promised us His extravagant goodness in the day that we too get to go home and live in His eternal presence forever. For today, however, we still live in the knowledge of the promise knowing that God also dwells with us in the here and now. As we celebrate this All Saints Sunday, we remember the saints that have gone before us but we are reminded that we too are saints. We will one day join the hosts of heaven to praise and worship the LORD God Almighty for eternity, but for today we wait expectantly. We work while we wait, producing a legacy that might last a few years or even a few generations. We build buildings, produce art and literature and music, raise children and impact our world. We do all these things with the expectation that it will last at least a little while. But the real legacy is that which God has won for us through the cross of Jesus Christ, His legacy of eternal life that He has given us by His grace. Our hope is not in what we can produce to be remembered, it is in what God has already done.
All Saints Day is not really a day for mourning. It is a day to celebrate the promises of God. Though death seems to be an end, our scriptures for this week talk of hope, peace and new things. For a Christian, death is just a passing into new life, when we receive the blessings promised by God and revealed in the Resurrection of the First Born, Jesus Christ. We weep over the loss of those we love, for they will never again join us in the laughter and pain of this world. Jesus wept, for in death we see the reality of sin and the grave. It is separation from those we love, an end to the blessings of life.
Mary and Martha tried to get Jesus to come and save Lazarus from death. Both women greeted their Lord with the words, "if you had been here…" Some of the Jews in the crowd of mourners thought Jesus cried crocodile tears. "If he can heal a blind man, he could have saved Lazarus." Lazarus had been in the grave for four days. It was a common belief in the days of Jesus that the spirit of a person hovered nearby until the third day, and then it left the person forever. Since Lazarus was dead for four days, there was no way he could be raised. His spirit was gone forever. They knew Jesus had the power for healing and salvation, but they lost hope for Lazarus because they thought it was too late.
With Jesus, however, there is always hope. Death is not the end of life for those who believe. Even though the flesh dies, those who have faith in Jesus Christ will live forever. It is easy for us to look back on this story and consider the sisters faithless because they did not trust Jesus. Yet, we look at these stories with 20/20 vision. Martha confessed faith in Jesus, proclaimed Him to be the Christ, and yet she still did not really know the power He would wield against sin and death. She did not really understand what it would mean to be resurrected until Jesus died and was raised.
The Psalmist asks, "Who shall ascend into the hill of Jehovah? And who shall stand in his holy place?" He answers, "He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; Who hath not lifted up his soul unto falsehood, And hath not sworn deceitfully." Without Jesus, it would not be possible for any to stand in the holy place. We would have no hope for resurrection, no hope for eternal life. But we do have hope, because Jesus died to defeat sin and death. He was raised so that we can have eternal life in Him. He is the King of glory, He is the Lord. Jesus is the resurrection; He is our hope and life. He has overcome death and the grave and in Him alone is our hope for salvation. We are His legacy and we will dwell with Him forever.
Isaiah tells us what eternal life will be like. "And in this mountain will Jehovah of hosts make unto all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined. And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering that covereth all peoples, and the veil that is spread over all nations. He hath swallowed up death for ever; and the Lord Jehovah will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the reproach of his people will he take away from off all the earth: for Jehovah hath spoken it. And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is Jehovah; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation."
John also gives us an image of that which is to come. "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth are passed away; and the sea is no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven of God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of the throne saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he shall dwell with them, and they shall be his peoples, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God: and he shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall be no more; neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more: the first things are passed away. And he that sitteth on the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he saith, Write: for these words are faithful and true. And he said unto me, They are come to pass."
We will grieve as we gather on Sunday to remember those who have passed from death into new life, but let us remember that it is not just a day to deal with our grief and remember those we love. We will also gather around the table of grace and celebrate the great and promised feast with the all the saints throughout time and space. At the table we get a glimpse of heaven even while we are still on earth and celebrate the hope of salvation that will not disappoint because our God is faithful to His promises.
A WORD FOR TODAY
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