DEAR CHURCH
BE FILLED WITH HOPE

by Pastor Martha-Jean Fitch
November 5, 2017
TEXT: Isaiah 25:6-9, Rev. 19:9 and Rev. 21:1-7

This sermon begins with a video by the Worship Design Studio called - Fall Back Saints. It can be seen on YouTube at: https://youtu.be/DTuDa02yDQM. The words on the screen were these:

Today we fall back.

Not just our clocks to usher in the darker days of winter.

But we fall back upon our memories of loved ones gone

from this realm.

We fall back upon the emptiness that we still sometimes

feel at their absence.

We fall back upon our gratefulness that such a cloud of

witnesses paved the way for us.

We fall back upon our faith that just as the Holy walked with them,

so too the Holy walks with us.

And today let us also fall back into the arms of loved ones still with us.

And remember to say how much they mean to us.

And today let us also fall back into the ever-present arms of God.

And remember to say, "Thank You, thank You, thank You!"

PRAYER

F. B. Meyer was a well-known Baptist minister from England. One time as he was traveling on a train, a very sad-looking woman recognized him. As they got into a conversation, she found herself opening up to him and sharing her pain and grief. For years she had cared for a physically disabled daughter who brought great joy to her life. She made tea for her each morning, then left for work, knowing that in the evening the daughter would be there when she arrived home. But the daughter had died, and the grieving mother was alone and miserable. Home was not "home" anymore. Meyer listened and then gave her some wise counsel. "When you get home and put the key in the door, say aloud, 'Jesus, I know You are here!' and be ready to greet Him directly when you open the door. And as you light the fire tell Him what has happened during the day; if anybody has been kind, tell Him; if anybody has been unkind, tell Him, just as you would have told your daughter. At night stretch out your hand in the darkness and say, 'Jesus, I know You are here!'" Some months later, Meyer was back in that neighborhood and met the woman again, but he did not recognize her. Her face radiated joy instead of announcing misery. "I did as you told me," she said, "and it has made all the difference in my life, and now I feel I know Him."1

What a difference it makes when we fall into the arms of Jesus. He is always there and He will carry us and lead us every step of our journey in life - in those difficult times as well as those carefree, joyful times of life. He brings light to our darkness and peace to our despair and an everlasting hope through the resurrection of Jesus!

All throughout Scripture, we are assured of the incredible promises from God that make a huge difference in our lives - promises of His steadfast love and amazing grace - and the incredible gift of His presence with us ALWAYS!

The good news is that nothing can separate us from His love - not even death itself! Jesus died on the cross and conquered death! Death lost its grip on us! And so, Jesus promised, in John 14, "Because I live, you will live also." Jesus' message to us is clear - we have a hope in heaven. When we trust Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we can have the hope and the assurance that we will go to heaven, when we die. And we can have the hope and assurance that our loved ones who have gone on before us are gathered there in the presence of Jesus in their heavenly home that Jesus prepared for them.

And what will heaven look like? All of us have our speculations - our hopes and dreams. None of us know exactly what it will be like - but we do get some hints from Scripture. Prophets in the Old Testament have given us some clues, for example telling us it will be a peaceful place, where the wolf will lay down with the lamb. And God will be there!

Isaiah 25:6-8 prophesies that when the Messiah comes - all people of the world will gather together, and evil will be overthrown and there will be great joy of eternity with God. Isaiah says:

6In Jerusalem, the LORD of Heaven's Armies

will spread a wonderful feast for all the people of the world.

It will be a delicious banquet with clear, well-aged wine and choice meat.

7 There he will remove the cloud of gloom,

the shadow of death that hangs over the earth.

8 He will swallow up death forever! The Sovereign LORD will wipe away all tears. He will remove forever all insults and mockery against his land and people. The LORD has spoken!

