Sermon for All Saints’ Day; Sunday, November 4

Sermon for All Saints’ Day Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012

St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Text:  Revelation 7:9-17

Sermon Theme:  Who Are Saints anyway and Why Celebrate?


(Sources:  Anderson’s Preaching Workbook, Cycle B; Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 22, Part 4, Series B; Concordia Journal, Summer 2012; Images about Saints and All Saints’ Day by Ray Spitzenberger; additional original ideas)


Grace, mercy and peace to you from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.


What in the world is a saint?  Today is All Saints’ Sunday, celebrating All Saints’ Day which was November 1. 

We have to begin with this question, because not all denominations and not all members in those denominations agree with the meaning of the word “saint.”  As Lutherans and heirs of the Reformation, we naturally wonder why we have such a day on the Lutheran Calendar?  Do “saints” have any significance for our faith?

I will answer that right away, saying, “Yes, they do,” otherwise why would our worship service center around them today.  However, let me say at the outset that they are not important for us or for our faith because they might in any way be the mediators between Christ and us, as if there were some chasm between us that the saints would need to bridge.  And certainly the saints are not important because they might be the recipients of our prayers and petitions, as if we were afraid to address almighty God directly.

That leads us to the Biblical definition of “saints,” the definition accepted by Lutherans and most other Protestants:  “Saints are all true believers in Christ, living or dead.”  That’s you.  That’s me.  That’s Grandma who died some years ago. 

Now I’ve never fully understood the Roman Catholic or the Eastern Orthodox view of saints, but it appears they restrict saints to a special group of Christians who have died, often as martyrs for Christ, and who are depicted in art with halos above their heads, — heroes of the faith such as St. Paul, St. Peter, St. John, St. Mary, etc.  Saints with a capital S. 

By the way, the idea of depicting a Saint (with a capital S) with a halo began around the 5th Century A.D.  The halo was depicted as a circle of light above the sainted person’s head, indicating his or her high level of sanctification, — in other words, level of holiness.

While Lutherans believe that all true Christians, living or dead, are saints, we also observe the Saints’ Calendar of the ancient church.  When I look at the lives of some of the Saints of the Church, like St. Peter or St. Paul, I enthusiastically grant them the privilege of being a Saint with a capital S.  I would grant that to even more modern day Saints like St. Theresa of Calcutta.

When I compare myself to people like her, I’m ready to be called “slacker” rather than “saint,” with or without a capital S.  All true believers are “justified,” but when it comes to “sanctification” (holiness), there are definitely levels of sanctification.  Considering my lower level of sanctification (holiness), I’m relieved to know we are saved by grace through faith alone.

It is indeed a fact that there is no saint (with or without a capital S) in heaven or on earth who is not totally dependent on the mere and undeserved grace of Christ and the forgiveness he has promised to grant richly to any repentant sinner.  Christ Himself shows us what kind of help a saint is for our Christian faith and why it is good to remember them.

In most Eastern Orthodox churches, there are many icons in the chancel area.  Icons are richly colored paintings of the various Saints of the church, such as St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Mary, St. Catherine, etc.  Imagine, now, if we had such icons mounted in our chancel area, and you were kneeling at the altar rail taking Holy Communion, you would be surrounded by the Saints of the past.  Keep that image in mind.

The old, old Lutheran churches in Germany had something similar, though Lutherans would never call their paintings and statues of saints “icons.”  During the time of Martin Luther and for several centuries afterwards, German Lutheran churches had confessional booths wherein the believer would make private confessions of his sins.  These confessional booths were adorned with pictures (not icons because icons border on idolatry) but pictures of the saints.

There were  pictures of Peter and the rooster, of David after he committed adultery with Bathsheba, of the Prodigal Son eating with the pigs in the pig trough, — you see the purpose here of the images, — in the confessional, you were reminded of the Saints of the church and the sins they committed.   You were reminded that they were no better than you.  You were reminded that the only thing which counts is God’s forgiveness in Christ.  Like them, you don’t have to rely on your own spiritual achievements; like you, they were saved by grace through faith alone.  In that way, the Saints of the church witnessed to those still here on earth.

We begin to see why it is important to remember and commemorate the saints (with or without a capital S) of the church.  With the saints in heaven, we are all sitting here today as members of the one holy universal and apostolic church; not even death can hinder or dissolve this connection.

With them together we pray to Christ, to be sure.  Their witness frees us from relying on our own spiritual achievements; their lives encourage us to grow in faith.  Their witness directs our focus on the final goal which is eternal life in heaven with Christ.

In our sermon text from the Book of Revelation, the saints are pictured singing praises to God.  Saints on earth have also been known for their love of singing God’s praises.  Who are these singing saints?  Our sermon text says, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation . . . “They have a song in their hearts, because with Christ they have won the victory over sin and death.

They came out of the great tribulation of life on earth, looking grungy with clothes tattered and torn, but “they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

There is not a more beautiful picture in the Bible of the saints in heaven than this one.

Christ directs us to the goal which is heaven.  From that goal, which our fellow saints in heaven have already reached, they join our celebration of Christ’s Holy Supper today and each time we go to the Lord’s table.  We join them in worship as we sing both “Glory be to God on high” and “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth.”  You see, the liturgy on earth is part of the unceasing praise before God’s throne, and the Table around which we gather penetrates the wall of death to become part of the great feast in God’s kingdom.

We do not walk toward our goal heaven by ourselves, alone.  No, we are surrounded by the multitude of saints, both those visible sharing with us the church pew this day and those who have gone before to their final completion in Christ.

“Rejoice and be glad,” Jesus called out to all who were persecuted because of him.  “Rejoice and be glad,” he calls out to all of us.  As you continue to walk the road that leads to heaven, remember THEY are waiting for you already.  THEY: David, Peter, the forty-nine saints of Abilene, John, Paul, Luke, your loved ones and innumerable others as well.  That’s a reason to rejoice and be glad!  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.