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Sermon for All Saints

Isaiah 25:6–9; Revelation 21:1–6a & John 11:32–44

Today we commemorate All Saints Day, which technically falls on 1 November each year.

We don’t know exactly when the church began the practice of praying for all of the saints, but we do know that the earliest Christians left inscriptions of general prayers for the dead in the catacombs of Rome. 

Two later saints, St Ephrem (d. AD 373) and St John Chrysostom (d. AD 407), make reference in their own writings to prayers for “the martyrs of the whole world”. ‘A 7th-century AD manuscript states that not only unknown martyrs, but unnamed saints, too, were remembered in prayers and rituals.’ ‘By the 9th century, the practice of praying to unknown saints had become widespread, and an official feast day was established on 1 November as All Saints, which is also known in England as All Hallows.’

What is a saint? Well, throughout the history of Christianity there have been many different meanings given to the notion of sainthood. However, many characteristics of sainthood have been agreed upon. Whether a saint devotes their life to God in living a life in religious orders, such as a priest or nun, or whether they demonstrate their holiness in secular life, they must be a person of great faith and religious devotion. A saint can be born into grace, or be a reformed character, but either way they must show certain characteristics, such as piety, fortitude, humility and courage, that make them “heroic”.

Saints are thought to have been given a privileged place in heaven, close to God, where they can intercede with God on our behalf. And of course the Christian Faith believes that ultimately we will all be united with the saints in heaven. Let me read this prayer for you know, which is actually the post–Communion prayer for our service this morning.

Gracious God, we thank you that in this sacrament you assure us of your goodness and love. Accept our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving and help us to grow in love and obedience that we may serve you in the world and finally be brought to that table where all your saints feast with you for ever. 

This final phrase – be brought to that table where all your saints feast with you for ever – is a reference to the ‘Messianic Feast’ which will occur at the end of time when God’s kingdom is ushered in. And today’s passage from the Book of Isaiah is a marvellous prophecy of that Messianic Feast. Isaiah prophesies that “all the people of the world”—Gentiles and Jews together—will gather at God’s messianic feast, celebrating the overthrow of evil and the joy of eternity with God. 

It shows that God intended his saving message to go out to the whole world, not just to the Jews. During the feast, God will end death forever (25:7, 8). The people who participate in this great feast will be those who have been living by faith. That is why they say, “This is our God. We trusted in him, and he saved us” (25:9).

In today’s gospel passage, from the Gospel of John, the Jews who have gathered with Mary and Martha at the tomb of their brother Lazarus say in reference to Jesus, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” They do not understand who Jesus truly is, and they have no faith that Jesus can raise Lazarus from the dead. 

Even Martha, the sister of Lazarus, is also lacking faith. For when Jesus asks that the stone at the entrance to the tomb of Lazarus be removed, Martha says to Jesus, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days”. To which Jesus replies, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” He is of course referring to the raising of Lazarus from the dead, through which the glory of God is revealed. This is just a glimpse of what was promised by the prophet Isaiah in today’s passage when he wrote that God “will swallow up death forever”.

This passage from Isaiah is referred to in today’s reading from the Book of Revelation, especially in verse 4 which says, “he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” 

Have you ever wondered what eternity will be like? The “holy city, the new Jerusalem” mentioned in Revelation is described as the place where God will remove all sorrows. There will be no death, sorrow, crying, or pain. What a truly wonderful picture of hope! No matter what we are going through now, it’s not the last word—God has written the final chapter, and it’s about true fulfilment and eternal joy for those who love Him. 

This passage from the Book of Revelation is the fulfilment of the promise of new creation famously foretold of in the Book of Isaiah: “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. (Isaiah 65:17–19) 

The new Jerusalem is where God lives among His people. Instead of our going up to meet him, he comes down to be with us, just as God became man in Jesus Christ and lived among us (John 1:14). Wherever God reigns, there is peace, security, and love. 

The Bible begins with the majestic story of God’s creation of the universe, and it concludes with His creation of a new heaven and a new earth. This is a wonderful hope and encouragement for us as Christians. At that time we will be with God and with all the saints. When we are with God, with our sins forgiven and our future secure, we will be like Christ. We will be made perfect like him.

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