The great feast described here in Isaiah was a theme that was repeated throughout Jesus' parables and His teachings to the apostles. For example, Jesus told about the Parable of the Great Banquet, where all would be invited. And in the Parable of Ten Virgins that shares when the Bridegroom came (the Messiah) - those who were ready went in with Him to a great marriage feast. And then, sitting at the table of the Last Supper, Jesus says to His disciples that they will one day eat and drink at His table in His kingdom (Luke 22:29-30).

This theme is again picked up in the last book of the Bible when John describes the glorious day when saints are gathered at the marriage supper of the Lamb in heaven Follow along with me as I read Revelation 19:7-9.

6-8 And then I heard a sound like the voices of a vast crowd, the roar of a great waterfall and the rolling of heavy thunder, and they were saying, "Alleluia! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, has come into his kingdom! Let us rejoice, let us be glad with all our hearts. Let us give him the glory, for the wedding-day of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. She may be seen dressed in linen, gleaming and spotless-for such linen is the righteous living of the saints!"

9 Then he said to me, "Write this down: Happy are those who are invited to the wedding-feast of the Lamb!" Then he added, "These are true words of God."

Can you see it - that image of the saints, who've gone before us, dressed in white linen and praising God - at the marriage supper of the Lamb.

One more picture of heaven, seen in Revelation 21 -describes what eternity will look like… words that are really a fulfillment of the prophecy we read in Isaiah. These words give me great hope in what heaven must be like. Listen for the promises of hope and peace mentioned in Rev. 21:1-4

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

3 I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, "Look, God's home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain.

All these things are gone forever."

No more death or sorrow or crying or pain - and God is with them as they enjoy the marriage supper of the Lamb! What a wonderful picture of heaven - what a great promise of hope!

When Jesus was in the upper room with His disciples, He gave them a meal - a meal of bread and wine - a meal that would have a past, present and future tense. A meal to help them remember what Jesus did in sacrificing His life for us. This meal would also be a celebration of the living presence of the Risen Christ. But the meal also has a future tense to it - as we anticipate being in heaven with Jesus at the marriage supper of the Lamb.

I imagine that almost all of us have been to wedding dinner receptions where you arrive, and are greeted by the host who tells you what table you are supposed to sit at…and then, as you arrive at the table, you look to find the place card that has your name on it. That's your place to sit. The hosts of the reception had made all the preparations for your place at the table. You felt welcomed and included.

Well, just imagine. One day, as we arrive in heaven, we will be greeted and welcomed home by our Risen Lord. And then He will take us by the hand and bring us to His table - a table that is a huge long table with all the saints, sitting around it. And soon you will see a spot at the table with a place card - and there your name is on it. Jesus has made all the preparations for you to be with Him in heaven; He had saved that spot with your name on it at His table.

And I imagine, sitting beside us at the table, will be those loved ones who died before we did. We haven't seen them in a while, but they will be there. Maybe it is a mother or a father, a spouse or a child - people whom you used to have many family meals with but have been gone for years. They will be there! Imagine enjoying a meal with them in the kingdom of heaven! And then, imagine, eating at the table with the disciples or people like Moses and Elijah! Oh, that will be glory, when we all get to heaven. What a day of rejoicing that will be!

Today we celebrate All Saint's Day - a day to celebrate that hope we have in Jesus - that hope we have in heaven. We come today to remember the saints who have died and are alive with Him in heaven. And we celebrate the connection we have with them as the communion of saints.

The phrase "the communion of saints" isn't one that we talk about very much. But it is a statement of belief that is in some of the earliest Christian creeds, like the Apostle's Creed. It describes the "mystic sweet communion" that we as saints below share with those who have gone before us. You see, we believe that all believers who are a part of the body of Christ are saints - both those living on earth as well as those living in heaven. The New Testament describes saints as baptized believers in a local congregation - like the saints living in Corinth or Ephesus. The New Testament also talks about a "great cloud of witnesses", made up of men and women of faith who have gone on before us that surround us as we walk the path of faith. Together, Christians on earth and Christians in heaven, make up the communion of saints. It is said that all the saints of God in heaven are just as alive as you and I and we are woven together in a tight-knit communion.2

In a book, written by a Lutheran pastor by the name of Berthold Von Schenk called "The Presence - An Approach to the Holy Communion" - he describes this communion of saints. He shares how difficult it can be to grieve the loss of loved ones. We miss their presence and many hours are filled with loneliness and agonizing doubt.

