Reformation to All Saints
Will you be buried a saint? Will you be counted among the blessèd?
In the Beatitudes of Matthew 5:1-12, our Lord Jesus gives us a description of the blessèd ones – “Blessed are those who…”
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”
These beatitudes are a great comfort. Yet only in part. How often do we only pick one or two for comfort, because the others convict? As a pastor, if I read these to you for comfort when dying or when mourning, there are parts I want to hold back, I cringe, because I know it’s going to sting.
Am I a saint? “Blessed are those who…” I’m glad that those who mourn are blessed, that they’ll be comforted. Yet I’m reminded of the times when I’ve held back comfort by not finding a way to “mourn with those who mourn”, as Scripture commands [Romans 12:15].
Blessed are we in our poverty of spirit and when we feel the hunger and thirst of our need for righteousness. Yet, how often it is that I pass my days self-satisfied as if I needed nothing from God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers” – so, cursed am I, the complainer. Blessed are the pure in heart – what about my impure thoughts? “Blessed are the merciful.” But I’m bad-tempered – and these reoccurring old grudges keep rising back up in my mind.
“Blessed are you when…” It’s a comfort that we can rejoice and be glad when the world hates us and speaks evil of us for righteousness’ sake. Yet, I know that if the world knew me fully, it would find in me unrighteousness – unrighteousness that even matches its own.
What will I be on the day of my funeral? Can I be counted among the blessèd, or is it all a show? Am I fooling myself?
Also, the many we bury – people we love – people we knew thoroughly – sometimes we fear – because, in truth, some of these Beatitudes don’t actually match who they were in life. How am I to think of them?
All Saints’ Day is on November 1st. We tend to observe All Saints’ Day the following Sunday, so we call this Sunday “All Saints’ Day (observed)”. And usually the Sunday before is “Reformation Day (observed)” – although this year, it really landed on a Sunday.
Regardless, our celebration of All Saints’ Day always comes right after Reformation Day. This isn’t by design, but it couldn’t be more fitting. Without the truths of Reformation Sunday, the Sunday of “All Saints Day (observed)” runs amiss – as it often has in the past.
On this Sunday, when you may ask yourself “What is a saint?”, “Am I among the blessèd?”, you must fix your eyes on the Sunday before and not forget it.
All Saints’ Day, like most church holidays, pre-dates the Lutheran Reformation – and the day hasn’t always been something we would celebrate.
The original idea of “All Saints’ Day” was rooted in a particular understanding of what a “saint” is – an understanding related to the false belief in purgatory.
This false belief went as follows: For most Christians, death was followed by purgatory –punishment and purification – not heaven. However, some, a few, died as “saints” –already fully purified, nothing owed – these few went directly to heaven. These few who attained heaven were recognized as “saints”, this side of the grave, by their exemplary lives. And they each got a festival day named after them on the Church calendar.
However, there were likely other such “saints” fit for heaven whose exemplary lives went unnoticed. Unknown, unnamed saints. These unknown saints got their festival day on “All Saints’ Day”. All Saints’ Day was the day for honoring these unknown, unnamed saints. It wasn’t your day – the day for your soul in purgatory would be “All Souls’ Day”.
“Blessed are those who…” Most hadn’t. Some had. They were celebrated today.
But what is today for us? “Saint” is not an uncommon word in the Bible. Many books of the New Testament were addressed to “all the saints”. “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi.” “To the saints in Ephesus.” To those “called saints” in Corinth.
A saint is one who is called in Christ. The baptized. Those whose robes have been washed white in the blood of the Lamb [Revelation 7:14]. A saint is one who has been clothed in the robe of Christ’s righteousness which covers all their sin – something we say in the opening liturgy of every funeral. “In Holy Baptism so-and-so was clothed with the robe of Christ’s righteousness that covered all his sin”, or all her sin.
Brothers and sisters, truly, blessèd are you. The Beatitudes of Matthew 5 are true for you because of those other Beatitudes in the Bible, the Beatitudes of Romans 4:
For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing (here’s the Beatitudes) of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:
7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; 8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” [Romans 4:3-8]
“Blessed are those whose…” Blessed are those whose sins are covered, those whose lawless deeds are forgiven – those against whom the Lord will not count sin.
These Beatitudes of Romans 4 make All Saints’ Day a true festival for sinners who fall short of the many blessèd’s in Matthew 5. Jesus alone is the Blessèd One. Jesus alone is “Saint”. Saint means holy. Jesus has included you, a sinner, in His holiness and blessedness. By His death on the cross, Jesus fulfilled those words of what it means to be blessèd. He did it for you.
Do you have blessedness in this life? Yes. That list is given to you. You have blessèd deeds and blessèd faith and blessèd obedience and labor in the Lord, and blessèd comfort. And you have sin. You are buried a saint only by what He has done for you – “Saved by grace, through faith, not your own doing, that no one may boast” [Ephesians 2:8-9].
Being a blessed saint is a gift won for undeserving, fallen sinners. Thanks be to God for this gift. And thanks be to God that for every loved one you bury, you know that they have a Creator who gave His Son to be their Redeemer – that He gave such a price for them – so that Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” [John 1:29].
With such a great Redeemer willing to cover sin, we lay our loved ones to rest in good hands – better than ours – with great comfort, entrusting them to the one-and-only Blessed One. Amen.