they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood | of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:14b)
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It’s been said that the basic condition of human life on this earth is one of suffering. Any philosophy for how to live have to deal with this at some point or another. The world is broken, and life in the state of nature is poor, nasty, brutish, and short. Those struggling with anxiety or depression, or even those who suffer the general dis-ease1 and dread from the last few years can recognize this.
Now people have tried to fix the world by our own reason or cleverness. Religions (like Bhuddism), or the Stoic philosophies try to get rid of desire as a way to be free of suffering…. Lowering expectations mean less disappointment. Some religions like Islam, or Modern atheistic social programs, try to get rid of suffering through conquest, mistakenly thinking that a superior configuration to our human kingdoms of the world will be the final solution to all our problems. The greedy overcommercialized way of our modern life leads us to numb our sorrows in the fleeting pleasures that money can buy. No one has ever found peace at the bottom of a bottle, nor has anyone ever found happiness by scrolling to the end of the internet. While we are glad when our life together is rightly ordered and we have enough bread for each day, none of these approaches toward ending human suffering have really worked. For all our technology and governance, for all that we manage our expectations and our grief, there is no doubt that the human race is still poor and miserable. The Christian answer to all this is different, unique, set apart from all the world, because our hope holds on to the one true, living, almighty and merciful God.
Today we gather, remembering today all the saints who have gone on before us. Saints are holy people, made holy through faith in Christ Jesus alone, by His grace their sins are forgiven, by God’s grace they remained faithful unto death, and so have received the crown of everlasting life because Christ Jesus is risen. We do not worship the saints or even pray to them, but as our Lutheran forefathers did, we thank God for their examples of faith and love, and try to learn a thing or two from them so that we can be better Christians in our own day.2
This includes remembering and thanking God all the saints who are named in the bible, like Peter or John or Paul, or Moses or Isaiah, or John the Baptist or Mary the Mother of our Lord, all of them. So also we can learn from the saints who have lived since, like St. Augustine or St. Martin Luther or the like. Even our own dearly departed, who were faithful unto death, we remember them with rosy, if tearful, eyes. That’s fine, good, perhaps. The condition of those in heaven is most certainly blessed, joyful, free of all evils and abounding in overwhelming good.
There is this temptation to airbrush the memory of our dearly beloved saints, as if they lived perfect lives here on earth because we loved them so much, or as if their body and life here on earth did not have any kind of troubles. Yet in their case and in the history of all the world, the saints experienced the same kind of poor miserable lives that we do now. If we’re honest... they struggled too. What does that verse from revelation say about the ones in heaven? “These are the ones coming out of the great tribu- | lation. * they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood | of the Lamb.” (Rev 7:14b, emph. added). They faced anxiety and grief and hard work and sleepless nights just like we do, they were made “destitute and afflicted and were mistreated,” it says in Hebrews chapter 11, and yet the Lord God by His grace in Christ Jesus brought them through it all. Their sins are forgiven. God was for them, and so what could stand in between them and the promised resurrection to blessed life eternal? The “saints triumphant shine in bright array” because in them is a victory, a hard fought battle won against the devil and the world and our own sinful nature, won by Christ Jesus crucified and risen.
So we saints here below in the church militant do not have to sugar coat any of our suffering, or cover it up. Sure, we might not choose to tell everyone all the time how our day has really been, but we don’t have to lie to ourselves. We may be grieved by whatever it is, but as 1st Thessalonians 4 says, we grieve as those who have the certain hope of resurrection of the body for those who have faith in Jesus’s resurrected body. We know the way out, the way through, because we are known by Jesus Who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
So it is that Jesus calls us blessed. The gospel reading today gives us the Beatitudes, the ‘blessseds.’ These are not primarily a list of what we ought to Do and Not Do. Yes, it is good to show mercy, to make peace, to be pure in heart, to strive for righteousness. Yet in amid the dog-eat-dog world, the pure and peaceful people tend to suffer. [Righteous guys seem to finish last.] Yet Jesus says you who believe and are made righteous by His own blood are #Blessed anyway. Beatitude, blessedness, isn’t a measure of worldly happiness or success, but rather of the certain heavenly life to come. Blessed are you who mourn, who are meek or lowly or not much in the eyes of the world. Blessed are you even if you suffer, even through all the trials and tribulations. You have been washed in the blood of the Lamb, who takes away the sin of the world. You are united to the victory of Jesus Christ. In His incarnation, in the death of His body on the cross, He endured faithful and righteous, paying the price for our redemption. By His rising again on the third day, He overcame death and the grave. In His mercy, He gives us that resurrection, victory, and life unfading. In Holy Baptism, God has made you his holy child, a saint through faith in the risen Christ Jesus. We fear no evil because we are being brought through death into Life by Christ Who is our head.
The apostle John writes in the epistle reading: “2 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.” We do get a brief vision of the blessed glory of the resurrection in the reading from Revelation: “16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. 17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.””
The basic conditions of life in the resurrection is joy. Peace. Restoration and rejoicing. Blessed are you Who are made children of God: Your mourning will have an end. Your meek trust in the Lord will be vindicated. You will see Him make peace everlasting. The poverty of spirit will be replaced by treasure in heaven. Your hungering and thirsting for righteousness will be satisfied, since you will be shepherded by the Lord Himself. He gives His righteousness in the holy communion, the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus for us Christians to eat, as a guarantee and foretaste of heaven’s high feast to come.
So weep no more, for Christ is risen. The Lamb has triumphed. Your sins are taken away. Our troubles will have an end, but you who by faith are united to Christ Jesus will live before God in blessedness. ““Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”” In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
1 You might also say ‘angst’ or ‘inquietude’
2 AC XXI.1; Ap XXI (IX).4-6