He goes on to say: "By ourselves we can never make this adjustment. We must come to a sense of the continuing presence of our loved ones … and we can do this if we realize the presence of our living Lord. As we seek and find our risen Lord we shall find our dear departed. They are with Him, and we find the reality of their continued life through Him. The Saints are a part of the Church. We worship with them. They worship the risen Christ face to face … while we worship the same risen Christ under the veil of bread and wine at the altar."2

You see there is a connection between the communion of saints - those living and in heaven - and it is at the table of our Lord. Just as the saints above share in the marriage supper of the Lamb, we share in the breaking of the bread and the cup - remembering His sacrifice, celebrating His resurrection and presence with us now - and anticipating His return - when we will sit down with Him at His table in heaven.

Pastor Von Schenk describes it this way: "What we must always remember when we go to the Lord's Supper is that we commune with Christ … and wherever Christ is, there is heaven. And this communion includes ALL THE SAINTS who have died and risen in Christ: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Ruth, Peter, Paul, our grandparents and great-grandparents - perhaps even our spouses or our children - and all the saints now living all over the world … and those still to come. After someone dies, it's good to think of them at the Lord's Supper, knowing that as WE commune here below at the table of the Lamb and sing His songs … WE JOIN THEM … since they are simultaneously communing at the marriage feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom that knows no end, and singing the songs of the Lamb with angels and archangels … praising Him for His victory over death and the grave FOR US and FOR OUR SALVATION.3

What a wonderful hope and promise! What comfort and peace to know we are connected with the saints above and the saints below - all believers, united in Christ. What a difference that can make in our living - and in our dying.

Some of you might remember a movie called "Places in the Heart" in which Sally Fields won an Oscar for playing the lead. Set in the 1930's in rural Waxahachie, Texas, Places in the Heart is about a widow and her struggle to get through hard times. There are times of grief and sorrow - times of the depression and the discrimination of the Ku Klux Klan… recovery from a tornado and reconciliation between people of a variety of backgrounds.

The movie ends with a scene of a worship service with the pews sparsely filled. You hear the pastor read the Scripture from I Corinthians 13 and then the choir then stands and begins to sing that old hymn "In the Garden" - that celebrates the risen Christ walking with the believer in the garden tomb. And then over the hymn, you hear the pastor saying those well-known words: "Jesus took the bread and He broke it and gave it to them." The camera then focuses on the worshipers passing communion, only now the pews are completely full. Sally Field is surrounded by people from her life. Some are alive and join her in worship. Some in the scene have moved out of town. Black and white sit together - as well as estranged couples who have reconciled. There were even folks who have passed away, sitting there in the pews, looking just like they did when they were alive. They all sit together, side by side, and participate in the passing of the bread and the cup. Everyone being there is an unexpected surprise - especially when the widow passes the tray to her deceased husband, who then passes it to the young black man who had accidently killed him at the beginning of the movie. And together they say, "the peace of God" as they partake. Ah - this is the communion of saints portrayed so well. All the saints are gathered at the table. All celebrating the incredible grace of our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. All having a place in God's heart.

Cling to that hope we have in Jesus! Know that we have a great hope in heaven. And know that at the Lord's Supper, we have that glimpse of eternity, where heaven and earth meet - the people of the church on earth with the saints and angels of heaven - as Jesus meets us in the bread and the wine. Thanks be to God!

RESOURCES

1Dale Pilgrim, "Tears of God, Hope of Heaven". www.sermoncentral.org

2Justin Smith, "All Saints Day Sermon".

http://www.goodshepherdnewfairfield.org/all-saints-day-sermon/

3IBID.