SCRIPTURES – Psalm 31; 1 John 3:1-3; Rev. 7:9-17; Matt. 5:1-12
Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God. Ps. 31:5
Recently I saw a saying written on the outside of a bar. In large letters it said: “To live in the hearts of those we love is to never die.” It’s a sentiment that was posted to honor the beloved operator of the establishment, who had died.
Is this why we celebrate year after year the Feast of All Saints: to remember and honor the beloved members of our congregation who have passed away, so that they live on in our hearts and minds? Is that why we inscribe the names of loved ones on Memorial plaques and print them in our hymnals, so that they will not be forgotten? That would make this a rather hollow and empty celebration. You see, the sentiment, “To live in the hearts of those we love is to never die,” although it sounds nice, is empty. It is empty because it is simply not true. For, we all die, and when enough generations die the memory of those who lived before, except for the most exceptional, also dies. Sure, nowadays, thanks to the internet, it is possible for things about us to perhaps always be remembered. You may wish that this were not so! But, over time even these things will be buried under volumes of information and lie unnoticed. For most of us it won’t be that many years after we die that we will be forgotten. Our accomplishments will be unknown and unmentioned. Hymnals will be replaced. Memorial plaques will be unread, and their names unknown. To live in the hearts of those who themselves die –– is to be dead!
This gives us reason to celebrate the Feast of All Saints. We need to lift up our minds and hearts above and beyond the sentiments and hopes of this life to the One who is above and beyond this life; to the one God who is eternal. Only God – who simply is, who has no beginning and no end – can remember us forever. Into His hand we commit ourselves, and our brothers and sisters in Christ. His redemption in Christ is our hope and comfort.
With God we are not just memories. There are no Memorial plaques in heaven. The angels are not singing from hymnals that are updated every year with the names of the recently deceased. This is not how it is, or will be, with us because this is not how it is with God Himself. He is not just thought, an eternal mind that is incomprehensible to us, far beyond the most powerful supercomputer or the greatest intellect. He is life; life that is so great and awesome and powerful that to be in His mind is to be. He who is life brings forth life as that life is in His mind. This we see in the very first words of the Bible. Again and again in Genesis 1 God speaks His thought; and life immediately springs forth into existence.
Are you in the mind of the eternal God? He tells us in John 3, “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” You are in His mind; in His love! In your Baptism He joined you to His Son, put His name upon you, and declared Himself to be your Father. In Jesus, the Son of God, you are God’s child! And so, as God’s life extends beyond this life into eternity, so does your life as His child. You can look forward to living with our Father in heaven!
What will you be like there? “Into Your hand I commit my spirit” may make it sound like you will be a spirit-being; like an angel, perhaps, or… maybe even an angel! Well, no. The Bible makes it clear that angels are different beings from people. We do not become them. Now, the Bible does say very plainly that, when we die, our bodies perish and decay while our spirits, or souls, go to heaven. Ecclesiastes 12:7 puts it very plainly: “the dust [the body] returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” This is immediate. Remember what Jesus said to the man who was crucified next to Him? “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
But, get into your mind and take to heart other Scriptures which speak clearly about what will happen afterward, when Christ returns; readings such as today’s Epistle from 1 John 3: “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 shall be like Jesus when He returns from heaven! How will that be? When He rose from the dead Jesus was a flesh and blood person. He ate in His disciples’ presence. He told them, “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” After He ascended into heaven 40 days later an angel told His disciples, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11) When He appears again Jesus will be a flesh and blood man, just as He was when He walked on this earth. And then, His people will be made to be like Him. You, too, will be flesh and blood in heaven, with the very same flesh and blood that you have right now; except that you will be changed. You will be new, completely remade in Christ!
On All Saints Day we look forward to this. We do far more than speak the names of our beloved dead with remembrance; we speak them with anticipation. We name those who have preceded us into heaven and will welcome us as we enter into heaven. We recall what they were, and look forward eagerly to how they will be: whole and sound in mind, body, and spirit. They will have no doubts or weakness of faith; no sins to shame them; no fears to worry them; no sicknesses or frailties or imperfections of body or soul to burden them. They will be pure and holy and eternally alive, like Jesus! And we will be the same.
Believe this and take this to heart. Speak of it confidently – even when it is not seen and could hardly be imagined because of the trials and sufferings we experience.
Last Thursday I had the blessing of telling it to Marcia Orban, after the doctors told Joe that they could do no more for her. “You are going home, Marcia,” I told her; “not to your home here, but to your home with the Lord in heaven.” I had the privilege of sharing this wonderful news with Margaret Troll and Pat Chan before her. Each of these women suffered greatly in their lives, especially in their later years; but now no suffering will ever touch them again. They are forever in glory!
We can be sure of this, and speak confidently of this, because Jesus spoke confidently of this. He began His Sermon on the Mount by saying nine times, “Blessed are…” In spite of sufferings without and within; despite bearing scorn and derision for trusting in Him; God’s eternal blessing rests upon Christ’s people. They – we – are blessed now, and so blessed forever!
This is what we announce today. This is what we celebrate today. This is what we eagerly anticipate and long for today. “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord henceforth.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them.” In the blessed name of Jesus, our eternal Savior. Amen.