Sunday, November 04, 2007

All Saints Sunday, 2007

(Hebrews 11:39-12:1) And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect. Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,

A few years ago some friends of ours returned from a visit to Scotland, and the wife/mother of said family remarked how wonderful it was to walk to through the church’s grave-yard on the way to Sunday worship, thereby being reminded of whom they were gathering with to honor God in song, prayer and meditation.

Historically, the Church has set aside this Lord’s Day to remember and celebrate the reality that we are indeed, as the author of Hebrews notes, surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses as we run the corporate and individual races marked out for us.

Five centuries ago, as the Holy Spirit initiated what we now know as “The Protestant Reformation”, the Church of Jesus Christ was cluttered with, and distracted by, remembrances of a plethora of saints. Not content to remember a single saint per day, the Church piled saint’s day upon saint’s day until each calendar week fairly well groaned under the weight of dozens of remembrances and festal celebrations. Ironically, in many cases this resulted in less attention, honor and devotion to the One whom these several saints had faithfully revered, served and adored.

This is most certainly not the sin of our age. But we need to considered the possibility that our Reformation fathers threw out some Biblical “baby” with their Reformational “bath-water.” Yes, of course, it is true that we need to avoid the Church’s pre-Reformational excesses regarding the remembrance of saints. But we need to do so without neglecting the clear commands in scripture to be mindful of those who have finished their races in faith and now comprise the cloud of witnesses cheering us on as we strive, by faith, to finish ours.

Here are a few diagnostic questions: How well do you know Church History? Who were Augustine, Ambrose, Arius, Athanasius, Anselm and Arminius? Do you own, and have you read, a copy of Eusebius’s Church History and/or Foxe’s Book of Martyrs or even a more accessible book like Hanula’s Trial and Triumph? Do you regularly regale your children with stories of the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, fathers, martyrs and saints of old? As you wrestle to be free from the various entanglements, burdens and discouragements of sin, are you mindful of the “great cloud of witnesses” surrounding you? Do you take care to draw strength, wisdom and direction from the words and deeds of those who have gone on before you in the faith? Simply put, have you avoided the sin of “saint obsession” by committing the sin of “saint neglect”?

The author of Hebrews tells us explicitly that the faithful who have preceded us in death are not complete. They await both the resurrection of their bodies and the wholeness of Christ’s entire body assembled with them at the end of time and history. And therefore, do they look forward to our weekly gatherings in heaven (just as we do) as a foretaste of the resurrection health and wholeness that is yet to come.

Each week, in the Lord's Service, directly following the “sursum corda” (the “lift up your hearts” responsive) I remind you that we are assembled here “with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven, and with all the church on earth.” Take care then to remember this truth when we go to the Lord’s Table and together “discern the body of Christ.” As I have exhorted you before, your eyes should be open and scanning the faces of those seated around you. But be careful as well to turn the eye of faith to “the great cloud of witnesses” with whom you sit and sup in wonder and worship before the throne of God. They are supernaturally present with us, or more accurately, we are supernaturally present with them in heaven (as the author of Hebrews teaches us a little later on in chapter twelve.) So…

Come let us worship the Lord together “with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven”

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