Sunday, November 08, 2015

A Sermon on the Octave of All Saints

Today on this 23rd Sunday after Trinity, which is also Octave of All Saints this year, I preached the following during Morning Prayer.

(Sorry I don’t have all the references up, and the formatting may not be perfect.  I am occupied with additional ministry this afternoon, but still wanted to get this posted quickly while it’s still All Saints.)


With last Sunday being the Feast of All Saints, this Sunday is the Octave of All Saints.  One of the nice things about traditional Anglicanism is you can take just about any favorite Holy Day and celebrate it for a week!

And All Saints is a favorite holy day of mine.  One reason is that All Saints is a harbinger of my favorite church season of the year, Advent.  When the Feast of All Saints comes, Advent Sunday is only a very few weeks away.

But All Saints and Advent are not only close in our church calendar, but the celebration and liturgy of All Saints has themes that point to Advent, that point to the Second Coming of Christ, to the victory of Christ . . . and of his sharing his victory with his people, with all saints. 

You may remember that the Epistle Lesson for All Saints last Sunday was not from an epistle.  There are other holy days when that is the case, but it is unusual.  The Epistle Lesson came from Revelation, Chapter 7.  And of course the Revelation to John focuses on the end times and on the triumph of Christ at the end of history.  And it does so more than any other book of the Bible.  In chapter 7 last Sunday, we glimpsed the worship of God in Heaven by “a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues.”

And we saw the strong yet tender love of God for His people.  Because of His love,

They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat.  For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.

As our church year nears its end with Advent Sunday soon beginning the new church year, the assigned readings often point to Christ’s Second Advent.  For example, in our lectionary, beginning tomorrow the 2nd Lessons for Evening Prayer begin going through the Book of Revelation. 

Now some may think it is still bit early to read from Revelation.  Reading the Revelation to John now this long before Advent season may seem akin to the enormity of putting up Christmas decorations now.  Well, such are correct about Christmas decorations.  But they would be mistaken concerning the Book of Revelation.  For Revelation has themes that are very relevant to both Advent and All Saints.  For the Revelation to John proclaims the final triumph of Christ AND of all his saints, which we shall see presently.

The 2nd Lesson this morning of the 23rd Sunday after Trinity is from Revelation 21 as you just heard.  And in this passage, we heard echoes of themes we heard a week ago on the Feast of All Saints in Revelation 7.  (For reference, the Second Coming of Christ is in chapter 19.)

Now, after the Second Coming, beginning with verse 3 in chapter 21:

And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.  And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.  And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new.

And I can personally attest that last verse becomes more meaningful as one’s body becomes less new.

Those who have any familiarity with the Bible, and even many who don’t, know that the Book of Revelation focuses on the final triumph of God and of His Christ and on God’s judgement against an evil and corrupt World.  But what is easy to miss amidst the strange beasts, monstrous locusts, awful sores, earthquakes, and diverse disasters is that a recurring theme of the Apocalypse of John is the great extent all the saints, all the church get to enjoy and even participate in the triumph of God.

We begin to see glimpses of this theme in the letters of Christ to the Seven Churches in which the Lord Jesus makes wonderful promises to those who are faithful to the end.  The promise to the Church in Thyatira especially reflects that Christ will share his final triumph with his people:

The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, 27 and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. 28 And I will give him the morning star.

We know from scripture – Psalm 2 being perhaps the most famous example - that it is Messiah, the Christ, who shall rule the nations with a rod of iron.  Jesus here is clearly stating here that he will share even his authority with his faithful people.  We briefly revisit this subject later.

His promise to the Church in Philadelphia is also glorious:

The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.

How intimate, how personal this is that Jesus himself will write his “new name” on the faithful saints.

In chapter 7, we have already seen, in the Epistle Lesson on All Saints Day, the great multitude of all the saints participating in the worship around the throne of God in heaven.  And, yes, our service of Holy Communion reflects this worship.  But time does not permit us to go into that.  And we see God’s tender love for his triumphant saints.

In chapter 11, the worship of the 24 elders also reflect that the end times and the Book of Revelation are not only about judgement but about God blessing his faithful saints.  These 24 elders say in verse 18:

The nations raged,
                  But your wrath came,
                  and the time for the dead to be judged,
          and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints,
                  and those who fear your name,
                  both small and great…

And in Chapter 19 is the Marriage Supper of the Lamb which is usually interpreted as the marriage between Christ and his Church.

We could go if we had all day.  We haven’t even gotten to the Second Coming of Christ later in Chapter 19 – and there is a hint that the saints may get to participate in that as well. That old song When the Saints Go Marching In – there’s some good Bible behind that.  But there is so much more to the remaining chapters of Revelation.  22:3-5 about the eternal city of God is especially wonderful.  Take close note of the wording.

And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him:  4 And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads.  5 And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever.

“They” shall reign for ever and ever.  I find that “they” the most astounding pronoun in the Bible.  Christ will not only reign but He will have us reign with Him.  A whole sermon, nay a series of sermons, can be preached on that.  At the same time, what can we say to such things?

I will say that I am not ripping one pronoun out of context here.  We’ve seen Christ’s promise to the Church of Thyatira.  To the Church in Laodicea, Jesus promises that…

The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.

Astounding, is it not?  As St. Paul wrote to Timothy,

If we have died with him, we will also live with him.
If we endure, we will also reign with him.

But even with these wonderful verses, we have only scatched the surface of how the Revelation to John and the rest of scripture reveals to us the glory that Christ has stored up for his people, even how all his saints will get to participate in his triumph.

To use Biblical language, these things are “too wonderful” for us, are they not?  We cannot fully comprehend them.

And yet there is much we are not told.  St. Paul mentioned in 2 Corinthians 12 that in Heaven there are “unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.”  And in 1 Corinthians 2 he wrote, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”

The Collect for All Saints makes reference to these things in daring to mention “those unspeakable joys which thou hast prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee.”

My opinion is that one reason God is not telling us everything of how glorious Christ’s Second Advent will be for all the saints is because if He were to tell us everything we could not handle it.  We already see that some today do not handle responsibly what he has told us.  And back in the 1st Century, that was already a problem St. Paul found needful to address when he wrote the Thessalonians.

Still, what God has told us is wonderful indeed.  All Saints and Advent do indeed belong close together.  For out of the astounding grace of God, the triumph of Christ in his Advent will also be the triumph of all his saints.

But, in concluding, let us be frank.  As we walk day to day, with temptations surrounding us, and sometimes just weighed down by concerns and fatigue, it is not easy to be faithful.  And we know we cannot be faithful without God’s help.

But as we walk day by day, let us not look to the drudgery and temptation of today, but let us be encouraged and, yes, energized by looking to Jesus and by looking to the great glory that He has so graciously stored up in his Advent for all his faithful, for All Saints.

Collect for All Saints

O ALMIGHTY God, who hast knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord; Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed Saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys which thou hast prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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