In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Matthew 5:1-2 Now when [Jesus] saw the crowds, He went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to Him and He began to teach them…
Dear fellow saints, made so in Christ…As you know, in the church year calendar yesterday, November 1st was All Saints’ Day, a day when the Church of God remembers and gives thanks, as we sang to begin the service, “for all the saints who from their labors rest.”
The festival of All Saints is a day of solemn reflection and of joy. It is not a day to worship the saints as other traditions do, but rather to remember them, and especially to rejoice in the gifts God gave to them – gifts He gives to us still today – gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. All those who believe in Jesus and trust Him for forgiveness and salvation are saints, whether they are currently living or have departed this life in the faith.
When a member of the church dies and is ushered into the presence of Jesus in heaven, the congregation comes together to receive comfort and strength from God’s Holy Word; they gather at the funeral to remember God’s mercies in the lives of His people, His saints, who now rest from their labors. After the funeral they also stand at the grave to commit the earthly remains of the loved one to the ground.
And every one of those times God’s people have the privilege to know and hear again that, because of God’s mercy and love in the lives of those who died, and because He had called them to faith in His Son Jesus Christ, those gathered are able to be strengthened at the graveside with these words of this wonderful liturgical prayer: “Merciful Father and Lord of Life, with whom live the spirits of those who depart in the faith, we thank You for the blessings of body and soul that You have granted this departed brother or sister whose earthly remains we now lay to rest. Above all we rejoice at Your gracious promise to all Your servants, living and departed, that we shall rise again at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And then the loved one’s earthy remains are committed to the ground “in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life.”
Even though at funerals we are staring death in the face, we are also confident that death does not have the final say. Only Christ has the last word, and for the Christian, that last word is eternal life – not because of anything we have done, but because of Christ’s work of living for us, suffering our punishment and death for us, and rising victorious from the grave in order to give us and those who mourn that “sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life.”That is the message of today’s Gospel in the 5th chapter of Matthew; that our life and salvation and the blessings of God do not depend on us but on Christ and what He is for us. You heard the Blessing which our Lord gives in today’s Gospel. And almost immediately you try to see how you fit into our Lord’s blessing. Am I meek? Do I mourn? Am I poor in spirit? Am I merciful? Am I a peacemaker? And when we ask those questions of ourselves, there is always one more word: “enough.” Do I hunger and thirst enough? Am I pure in heart enough? Have I been persecuted enough?
But therein lies the problem, for trying to squeeze yourself into our Lord’s blessing, seeing whether and where you fit, making sure you have met the conditions to being blessed – all of that takes the blessing out of our Lord’s hands and puts it into our hands. And when we do that, it is our way of trying to control God and His blessings. For when we see how we fit the blessing, then we can go to God and demand that He bless us, tell Him how we deserve His gifts, and make sure He knows what a blessing it is for Him to bless us.
But when Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” and “Blessed are the meek,” and “Blessed are the peacemakers,” He is not laying down the conditions that you must meet to earn His blessing. He is not telling you how to act so that He can bless you. Instead, our Lord simply blesses His own and, with that blessing, describes where His blessing leads. It leads first to the cross, and then on to victory. It leads first to the grave, and then to the resurrection. It leads first to hell, and then to heaven.
That is the way our Lord Jesus works. First He suffers under Pontius Pilate, is crucified, dies, and is buried. Then He descends triumphantly into hell, rises from the dead, ascends into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. First He endures the temptations and assaults of the devil which culminates in Satan’s and the world’s apparent victory over the Son of God. But then, in the belly of the grave, our Lord smashes the jaws of death. In His death He destroys death. By being crushed He crushes the serpent’s head fulfilling the prophetic message of Genesis 3:15. And then He reigns as King and Lord not by defeating the enemy but by being defeated.
That is the way our Lord works. That is the direction the blessing He is takes. For there can be no Easter Sunday until He has first been through Good Friday. There can be no salvation by His blood until He has first been immersed in His own blood.
Yet at the same time, in His suffering and death, in His bloody cross, in the midst of the hatred and scorn and persecution He must endure, Jesus is merciful. Jesus is pure in heart. Jesus is the peacemaker. Jesus was oppressed and afflicted, and yet He opened not His mouth except to say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus does not defend Himself, but trusts His Father to be His defense. And to those who curse Him and laugh Him to scorn, He answers only with more kindness and more blessing.
That is also the way our Lord’s blessing goes. Not an “eye for an eye,” but “turn the other cheek.” Not “love your neighbor and hate your enemy,” but “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use and persecute you.”
So, forgive as you have been forgiven. And be merciful just as Your heavenly Father is merciful, especially when the blessing leads you to being cursed and persecuted. For you are not trying to live up to the Lord’s blessing by being better than others. Since you are already blessed, and since that blessing leads you to be hated and spoken against just as our Lord was, you then simply get to speak back the blessing, the mercy, the love, the kindness that our Lord has already spoken to you. For what is true of our Lord who Himself is the Blessed One, also is true of those whom He blesses.
If you need an example of this – someone to look to so you can see how the Lord’s blessing lives – then look to the saints. Let those who endured the cross of Christ be your example. Let Isaiah and Jeremiah, Stephen and Paul be your example. They show the direction the Lord’s blessing goes: first to death, then to life; first to martyrdom, then to the crown of righteousness. The words of Revelation describe these people: “these are they who have come out of the great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:14).
Let the holy and saintly men and women of faith be your example so that you can see the way our Lord’s blessing will shape and form you. But also hang onto and live from and cling to our Blessed Lord and the blessing He speaks. For only then can you “rejoice and be exceedingly glad,” since He alone gives you the great heavenly reward which He has obtained for you.
And come to His table this day to receive His very body and blood – the crucified and resurrected body of Christ – who places Himself into your dying body in order to give you that sure and certain hope of the resurrection.
Remember too what a special and wonderful place it is as you come to His table. For here, better than anyplace else on earth, is where heaven and earth meet. Do you want to feel close to Jesus? And do you want to feel close to those who have gone before you in the faith? Here is where you are never closer to our Lord Jesus.
For we are never closer to our Lord than when He comes physically to us in His body and blood. And know this – this same Lord Jesus Christ whom you receive today is the same Lord Jesus before whom all the “angels and archangels and all the company of heaven” are worshipping as we speak. In the Lord’s Supper we are receiving the same Jesus that they are worshipping in heaven. Rejoice and be glad, for Jesus comes to you to forgive you and to strengthen you until you attain to “the life of the world to come.”
In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit.