All Saints’ Sunday
The glorious festival we are celebrating today--All Saints’ Sunday--is a wonderful day full of rich comfort. As we celebrate it today, we are reminded of that biblical doctrine we confess in the Creeds--that we believe in one, holy Christian and apostolic Church; that holy Christian Church is the communion of saints. That means that it’s not just me and Jesus; it’s me, Jesus and the Church. That means that it’s not just us, here and now; instead, the Church is made up of all Christians from all times and places; part of the Church is in heaven and part of it is here on earth. All Saints’ Day is a tremendous comfort as we remember that our fellow Christians are not just dead and gone; instead, they are alive--their souls are alive before God in heaven and we and they are one Church. One day, when we, by God's grace and Jesus’ work, enter heaven, there will be our loved ones who have died in the faith awaiting us. And come the Last Day, the day of Jesus’ return then we will be with them together in heaven, soul and glorified body, before the throne of God.
Notice, what All Saints’ Day does--it lifts our gaze, attention, beyond this life to the life to come. It directs our attention to what is truly vital, to our goal, lest we get bogged down in the worries and concerns of this life and forget about our heavenly future which Jesus obtained for us and promises us. What a glorious comfort we have in our trials--heaven awaits us. What a wonderful balm we have as we feel our sins and Satan wants to lead us in despair about ever reaching heaven--and there we see the saints in heaven: they, too, are sinners but sinners saved by God’s grace. And that gives us hope and strength to continue on to fight the good fight of faith. They made it--so, too, by God’s grace we will as well.
Today’s Gospel is the very lovely beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, a very beautiful section called the Beatitudes. They are called the Beatitudes because of the first word: Blessed or Happy--Beatus in Latin. The Christian does indeed have great joy in this life even in the midst of spiritual poverty and mourning, for example. Jesus declares us Blessed precisely as we are spiritually poor and mourning or as we are meek and hungering and thirsting for righteousness. The Beatitudes are not great moral demands God places on the Christian--Blessed are the pure in heart--but great blessings God has promised His dear Christian--for they shall see God. Holy Church reads and reflects on the Beatitudes today because we see the lives of the saints reflected in them--not just the saints in heaven but our Lord’s dear Christians, His saints on earth today, you and me. In them we see described the joy of discipleship; in our lives as Christians, as we reflect on Whose and what we are. Ours is a heavenly and spiritual exaltation: Blessed are… Jesus has declared us so.
Today we will briefly reflect on precisely one Beatitude: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
So, who, exactly are the pure in heart? Well, what does it mean to be pure? If something is pure, that means it has nothing foreign mixed in it. For example, if you buy “pure honey” that means that it is nothing but honey from the beehive; there is no cheap sugar syrup mixed in to stretch it. If that cheap sugary syrup were mixed in, it wouldn’t be “pure honey.” The same thing applies to us: Blessed are the pure in heart. So here, when Jesus says Blessed are the pure in heart He is talking about those hearts that are pure and free from any other attachment; hearts that fear, love and serve God alone; hearts with a single minded devotion to the Lord and are totally committed to Him. Who of us can say that? Isn’t each one of our sins a “not serving God” but a serving of self and sin; isn’t each sin not fearing, loving and serving God alone? Don’t we so often waver in our faith in and love of and devotion to the Lord? Of course! None of us in and of ourselves is pure in heart; that’s the very nature of us sinners.
There is only One who is pure in heart--and that’s our Lord Jesus! He and He alone perfectly did the will of His Father in heaven. His holy heart was alone the pure one that was totally committed to God and devoted Himself alone to Him. Look at our Lord Jesus--He, the very God Himself, came from heaven, became also true man perfectly obeyed His Father’s will, fought and resisted every temptation from the devil, took our sins on Him to the cross, and suffered and died for them, as one cursed by God and man. Never once did Jesus sin; never once did He rebel again His Father’s will--all of this He did for us and our salvation. Jesus very clearly said of Himself [Mt 28.20]: the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and give His life a ransom for many. This wasn’t just talk; it was who Jesus is--pure in heart, serving God and God alone. What does Scripture record of Jesus’ attitude/ His pure heart when it came to doing His Father’s will and suffering and dying for us? -- [Lk 9.51] He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem. What do we hear Jesus praying in Gethsemane right before HIs betrayal and arrest? --O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will [Mt. 26.39]. Jesus wasn’t a robot. He had a heart and will--and in His pureness of heart, in His total commitment to God, in His holy heart in which nothing was mixed in with His love of God and desire to do His will alone--He did His Father’s will. Even in the midst of His suffering on the cross, Jesus’ pureness of heart showed itself most brilliantly as He endured it all and at His death entrusted His spirit to His Father. And that Jesus perfectly did the will of God/ was the one who alone was pure in heart and so brought about our salvation is seen by His resurrection on Easter!
