Monday, November 4, 2013

All Saints' Day Observed (Revelation 7:9-17)

“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.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this celebration of All Saints comes from the First Lesson read a few moments ago from the seventh chapter of the Revelation to Saint John. Dear friends in Christ, sinners wear clothes. At the end of Genesis chapter two, with the earth brand new and ‘very good,’ Moses tells us “the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” Clothing has nothing to do with protection from the weather, with fashion or style, or even with modesty. It has to do with shame. When the man and the woman fall into the first sin, they feel an emotion that is foreign to them, and it is completely overwhelming. They feel guilt, they feel shame; they know they have violated the only command their Creator had given, and now they are exposed, unprotected from God’s wrath. “Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.” We wear clothing because we are sinful; we cover up because our bodies are no longer perfect, but corrupted by sin. Those who parade their bodies before the lusting eyes of the world only prove that their conscience is so damaged that they no longer feel guilt or shame. They have forgotten a fact that, deep down, is apparent to all people: sinners wear clothes.

What kind of clothes do you wear? All the saints on earth wear filthy rags. Isaiah teaches us, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” We came into this world naked, but even from conception our spiritual dress is a stinky, smelly pile of rags. The Scriptures may call all who follow Christ ‘saints,’ and so we are, but we remain sinners. On All Saints’ Day we cannot forget that all the saints were or are also sinners, from Adam and Moses to Peter and Paul to your relatives and you yourself. We soil our clothes in sin, even so-called ‘good church people.’ Sin makes us dirty; each and every sin adds a new stain to our garments. Every sin you commit should make you feel dirty; if it doesn’t, you are fooling yourself. Sin’s greatest delusion is to make you think that you are clean when you are in reality covering your nakedness with rags of filth. The clothes make the sinner, and ours are filthy.

No matter how much we scrub, we cannot get them clean. There is no detergent that we possess that can take the stain away. Not that we don’t try. This world offers plenty of detergents that claim to remove the stain, from self-help to self-medication, but none of them can do anything to make them even fade. And if detergents don’t work, we try a different tactic: we make our rags look fancy, we pile on make-up, trying desperately to cancel out the dirt with some good deeds, but there is no covering our filth. Isaiah told us that already: “All our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” Our garments are dirty, and no amount of making ourselves look pretty is going to change that reality, nothing we do can make them clean. There is no escaping this fact: sinners wear clothes.

What kind of clothes do you wear? All the saints on earth wear robes of tribulation and suffering. You wear hospital gowns while facing surgery, a long battle with a disease, or have the effects a traumatic accident. You wear funeral suits; your best clothes for an encounter with your greatest enemy. The clothing we wear reminds us of our sin, it reminds us of the consequences of that sin, that the “wages of sin is death.” We wear suits around or in coffins, we wear hospital gowns when we are in pain, when we are threatened with harm to our body. Sinners wear clothes, the filthy rags of sin, and the clothing of sickness and death. Our clothing, seen and unseen, remind us of sin, our own sin, and the sin of this fallen and world, where bad things happen even to all the saints.

What kind of clothes do you wear? Many of the saints wear prison uniforms. In our Gospel lesson, Jesus promised us suffering and persecution in this world. Maybe one day you will wear a number on your back because you confess Christ. This is happening every day in our world, and while persecution seems foreign to us, history teaches us that it is never far off. A Roman Catholic bishop once said, “I will die in bed, my successor will die in prison, his successor will die a martyr, and the one who comes after him will begin to rebuild from the ashes.” All the saints are hated by the devil, and his ally, the world, and they will do all they can to stomp us out, persecuting and even putting us to death. Sinners wear clothes, clothes that remind us of the corruption that fills us and our world.

Through your own sin, you are clothed in filthy rags, through the corruption of this sinful world you wear hospital gowns or funeral suits, and through the sin of others against you, you may even be clothed in prison uniforms. But God provides a different set of garments. Even after condemning their sin, even after cursing the very earth because of them, God in His grace provided clothes to the first sinners. “And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.” The first to die in God’s once perfect creation were the animals that shed their blood to make clothing for Adam and Eve. But those garments of skins could never cover up guilt and shame. Another set of garments was needed, given through another death. John saw these robes, he saw all the saints wearing them, and he was told, “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.”

What kind of clothes do you wear? All the saints wear robes made white in the blood of the Lamb. All other blood stains; this blood purifies, it makes white, it cleanses us from all of our filth. It takes polluted garments and makes them white, shining robes. The Lamb was slain, sacrificed on the altar of the cross, and His blood cleanses because His blood atones, it is the price that pays for sin, that eliminates guilt and shame. What kind of clothes do you wear? All the saints wear robes washed by Christ’s blood in the waters of Holy Baptism. There is a reason why in the history of the Church, both children and adults were given white robes at their baptism. In the font we are made clean, in the font our robes are washed in the shed blood of the Lamb. What kind of clothes do you wear? All the saints wear robes washed daily in a return to the font. We take our filthy rags, soiled with every sin we commit, and in repentance we scrub them clean in the blood of the Lamb. We dip our robes in His blood when we hear the Absolution, when we feast on His Body and Blood, for in those gifts, we are made clean once again.

What kind of clothes do you wear? All the saints wear the white robes, the baptismal robes, even when they wear hospital gowns, even when they wear funeral suits, even when they wear prison uniforms for the sake of Christ. Even when facing the ravages of sin, they are clothed in robes made white in the blood of the Lamb. We can’t see them now, but we will: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” All the saints will wear the robes of victory in the resurrection. They wore the baptismal robes throughout their lives, hidden from human sight, but on the Last Day, every eye will see all the saints, clothed in the white robes of the resurrection, around the throne, singing songs of victory. The white robes are garments of triumph, triumph over sin, triumph over death.

All the saints have conquered, not through their own strength, but through the Lamb’s shed blood, and they will dwell in victory with Him forever. “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will shelter them with His presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their Shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Those robes are fireproof; the fires of hell, the fires of judgment will not touch all the saints. The saints hungered and thirsted in this world; clothed in the white robes, they will have no more lack. The saints grieved as they suffered from sin, death, and from all who hated them; wearing robes made white in the Lamb’s blood, they will have no more tears. They will be sheltered by Christ, the Lamb in the midst of the throne, and He who shed His blood on the altar of the cross will shepherd them to the eternal green pastures. Saints wear clothes, robes made white in the blood of the Lamb, now and forever.

What kind of clothes do you wear? You are a saint, you are baptized into Christ, you have made your filthy garments white in the blood of the Lamb. Saints wear clothes; not the filthy clothes of Adam, but the glorious clothes of Christ. “What we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.” Even now you wear the shining baptismal robes, the pledge and guarantee that you will one day join that multitude before the throne, wearing the robes of the resurrection. That multitude includes all the saints, Old and New Testament, from every nation under the sun, even those we hold dear, those we have laid to rest among us this past year: Margaret, Earl, Gloria, Tina, Mavis, and Joe. You have a place in that multitude, standing next to Saint Paul, or Luther, or your grandmother, your sister, your child. There you will rejoice, there you will celebrate, singing with all the rest: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” In the Name of the Lamb who was slain, in whose blood we have washed our robes and made them white forever, who will return on the Last Day to take us to join the multitude before the throne, Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

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