Updated: Nov 2, 2019
[Matthew 5:2-10] And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: “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.”
Blessèd Are They in Jesus
Blessèd are you in Jesus. Blessèd are your loved ones in the faith who have now fallen asleep in Jesus. Though they’ve died, yet do they live. They are blessèd ones in Jesus.
What is All Saints Day? All Saints Day has a long history. It has been celebrated on November 1st since around the 8th century. All Saints Day doesn’t mean the same thing for all Christians. I’m going to talk a little bit about what All Saints Day is to others and what it is to us as Lutheran Christians.
In the Eastern part of the world – in the “Byzantine” part of the world – All Saints Day happens in the spring, shortly after Pentecost. In our part of the world – the Western world, the Western Church – All Saints Day falls, as we said, on November 1st and is celebrated by most major denominations.
The biggest celebrator of All Saints Day in the Western world is, of course, who? The Roman Catholic Church. Some protestants even cast All Saints Day off as a purely Roman Catholic holiday. This is mistaken – although there are two very different understandings of the day.
All Saints Day in the Roman Catholic Church happens in conjunction with, what they call, All Souls Day. All Saints Day is November 1st, All Souls Day November 2nd. In the Lutheran Church, and in other Protestant churches, we only celebrate All Saints Day. This difference is rooted in different understandings of what it means to be a saint, and also in different understandings of what happens with the soul after death.
In Roman Catholic thinking, only the souls of some - probably a minority - of deceased Christians are in heaven. Not most and not all. Most Christian souls are still being purged of sin, purified, in the sufferings of purgatory. So, in their thinking, your loved – although their bodies could be said to be asleep in the ground – their souls are not at rest but are in anguish, still being prepared for heaven.
Those few Christians who have become purified from sin before death, they are the few who are in heaven. They are the ones who are called “saints”. The saints are the few souls who are already all the way into heaven. Being the few in heaven, they are the few who are closest to God. Therefore, their intercession is sought, and they are also celebrated with feast days, church holidays, on the calendar.
However, here’s the conundrum: No one can know for certain who all has actually made it into heaven so far. Many may have made it to sainthood, yet unnamed, unrecognized – no day on the calendar. For the Roman Catholic, All Saints Day is the day for all those unnamed saints. In this way, they all get a day on the calendar.
For many of us, this rationale for the holiday might seem a little silly. For them, it’s reasonable. Either way, my point is to ask these two questions: What is a saint? What is the state of the Christian soul after death.
Numbers wise, most Christians for most centuries have understood All Saints Day in the Roman Catholic way – and therefore, robbed of much comfort, All Souls Day became necessary. All Souls Day, the day after All Saints, is the day for praying for most Christian souls who are suffering in agony without rest.
With a history like this, brothers and sisters, why do Lutherans celebrate All Saints Day at all? The point is reform and truth.
The purpose of the Lutheran Reformation was not to throw out church practices but to reform them – bring church practice and teaching back into conformity with the truth of God’s Word, the Scriptures. So we don’t just throw holidays out if we can help it. Instead, we reform them to teach the truth better.
The very fact that we celebrate All Saints Day but not All Souls Day is a testimony to the more biblical truth of what happens with the soul in death and of what a saint is. So, what do we believe?
What is a saint? When the Apostle Paul wrote his Epistles to the Christians in Ephesus or in Philippi or in Colossae, he addressed those letters to the saints in those places – “To the saints who are in Ephesus…”, and so on.
Today we read the Beatitudes, “Blessèd are those….” Christians, alive and deceased, are saints because they are clothed in the one truly blessèd one.
Read the Beatitudes again – Blessed are the meek, the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the pure in heart, the merciful, the peacemakers, the ones hungering and thirsting for righteousness. Read all the “blessèds” - sometimes that’s us. Sometimes it’s not. But it is always Jesus.
The Beatitudes are not a perfect description of any Christian – we all have sin, all the way to death. But they are a perfect description of Jesus. They perfectly describe the One who is a Blessèd One, the One who is a Saint. “Saint” means “a holy one”. Jesus alone is Holy.
You are blessèd - you are a holy one - because you are dressed in Jesus. By His death on the cross, Jesus has put away all sin and guilt. By Baptizing you, Jesus has clothed you in His holiness. “All who have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ”, Scripture says. Jesus, the Saint, the Holy One, the Blessèd One, is your clothing. Clothed in Him, your soul is a saint.
There are other Beatitudes in Scripture – Romans 4:5-8 - “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”
In death, the sinful flesh is finally fully put away and your soul enjoys the sainthood in which it’s been freely clothed. There is not a further suffering to purge sin. On All Saints Day we remember all those departed souls who have Jesus as their clothing. Clothed in Jesus, they are saints.
What, in Scripture, is the term most used to describe your baptized, believing loved ones who have died? Asleep. Over one dozen times, those baptized believers who die are said to be asleep. And Jesus described a young daughter who died as “sleeping” [Matthew 9:24]. Sleep is the most common way, in the New Testament, of describing the Christian’s death. Asleep in the Lord.
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope….” [1 Thessalonians 4:13ff]
Sleep, not suffering. Sleep, not wandering the earth seeking closure. Asleep in the Lord – yet not unconscious – but instead very aware of the rest they have in Jesus. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you… you will find rest for your souls.” [Matthew 11:28-29].
The souls of those departed, in the faith, have rest in Jesus as they await the resurrection of their sleeping body. They are not needing your prayers. Instead, we wait to become like them.
Why All Saints Day? When your loved ones fall asleep in the Lord, you get to go to a funeral. At the funeral you get to hear all these comforting words. But then it’s over, and there’s no more funeral. All Saints Day is an opportunity, every year, to have that funeral once again – for whoever you need it for.
Remember that. And remember your loved ones who have fallen asleep in the Lord. Remember all these comforting words and apply it to them. You, be at peace and have rest - remembering all that your Lord Jesus has done for the souls of the ones you love. Amen.