A Family Reunion of Saints

Photo by Georg Arthur Pflueger on Unsplash; licensed under CC0.

Thank you for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ—that in Christ Jesus, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting our sins against us, but instead sanctifying us in Christ and making us ambassadors of this good news.

This week is another chance to preach that amazing good news to a world broken and suffering in sin. Thanks be to God!

What is a saint?

Sometimes, people can change the world just by reading the Bible. That’s what happened when a monk from a backwater university read his Bible in 1517.

Here is one thing that this monk—Martin Luther—discovered: In the New Testament, the word “saint” is used only to refer to all Christians—as in “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus” (Ephesians 1:1). In the New Testament, the word “saint” is never used to refer to the best, most virtuous, or most faithful Christians—as in St. Mary or St. Peter.

The idea that there is a group of super Christians who are called saints simply is not biblical.

So what is a saint? Not a super Christian. Rather, according to the New Testament, a saint is one who has been “sanctified” by baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As Paul writes to the church in Corinth, “you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).

Notice especially here that the words “sanctified” and “justified” appear to be synonyms or near synonyms. Sanctification (to be made holy) and justification (to be made just) are not two separate actions of God but one: “When Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, ‘he sat down at the right hand of God,’ … For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:12, 14).

So what is a saint? A saint is a Christian and a Christian is a saint—one who has been made holy by Christ. All Christians are saints and all saints are Christians. At least that is what the New Testament usage of the term implies. Every Christian is a saint.

Therefore, All Saints Sunday is not a day to celebrate a sort of “Christian Hall of Fame.” Rather, All Saints Sunday functions best as the church’s memorial day. A day to celebrate that all of us are sanctified in Christ Jesus not by our own merits, but by the free grace of God in his son Jesus. It is a day to remember those saints who are living now—including those separated from us. It is a day to remember those saints who are dead in Christ—especially those very dear to us and those who have died in the past year.

And sadly, because of the pandemic and other things about 2020 that have stunk, there may be more saints who have died this year than in many other years.

All Saints Sunday—Memorial Day and family reunion

All Saints Sunday has been called the Christian memorial day. A day annually when we remember our brothers and sisters in the extended family of faith who have died, and who have passed from “the church militant” into “the church triumphant.” In some ways, it is family reunion.

My extended family holds large family reunions. The family has held family reunions ever since my great grandparents’ eleven kids started to leave home. They would gather back together often. We still do gather—although the extended family is so large that we only gather once a decade now. But I like to look at the old pictures of family reunions over the years. To watch how the family grew. But then also to look at the pictures and notice who had died—who had passed from the church militant into the church triumphant.

The scripture texts this All Saints offer two pictures of the family of faith—one from the time of Jesus’ earthly life and one from his heavenly reign.

The picture of Jesus’ earthly life comes from Matthew 5—the Beatitudes. Jesus offers a picture of those whom God loves, among whom God is present, through whom God is actively working, and whom God is powerfully blessing: the poor in Spirit, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, peacemakers, those who are persecuted for their Christian faith. We can add from the rest of Jesus’ ministry: sinners who are forgiven, handicapped who are healed, the rejected who are received, the cursed who are blessed, the unclean who are purified, the salt of the earth, the light of the world. That’s our family. Where do you see them today? Look around. Do you have eyes to see?

The picture of Jesus’ heavenly reign comes from Revelation 7—the host arrayed in white:

“[A] great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands …

‘These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat’” (Revelation 7:9, 14-16).

The host will no longer hunger nor thirst—neither for righteousness nor for food and water. They will not suffer from sun and heat, snow and cold, death or illness. The Lamb will be their shepherd! Notice that irony—the lamb as a shepherd, who guides them to springs of the waters of life, where there will be no tears. That’s our family. Look around. Do you see that future kingdom of God breaking into our present world? Do you have eyes to see?

Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever!

On behalf of the entire family of faith, thanks for what you do, Working Preacher.

Rolf Jacobson