On a number of occasions during my ministry I have had the same conversation. It usually happens with a Christan who is somewhere in their mid to late nineties. Every time, it has been with a woman, because … well … women just tend to live longer than men.
These are individuals who are at a point in their life when they really can’t do anything. Their daily life is largely just a matter of the mundane, and every day is the same. Their friends have all died. Sometimes they have outlived their own children. They lack real purpose in life. The question I get asked is: “Pastor, why does the Lord leave me here?” These are people of great who faith, who believe and trust in Jesus Christ the risen Lord. They know that to die means being with Christ. And they want to be with him.
Now we can never overlook the fact that death is an evil thing. Death is the result of sin, for as St. Paul tells us, “The wages of sin is death.” Death is, in fact, the enemy. Speaking about the return of Christ and the resurrection, Paul told the Corinthians, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”
God created us for life, and so under normal circumstances we don’t want to die. We shouldn’t. But there are also times when circumstances are not normal.
I have sat with these elderly women and assured them that there is nothing wrong with feeling this way. As long as we acknowledge all of this remains up to the Lord’s will, there is nothing wrong with wanting God to bring them to himself. I have had the same conversation with those who have battled cancer and have reached the point that they are worn out and just don’t want to do it anymore. There is nothing wrong when the circumstances make us want to be with Jesus.
I mention this because, today we are observing the Feast of All Saints. This is the day we give thanks to God for those who have died in the faith and are now with Christ. We take comfort in knowing that they are at peace. Certainly, there comes a time, when the situation in life can make a Christian want to be part of that number.
The Gospel lesson for the Feast of All Saints teaches us that as Christians we have already received the saving action of God. It assures us that those who have died, continue to possess it. And it teaches us that the final goal of God’s saving work it something yet better for all of us.
The Gospel lesson this morning is the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Our Lord begins by saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The language of “blessed” describes those have received God’s end time salvation. They are saved.
Who is saved? They are the “poor in spirt.” This does not describe an attitude or action. Instead, it describes a condition and status. It describes the spiritually poor. It describes you.
It describes you be because you do not put God first in our life, and choose to invest more time and effort in other interests. It describes you because you act in selfish ways that hurt those around you. It describes you because you pass on gossip about your neighbor that hurts their reputation. It describes you because you are a sinner – a sinner who has no business being in fellowship with the holy God.
You are spiritually poor. You are a sinner. But Jesus says that you are blessed – you are saved. This is true because our Lord says of the spiritually poor: “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Notice that the verb used is a present tense – it is something that is true right now.
The kingdom of heaven is not a place. Instead we learn from the background of the Old Testament that is it God’s saving reign. The Son of God entered into this world as he was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born of the virgin Mary in order bring this reign. Matthew tells us Jesus began his ministry by preaching “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Christ called upon all to repent – to confess their sin and admit that they are spiritually poor. But he did so because in his person, God’s saving reign had entered into the world.
The Son of God was in this world to provide the answer to the sin that has caused our spiritual poverty. Christ told his disciples how he would do this. Just before Holy Week Jesus said, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”
The angel had announced to Joseph, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Jesus was here to save us from our sins by dying on the cross. He was here as the sacrifice who received the judgment for our sins. Our Lord said, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Yet as our Lord had declared, he did not stay dead. On the morning of Easter the angel told the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.” The apostles saw the risen Lord on the mountain in Galilee and he told them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
The Christians who have gone before us and have died, received the saving reign of God. They received it as they were baptized. They received it as they heard God’s Word, and ate and drank the body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar. And because Jesus has risen from the dead, it still is theirs.
St. Paul knew this. He also knew that even as they possess the saving reign of God, they no longer live as fallen people in this sinful world. That is why he told the Philippians, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” That is why he said, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.”
As we observe the Feast of All Saints, we give thanks that God gave us his saving reign in the death and resurrection of Jesus. We praise God that through his Spirit he called those who have died in the Lord to faith, and preserved them until the end. We are comforted to know that they are with Christ. This means that they no longer struggle against sin. They no longer suffer pain. They no longer experience the disappointments and hardships of this life. Certainly, that is far better. As we just sang in the hymn, “Oh blest communion, fellowship divine! We feebly struggle, they in glory shine.”
Yet as we listen to our text, we also need to observe that while Jesus begins and ends by speaking of the present, all of the rest of the Beatitudes express the future. We might be tempted to hear these future references as statements that describe what the saints who are now with Christ experience. However, the third beatitude prevents us from doing this because there Jesus says: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
The saints who are with Christ are better off then we are. But even that existence is not the ultimate goal that God intends for his people. Genesis two tells about the creation of Adam: “the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” God created us to be the unity of body and soul. He made this world – this creation – as the place in which we are to live. We learn that when God had finished his work – when he had made this material world – “he saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.”
It is sin that brings death to our bodies. It is sin that warped and twisted this creation. But God sent his Son into the world to bring his saving reign. And this saving reign is not only aimed at our soul. It is intended for our whole person – body and soul. It is intended for creation itself, for this is the place in which God wants us to live in fellowship with him.
This is what we see in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary, Jesus Christ was true God and true man. But he did not cease to be this in the resurrection. His resurrection was a resurrection of the body. Matthew tells us that on the morning of Easter, Jesus met the women and said, “Greetings!” Then he adds, “And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him.” They could take hold of Jesus’ feet because his body had been raised from the dead.
Jesus rose with a body, but it was a body transformed so that it can never die again. Jesus’ resurrection was the beginning of the resurrection of the Last Day. His resurrection is the resurrection that will be ours when he returns in glory. Paul told the Corinthians, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.” This is the final goal for all of God’s saints.
Today we praise God for the salvation he has given us in the death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ. We remember those who have died in the Lord and are with him now. We give thanks that they are at peace – they no longer struggle against sin and suffer. And we pray, “Come Lord Jesus” because we long for all of God’s people to receive the final victory of sharing in Christ’s resurrection. As Paul told the Philippians: “we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”