“All Saints: Signed, Sealed, Delivered” (Revelation 7:2-17)

All Saints’ Day (Observed)
Sunday, November 6, 2022

“All Saints: Signed, Sealed, Delivered” (Revelation 7:2-17)

“Behold a host, arrayed in white.” So we just sang. Our reading from Revelation tells us who they are: “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

But before they came out of the great tribulation, first they were in it. That’s where we are. In the midst of tribulation. Trial and tribulation. Struggle, sorrow, sadness. Grief and loss. This is our lot in life here in this vale of tears. But the vision of that white-robed multitude, the church triumphant–this brings us comfort, this gives us hope, knowing that this is what awaits us and our loved ones who die in the Lord. We can be confident of this, because all of God’s saints have been signed and sealed and thus will be delivered also. “All Saints: Signed, Sealed, Delivered”–this is our theme today on All Saints’ Day.

Let’s start by asking: What is “All Saints’ Day”? Why do we observe it? What is the purpose of this day in the church year? Well, it has a long history in the Christian church. In the early church, it was customary in many places to gather at the gravesite of a departed Christian on the anniversary of their death. The purpose was to commemorate, to remember, that dear brother or sister who had died in the faith and now was with the Lord. Over the centuries, this practice came to be transferred to just one day toward the end of the church year, when a congregation would remember all the faithful departed from their members who had died over the previous year.

That’s what’s being done in thousands of churches all around the world today. All Saints’ Day actually is November 1, but many congregations observe it on the first Sunday in November. Now there are saints’ days set aside for the big-name saints throughout the church year, for example: St. Andrew, November 30; St. Mary, August 15; St. Matthew, September 21. But on All Saints’ Day, we remember the faithful departed who don’t have a special day on the calendar, whose names may not be well known. But the Lord knows their names. He has not forgotten them, so neither should we. This is what we celebrate on All Saints’ Day.

Now what about this term, “saints.” What do we mean by that? Most people, when they hear the word “saints,” may think of certain individuals who have been canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. But we’re using the term in a broader sense. The word “saints” literally means “holy ones.” But then we have to ask: What do we mean by “holy”? To be “holy,” in biblical thought, means “to belong to God,” to be “his.” “Set apart to belong to God.” In the Bible we read about holy days, holy places, holy things, holy people. These all are holy, because they have been set apart from ordinary use to belong to God alone. That’s what “holy” means, and these are who the “saints” are: the holy people of God.

But the amazing thing is, this is who we are! Yes, you and I, we are “saints,” “holy ones”! How can this be? I’m not that holy! And I know enough about human nature to know you aren’t, either. In myself, that is, in my flesh, according to my sinful nature, I am not holy. I’m not all that pure, clean, or morally upright–however you want to define “holy” in that sense. No, I am a sinner, and, guess what, so are you. So how is it that lousy sinners like us get to be called “holy”?

It’s because we have been “set apart” to belong to God. This is not our doing, but his. He makes us holy. God has taken us sinners, sometimes by the scruff of our neck, and dragged us over to the baptismal font, and washed us clean and pure. We don’t deserve it, we didn’t do anything to earn it, but God chose to wash us in Holy Baptism. There’s that word “holy” again. In Holy Baptism, God makes us his holy people. This is where you were signed and sealed. And in the end, this is how you will be delivered.

You have been signed. At your baptism, the sign of the holy cross was placed on you: “Anna”–I’ll use the name “Anna,” because my daughter was baptized on All Saints’ Day, 27 years ago–“Anna, receive the sign of the holy cross both upon your + forehead and upon your + heart to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified.” Same for you, baptized Christian. You have been signed with the cross of Christ.

And the cross of Jesus Christ is the only thing that will save you. The blood that the Son of God shed on that cross atoned for all your sins–indeed, for the sins of the whole world. The sign of the cross has been placed on you, applied to you personally, in Holy Baptism. Again, it’s God’s doing all the way: Christ dying on the cross for you, then God applying the cross to you in Baptism.

