Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Feast of All Hallows

(wma audio link)

Well, I’m excited again this morning. If you were here last week, you probably knew this was coming. Or, at least, you should have known this was coming. And this week is a completely appropriate follow up to what we experienced last week, because what begins with the Reformation never stays with the Reformation. In fact, the Reformation all by itself is really kind of pointless. In order to reform something, then the focus must always be on that thing! In order to have the Reformation of the Church, we must first have that greater reality which is the Church. And so, where last week we celebrated that era of time when the Church was called back from the brink of the heresy to which she had wandered, today we celebrate the even more amazing reality that the Church, redeemed and covered by the blood of Christ, in the end, has no heresy, no spot of blemish, because, in the end, her righteousness is the righteousness of Christ himself.

And so, today we celebrate all the hallowed ones, all the saints, all the elect of God who have been called out of this great tribulation of a cursed world, where thorns and thistles, pain and death, sighs and tears have been our food. With the Apostle John we look through the eyes of faith and see a great multitude that no one can count or number, from all tribes and peoples and nations, all the Christians who have ever lived – we see them in heart and mind, and we rejoice, knowing that we are all brothers and sisters in the Lamb, in the Son of God who sits on the throne even now, who rules the earth with an iron rod, and yet who rules the Church with a Shepherd’s heart.

Today we celebrate that all who stand before his throne are dressed in white, dressed in cleanness and freedom, dressed in forgiveness and life, not because of themselves, but due to the one who sits on the throne, he who is their light.

Today we celebrate the victory of His resurrection from the dead, and so we see with faith the palm branches which are in our hands, ancient symbols of triumph, proof to the heart that we too reign in the Kingdom to come, through the gifts we have received in the body of our Christ. And we say, and we have sung, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God and the Lamb forever. Amen!”

Yes, yes, it is so! The blood of the Lamb has washed away the scarlet stains of our sin, of our wicked actions which, make no mistake, we each have committed, and even yet commit, and ever will harbor in our hearts, to the struggle and peril of our very faith. It is only by this Lamb’s blood, by the feast we eat in his name, that we have any hope of that white cleanness. It is only by the baptismal waters which still flow from his side, for you, as the poster in our narthex so wonderfully recalls. It is His reason, His rising, and His cross and crossing over from death to life which means that we, you and I, and all the hallows, all the sainted ones, will soon and very soon be before the throne of God, not to be judged, but to serve him day and night in his temple, as his people, with him as our God.

And he will shelter us. He will shelter you, with his very presence, even as now he already does. And yet, now, you still feel the pain. You still see the thorns and the ashes of death. But then, soon, quickly, the sheltering which now is yours by faith and hope will be yours by feeling and action, by practice and reality, by complete expression.

You shall hunger no more, neither thirst again. The sun shall not burn, nor shall the moon bring with it cold to freeze, for Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world will be your shepherd, and the peace he has declared to you in the now will be filled up in you then, as he guides you to springs of living water, which themselves will well up in you and over flow from you in joy and blessedness forever and ever. In green pastures, by still waters, with heart and soul restored, on the path of righteousness which is by faith, freed from the valley of the shadow of death, no longer forced to fear evil, protected by the rod and staff of the One almighty God, goodness and mercy will be yours, loving-kindness and steadfast love will be yours, peace and quietness will be yours, all the day of your life, because of Christ, because of his cross, because of his empty tomb.

And this is the case for all the saints, all who have prayed, hallowed be thy name O God, and have had that prayer answered by that same name being placed upon their foreheads and hearts, with water and word, bringing that holiness which is his out of heaven, down to them, to make them one, to make us one.

And so the tears which yet fall from our eyes will find that they have no place on a day like today. Even those things which daunt us the most, which confront us with the terrors of this life, jobs and their failings, the body and its rotting, desire and its endless disappointment, sin and its consequences – on a day like today, such pain of individuality is caught up and destroyed in the timeless, unstoppable, victorious reality of being the Church. For those who have gone before, though they died, yet they live.

And we who come after, though we suffer, we are not crushed, though we are perplexed, we are not left in despair, though we are persecuted, we are not forsaken, though we are struck down ,we are not destroyed, for we always must carry around in our bodies the death of Jesus, but this is because the life of Jesus if manifesting itself in us. Though we see all the more clearly how much death is a work, this is because life is at work in you, breaking the chains of your spirit, so that you may know with ever increasing certainty that though the body will indeed die, because Christ is raised, so indeed you will be also, to and by the glory of our Father because of his Son.

This is what means to be the Church, people who have had and have this grace done to them. This promise is worked on all the saints, all hallows and it hallows or ‘makes holy” them, one and all. This is the lavishness of the Father’s love: his kingdom has come among us to make us the children of God. Now the world cannot know this or see this because the world does not know or see Christ. But we are God’s children nonetheless, even now, and what that means for what we will be is only hinted at. But this we do know now: when Christ appears, the Lamb upon the throne, we will be like him in every human respect. It is this hope itself which is our hallowing, our connection, our faith, purifying us even as Christ himself is pure.

Then, blessed then are you, children of God. Blessed are you when you are poor in spirit, fraught with despair, for nonetheless the Kingdom of heaven is yours. Blessed are you when you mourn, for you shall be comforted. Blessed are you when your pride is crushed, for you will leave your pride behind when you go to the world to come. Blessed are you when all this causes you to hunger and thirst for that better world, that more perfect place, for this desire for eternity shall be satisfied when the Lord comes again to take you unto himself.

Blessed are you when this faith explodes from your heart in an abundance of mercy toward others, for this is the proof of the mercy shown to you in Christ. Blessed are you, for your heart is now purified by hope in Christ, and you shall indeed see God, not as your judge, but as your benefactor. And for this reason, remember, blessed are you also when you are persecuted for this hope, for this mercy, for this faith. Blessed are you when others revile you and degrade you and utter all kinds of evil against you, even falsely, but ever on account of this Truth that we have believed – then most of all – Rejoice! And be glad, for holy, hallowed, one with all hallows are you, the Church. Even as the prophets and evangelists who came before you have been hated, even as your Lord himself was hated and murdered, strung up on a tree to die, so too, the world will see that you are not its own, and it will scorn you with all its wicked might. Then, then, rejoice and be glad, for yours is not this world. Yours is the Kingdom of God.

You are God’s own. His name hallows you. And united to the blood of the saints and martyrs by the blood of Christ, made white by red, seeing red as we celebrate this cleansing, remembering in red the washing that leads to sparkling, perfect, spotlessness, to the robes that we will wear on that greatest celebration Day of them all, that Day which is coming so very soon, rejoice and be glad. Celebrate all hallows. Celebrate the Kingdom. For though the grass withers and the flowers fade, the Kingdom stands forever. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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