Because Jesus is in and of Himself pure in heart, perfectly doing the Father’s will, we, dear Christian are now the pure in heart Jesus describes: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Yes, in and of ourselves we are sinners; we live for ourselves and do not serve the Lord and do not His will alone. But, through faith in Jesus our sins are forgiven us and we receive Jesus’ pureness in heart--His perfect keeping of God’s law. Our hearts, dear Christian, are cleansed through faith in Jesus. St. Peter says [Ac 15.9]: God [purifies the] heart by faith.
The thing is, dear Christian, God in His grace has given us the Holy Spirit. And where the Holy Spirit is, there He works faith--faith that receives Jesus and His saving work. So through faith in Jesus His pure heart/ His holy, perfect, righteousness is given/ credited to us. So closely and intimately is Jesus united with us--what is His is ours! That happened at our Baptism where the Holy Spirit came upon us and created faith in Jesus in our hearts and brought us into God’s holy family; and here He washed away our sin and created in us a new heart--a heart filled with love of God and holy desires.
And so not only are we, through faith, credited with the pure heart of Jesus-- Blessed are the pure in heart--but we have the Holy Spirit in us who leads us in a life of holiness and who continually works/ creates in us a new, pure heart: Blessed are the pure in heart. And so now each time that we sin, that we do not fear love and serve God alone, that we do not follow the holy desires and workings of the Holy Spirit, we confess our sins praying with St. David in the psalm [51.10]: Create in me a clean heart, O God--a clean, pure heart. And forgiven our sins, our hearts are pure, cleansed through faith in Jesus. And so yes, in Christ through faith we are the pure in heart, with the purity of Christ’s own heart and with the beginning of a life that is more and more, pure/ holy. Now with this new heart, now with the Holy Spirit and led and empowered by Him, we strive to get rid of every thought turning us away from the Lord and strive to turn away from self and seek the Lord and to do His will with a pure heart; we strive for that total commitment to the Lord: Blessed are the pure in heart. As we live our lives as Christians in this world, led and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we then strive to make our hearts pure through that single-minded devotion to the Lord and His will and to crucify our old sinful nature with its desires; in that purity of heart we strive to keep ourselves unspotted from the world. Yes, we are in the world but not of the world and so we strive for that pure heart as we desire to make God’s will our own.
That’s why Jesus declares the saints “blessed.” They have a pure heart--first, through faith the pure heart of the only One with a pure heart is credited to them; and then, secondly, even though it is difficult, the Christian strives against sin, devil and world to serve God alone.
Blessed are the pure in heart--even though this fight/ striving is difficult, Jesus calls us blessed/ happy in the midst of it--and why? --For they shall see God. Our whole lives and perspective are different! Now we see God as He revealed HImself to us--in the person of His Son, Jesus! We lift up our heart to God and see Him there on the cross suffering and dying for us and our salvation; we see God as our dear loving Father and Savior who loves us and from whom no one or nothing can take us from His hand. We see God now as we look upon the simple bread and wine of the Holy Supper and there see Him physically, bodily with us--we exclaim and confess: Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We see God now as we, taking Him at His word and promise, know He is present here in our worship, that we are in His presence. We see God now as we are assured of His presence and help in every trial. And we know we will not see Him if we find ourselves in the midst of wicked company, evil thoughts, words and works--and so we strive to keep ourselves far from them.
Remember, dear Christian/ fellow saint, we are through faith in Jesus the pure in heart; our hearts are purified by faith. By faith we know God rightly because we know Jesus rightly--the true God, the Son, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. What joy will one day be ours when we not only know and see Him by faith--like we do now--but also see Him with our own eyes! What great joy will be ours when we will one day find ourselves in heaven beholding God face to face! Seeing God/ the Beatific Vision is the greatest joy of heaven. This is the perfect joy and bliss; this is what God “made/ designed” us for. Only when we are in heaven beholding God face to face will we ever be perfectly content and happy, perfectly satisfied. No earthly joy can match that because there will always be that feeling that there’s something more, that’s something missing. That’s because earthly things can never satisfy our truest and deepest spiritual longings. Only God can! And, yes, now even our great joy in the Lord and that happiness and contentment we have in Him now will be eclipsed once we are in heaven, beholding Him. St. Paul put it this way [1 Co 13.12]: For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. We cannot even imagine the joys of the saints in heaven who now see God. We get a glimpse/ foretaste of it now, but they enjoy it in full glory. Our first reading today:
After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands,and crying out with a loud voice, saying, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!"
The joy of the saints in heaven will one day be our joy as well, dear Christian. They are where we will one day, by God’s grace be, as we by faith receive Jesus’ purity of heart and by the power of the Holy Spirit strive for that purity of heart in loving and serving God alone: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. INJ