But if we walk in the light, just as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:7

All Saints-2022

Sermon Text: Matthew 5:1-12

I remember a time a few years ago, while I was watching an episode of the CSI television program, when I heard this line, spoken by a criminal character on the show, explaining why he had perpetrated the notorious “signature” crime that he had committed:

“I want something of me to be left behind so that people will speak my name, and know who I was.”

People who commit notorious crimes do sometimes have this motivation. They want to be remembered by history for something.

And if they cannot be remembered for their positive contributions, then they will settle for being remembered for the way in which they shocked or scandalized society.

Quite often, when famous public figures have been assassinated by previously unknown persons, it was partly because that previously unknown person wanted to become a known person. And killing a famous individual was the quickest way to become a known person and a remembered person.

Most people, of course, do not resort to such horrible methods of achieving a level of “name recognition” for themselves that will endure beyond their mortal lifetime. But it is common for human beings in general, who are conscious of their mortality, to entertain in other ways the thought that was expressed by that character on CSI:

“I want something of me to be left behind so that people will speak my name, and know who I was.”

I know that physical death will eventually catch up with me. I know that it is impossible to live forever physically in this world.

But in my human desire not to be forgotten completely after I am gone from the earth, I might still try to figure out some way to fulfill the wish for at least something of me to be left behind.

So, for example, even though George Washington is now dead and gone, the country that he worked to establish – the United States of America – has been “left behind” as evidence that he once did live.

William Shakespeare passed away over 400 years ago. But whenever people read one of his plays or watch a performance of one of his plays, they remember him, since “something of him” does live on in his literary work.

Back in the year 2010, I visited the high school from which I had graduated 30 years earlier. I thought at the time that there wasn’t much evidence left, after 30 years, that I had ever been a student there.

But on one wall, mixed in together with a bunch of other class pictures spanning the decades, was a group photo of the class of 1980. And there I was, one face in the crowd of my classmates, looking out from that picture.

When I have passed away – as some of my high school classmates already have – that picture will still be there. Something of me will be left behind so that people – at least maybe a few people, at my hometown high school – will know who I was.

What are you doing in your life, right now, that is calculated to leave a mark on the world that will remain after you are physically gone? Are your various actions – in your church, in your community, or in your family – motivated only by a selfless desire to serve others according to your calling?

Or is there sometimes a wish – a prideful wish lurking behind the various things you do – that you will be remembered for these deeds? Is there sometimes an expectation – a selfish expectation connected to your actions in this world – that people in the future will speak your name, and know who you were, because of the impression that your actions left on them?

How important is it to you, that your name might be inscribed on a plaque mounted on a wall somewhere, or on a trophy in a display case at a school you once attended? Is it important to you that your name would be printed in the newspaper at some point in your life so that people someday who are doing research in that newspaper would see it, and know that you were once alive?

Because of the various little “remnants” and “relicts” of your existence in the world – which will still be able to be found here and there when you are gone – do you now feel a certain level of satisfaction that after you die, something of you will indeed be left behind, so that people will speak your name, and know who you were?

In his message of salvation to humanity, Jesus Christ does speak to the inner yearning to “live on” in some way that is found within all of us.

But Jesus does not promise merely that “something of us” – some inanimate influence or footprint – will be left behind in this world when we are no longer here. Rather, he promises that through faith in him, what will live on is our whole being, our whole human existence, our whole person.

Those in Christ who are still alive on the earth, and those in Christ who are now with the Lord in death, have all been baptized into his death and resurrection. Their destiny – our destiny – is a destiny of resurrection. We still confess, in the words of the Creed that these departed Christians also confessed:

“I believe in the resurrection of the body, and the life of the world to come.”

The saints on earth and the saints in heaven will live forever, body and soul, in glory and immortality.

Today we are observing the Festival of All Saints. The saints of God in heaven – Christians from all times and places – are indeed still alive in Christ. They trusted in Christ’s cross for their justification before God, and they now share in Christ’s victory over death and the grave.

Some of them did leave a memorable mark on the world – and on the church within the world – during their time on earth. Humanly speaking, something of them is left behind. We speak their names, and we know who they were:

Mary and Mary Magdalene, Peter and Paul, John and James, Athanasius and Ambrose, Monica and Augustine, Patrick and Boniface, Francis and Clare, Luther and Melanchthon, Chemnitz and Andreae, Walther and Krauth.

But most of the saints of God, who over the centuries lived and died in faith, are anonymous to us. We don’t speak their names. As individuals, we don’t know who they were. Practically speaking, nothing of them remains in this world any more.

But that doesn’t really matter, because all of God’s people – forgiven in Christ, and reconciled to God in Christ – have found true immortality in Christ. And God knows all of them – the famous and the obscure; those who are still remembered on the earth, and those who have been forgotten or who were never known.

While their bodies slumber in the ground, they live on. And in the resurrection to come, when their bodies are called forth from the grave, and from the elements of the earth, they will be fully and completely alive, in every way, forever.

During their earthly lifetime, the saints of God did not obsessively seek to find a human technique to “live on,” in some small way: in the memories of other people, or in the institutions and monuments of this world.

Rather, during their earthly lifetime, the resurrected Christ graciously sought them out, in his divine Word and sacraments. And by his forgiving grace, he bestowed on them a genuine immortality: an immortality that his own resurrection guarantees to all who trust in him.

The Lord knows and remembers them. And the Lord knows and remembers you, since by faith you are among them. Through the Prophet Isaiah, the Lord says these things to his people:

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine.”

“Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands.”

St. Paul writes in his First Epistle to the Corinthians that

“Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.”

And that means that God’s Son guarantees such an immortality to you, too, as you trust in him.

One of the purposes of the Lord’s death on the cross for you, was to slay within you the compulsion to waste the limited time you have on earth, in a desperate search for your own limited version of earthly immortality. In his death for your sins, he reconciled you to his Father in heaven, and thereby reintroduced you to the only true source of true eternal life.

As the resurrected Lord of his church, Jesus now bestows this eternal life on you, through the preaching of his gospel and the administration of his sacraments. As St. John’s Gospel records it, Jesus says:

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.”

Again, Jesus says:

“Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

As you are baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ, and as you abide in your baptism by daily repentance and faith, Christ continually delivers you from the false hope of earthly immortality – in little bits and pieces, according to all the various forms that this false hope may take.

And he delivers to you, in its place, the genuine hope of the resurrection. This is a real hope for a real immortality, which enlivens the church militant, still struggling on earth; and which enlivens the church triumphant, at rest in heaven.

When you partake of the sacrament of your Lord’s body and blood – his glorified and resurrected body and blood – this is a pledge and a down-payment on your own future resurrection. This is Jesus’ reassurance to you and to those who commune with you, that everyone who lives and believes in him shall never die.

St. Paul writes in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians:

“We know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”

And so now, as Paul also writes in his Epistle to the Romans,

“None of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living.”

And so we acknowledge and embrace the blessed hope – and the blessed reality – of eternal life: which is shared by all of God’s saints, on both sides of the grave.

It is a hope and a reality that exist for us already in this world, and that sustain us while we remain in this world. But it is also a hope and a reality that lift up the eyes of our faith, so that we can look with confidence and certainty beyond this world, to the next world.

And as we look, perhaps we sing:

The church on earth hath union with God the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won.
O happy ones and holy! Lord, give us grace that we
Like them, the meek and lowly, on high may dwell with thee. Amen.