All your sins are washed away. It’s like the great multitude in Revelation, clothed in white robes, standing before the Lamb: “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” This is the only cleaning solution that will get the stain of sin out. Like it says in Isaiah: “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” The blood of Jesus, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin. Christ shed his blood for you on the cross, and you have been signed with that cross in your baptism.

Signed, sealed, and delivered. You have been signed. What about being sealed? You have been sealed, as well. God placed his seal on you, again, in your baptism. That’s when the name of the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, was placed upon you. Now you belong to God. You are his. He put his name on you. He signed you with the holy cross. He sealed you with the Holy Spirit. God put his shield of protection around you. As it says in Revelation: “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.” You are secure under God’s seal of protection.

Brothers and sisters, God has enrolled us in his witness protection program. As we bear witness to our Lord in this hostile world, we do so under God’s protection. In baptism, we were given the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit will guard and keep us in the true faith. The world cannot harm us. Oh, they may persecute us–they may arrest us, even kill us–but they cannot harm us. They can’t separate us from God’s love. They can’t strip us of our faith. They can’t take away our salvation. God will see to it. We have been sealed.

And so, signed and sealed, we will, in the end, be delivered. That will be the outcome of our faith. We will come out of this time of tribulation. God will graciously take us from this vale of tears to himself in heaven. God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. “Deliver us from evil” we pray, and God will answer our prayer.

Even now, those who have departed this life in the faith–the Christians we have known and loved–they now rest from their labors, and their souls are with the Lord. Together we all await the day of resurrection, when our Lord Jesus will return and raise up our bodies, whole and glorious. That will be the final deliverance. And that is already our sure and certain hope, as sure as Christ’s own resurrection, to which we were united in baptism.

Today know that all the saints who have gone before us are rejoicing with us on this All Saints’ Day. They know the victory Christ has won for us. It’s not just us here in this church. Besides all the millions of our fellow Christians around the world, the one holy Christian church includes all the departed saints we remember but do not see.

You know, in our Communion liturgy, there is the line, “Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify Your glorious name.” Note, “and with all the company of heaven.” They are joining us today–or rather, we are joining them, in their song of praise to God and to the Lamb.

In churches in Scandinavia, there is an old custom that the communion rail around the altar is formed in the shape of a half-circle. The half-circle stops at the back of the chancel. Beyond the chancel, on the other side of the wall, lies the churchyard, the cemetery, where the members of that parish are buried. And that is the reason why the communion rail is only a half-circle. The great Swedish churchman Bo Giertz explains:

“Where the circle ends at the chancel wall, the fellowship still continues; in the churchyard is the resting place of the dead, the Lord’s faithful, who now are partakers of the great banquet in heaven. They are with us as a great cloud of witnesses, they continue the small circle of people around the altar in my parish church, a circle that widens and is extended both back in time through the centuries and forward into the eternal world. It is a table fellowship without end. Shoulder by shoulder are they with us: our own faithful ancestors who once received the sacrament here at this altar, saints and martyrs elsewhere through the ages, and finally the Lord Himself and His apostles in the glorious kingdom in heaven above where the circle comes to its conclusion. This is ‘communio sanctorum,’ the communion of saints in Christ’s kingdom of grace. Celebrating the Lord’s Supper with my brothers and sisters in Christ, I am connected with the saints who sit at the Lord’s Table in the heavenly kingdom. I am counted as one of God’s holy people.”

God’s holy people–and so we are! For you and I have been signed, marked with the sign of the cross of Christ. We have been sealed, sealed with the Holy Spirit, who will protect and keep us until the end. And so we will be delivered. We will be among the white-robed saints in glory everlasting. Fellow saints of God: Signed, sealed, delivered–you are his!

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Published in: on November 4, 2022 at 3:37 pm  Leave a Comment  
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