“All the Saints”
All Saints’ Day, November 1, 2020
“The One Saint and All the Saints”
Text: Matthew 5:1–12
Today we observe All Saints’ Day. This day is a little bit different from other saints’ days we might celebrate in the Church. On other days we identify and commemorate one particular saint, such as St. Matthew, or St. Paul, or St. Mark. Just who are we remembering on All Saints’ Day? Well, all the saints; but who are they? Who are the Saints? Are they people who are in church every Sunday? Who bake cookies for us when we are sick? A football team? Today we are asking the question, Who Are All the Saints?
Traditionally, someone is called a saint who has lived an excellent life of faith and has been canonized/declared “official saints” by the Roman Catholic Church. There is a process for this. First, the person has to be dead for at least five years. That counts us out! Then, once the person has been dead for that long, the bishop can begin an investigation to see just how “saintly” the hoped-to-be saint actually was. If the investigation turns out right, the cardinals and bishops assigned to handle saints take a vote on whether or not to proceed. Finally, there must be at least one miracle performed by the saint-to-be that is performed after they are dead. As you can see, it takes quite a bit of effort to become a saint, according to Rome. You got to keep working at it even after you’ve passed away!
Those who have studied the lives of the people who have the official title “saint” very quickly discover that the saints, while amazing in terms of their faith and life, were also flesh and blood people who were sinners just like us. As Lutherans, we do look to the saints as examples of faith and of Christian living, but we’re careful not to credit them with more than that. We don’t pray to them. We don’t ask them to intercede on our behalf with Jesus. No one who is labeled as a saint by the church has earned salvation from God.
There is only One who has actually earned the favor of God. There is only One who has earned the right to the title “saint.” That One is Jesus. Today you heard the Beatitudes. Many teach that the Beatitudes are primarily rules for how you should lead your lives as Christians. Taken that way, the Beatitudes are pure Law; they condemn and give no hope. But instead, they are Gospel because they properly describe the One who is perfect, yet died and rose for us.
Let’s take a look at a few of them so you can see what I mean. “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (v 3). Who is poor in spirit but Jesus who humbled Himself and left heaven and came here and went to the cross for us? Remember when Jesus said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46).
“Blessed are those who mourn” (v 4). Who has really mourned but Jesus, not just with Lazarus, but over the unbelief of His people? Christ came to comfort His people as their Savior, but He was, in the words of Isaiah, “Despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Is 53:3).
“Blessed are the meek” (v 5). Who is meek but Jesus who as King entered Jerusalem, “Humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech 9:9)? Jesus said of Himself, “I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mt 11:29).
“Blessed are the merciful” (v 7). Who has been merciful but Jesus, as it says in Hebrews, “He had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become. . . merciful” (Heb 2:17)? Jesus is so dedicated to being merciful that He heals and forgives all who call upon Him in faith. Jesus was even merciful on the cross when He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).
“Blessed are the peacemakers” (v 9). Who has made peace but Jesus who made our peace with God? He said to the disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (Jn 14:27). According to Paul, “He himself is our peace, . . . through the cross. . . . He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near” (Eph 2:14, 16–17).
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (v 10). Who has endured more persecution then Jesus who was perfectly sinless yet was put on trial and given a death sentence? Because Jesus Christ is sinless, He became the target for the world’s hatred; He was threatened with death from all sorts, from the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin to Herod and to Pilate. He was persecuted because He was perfect…He never did anything wrong, or rude, or hurtful. And people hated Him for that.
Jesus’ saintliness is proven by what He has done. (And yes, He even did miracles after He had died!) And now this One who has earned the right to be called “saint” also calls you holy, and all of the blessings He has earned He now gives to you. Because we have been given faith in Jesus, we now have possession of the kingdom of heaven, the comfort of salvation, the mercy of the Father as shown us in Jesus Christ’s resurrection, and the right to be called a child of God. He, by His grace, makes you a saint.
We have a description of what it really means to be a saint in today’s Reading from Revelation. Note how the people are described. First of all, there are lots of them, a lot more than just those who went through the process of canonization, you know, declared a saint by a pope (>10,000). These, we are told, are saints because they have washed their robes white in the blood of the Lamb. The blood of Jesus has removed their sins (in Holy Baptism), and they have been clothed with His own holiness. Now, having been cleaned, they live in the presence of Jesus. They are victorious in Jesus Christ. All that was thrown against them—their sins, death, the devil—are destroyed and removed by Jesus. This is also true for us who aren’t there yet. You are a saint, but not by what you do, but because of what Jesus did and does.
This, my friends, is a picture not only of heaven but also of you here in the Church on earth. Already our Lord has made you holy by the work of the Holy Spirit. He lives with you and in you in His Word and Sacraments, and gives you the victory over your enemies, including Satan. You may not feel like a saint yet, you may not look/act like one, but in God’s eyes you are, for you have faith in Christ Jesus, His Son, who has saved you and made you holy. You are saints, because He says so.
In the Name of Jesus.