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Already, But Not Yet

November 04, 2018
By Rev. Peter Heckert

 

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The basis for our meditation, while touching on all our texts, is from our Epistle lesson, especially where John writes, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends …

Disney released an animated movie a year or so ago called “Coco.” It’s a tale revolving around the real-life Mexican holiday, Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. It’s a three-day fiesta in which family members gather together to offer prayers for and remembrances of their loved ones who have passed away, sometimes extending back several generations. There is also the belief that the souls of those family members can return to earth during the holiday to interact with the living as long as they are remembered. For those who are remembered by their loved ones, not only do they come back for this holiday, but for the rest of the year, they get to stay in the perpetual fiesta of the Land of the Dead, a place akin to our idea of heaven!

Its faulty theology notwithstanding, it is a sweet movie that, I admit, moved me to tears toward the end. However, there is a concept serving as the prime conflict in the movie that is quite unsettling: for those who are not remembered by their families and friends, those who are forgotten … they fade away … into nothingness, oblivion. You see why this eschatology is so disquieting: if our remaining in paradise is dependent upon the remembrances of our loved ones, there will inevitably come a time when we all fade away! The further back you go, the less we know about people. Ask average Joe what he remembers about Charlemagne, or Rehoboam, or Nebkaure Khaty IV – probably next to nothing, and these are all royalty! If this is the way things work, there’s no such thing as eternity.

But this is the secular world’s eschatology. You’ll hear sayings like, “As long as we remember them, they’re never really gone,” or “They’re gone – but not forgotten.” That’s fine for those who have no faith, I suppose, but frankly, the Church has a different, better, more refreshing and comforting understanding of the status of her dead. All who have died in Christ are, in fact, still alive in Christ, remembered or not, and in Him, we have communion with these same saints from all time and space! Every time we gather around the font, pulpit, and altar, heaven comes down to earth. Through His powerful Word and in His precious Sacrament, you and I are in contact, communion, with all Christians who are dead and gone. They are alive and well, praising God and glorifying His holy name as they gaze upon the King of kings and Lord of lords upon His throne!

Every year on this Festival of All Saints, we remember those saints whose eyes have been closed in death during the prior year. We don’t remember them to keep their place at the Lamb’s feast table, but rather, we are reminded of our everlasting fellowship with them. Further, it is our delight to consider that our future destination is their present dwelling place. We feebly struggle, as they in glory shine, and yet in Christ we remain forever one. We are not just the motley crew that we can see with our eyes gathered here for worship; we are also the vast multitude that no man can number who stand around the throne of God and of the Lamb, those dressed in white robes and calling out their eternal praises: Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

Jesus is their focus, as He is ours, the One who, in our Gospel reading, spoke directly of that great host of His children! "Blessed are the pure in heart," we heard Him say, “for they shall see God.” This is a promise you can stake your life on, for you have the Word of Jesus on it. This is His solemn oath and promise – those who are pure in heart are those who have faith in Him, and they themselves shall see God with their very own eyes, no ifs, ands, or buts.

The “Beatitudes,” we call those verses – that’s Latin for blessings because that’s what they are. Blessings. Promises. Jesus’s words to the faithful that are performative, doing what they say they do – bestowing gifts and providing the benefit and intervention of God Himself. Jesus is pronouncing solemn blessings upon His beloved Church – then and there, here and now, for all time and all eternity. He says what He means and He means what He says, “Blessed are you poor in spirit, for yours is the Kingdom of heaven.”

That, right there, is why we are counted among the saints. That’s why we are among those white-robed singers proclaiming the praises of God and of the Lamb. This is why John says what he does in his epistle, “Beloved, we are God’s children now.” Not because of anything you are or anything you have in yourself. We are all poor before Almighty God. We have empty pockets when it comes to the good things we ought to do, and we are as guilty as sin when it comes to the bad things we ought not to have done. Poor, that’s for sure, “poor, miserable sinners.” Having nothing to commend us before God, we are poor as church mice as far as He is concerned.

But Jesus reverses that. Though He was rich, yet for our sakes, He became poor so that you through His poverty might become rich. Though He had all majesty and power as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, He willingly laid aside all that divine glory and emptied Himself, taking on the form of a servant, made in the likeness of men. He humbled Himself and became obedient all the way to death, even death on a cross – all in order “that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” In Baptism, God claimed you as His own, delivered to you the work that Jesus won for us in His horrific and despicable death. In the waters of that blessed deluge, He bestows upon all who believe in Him the unimaginable wealth of His eternal life. Not just in the sweet by and by, or the beautiful isle of somewhere, but already here and now. “Blessed are you poor in spirit,” says He. “Yours is the Kingdom of heaven.”

Heaven is not just our future destination. By God’s grace, it is already our present possession. The Church is God’s eternal kingdom, unbounded by political borders, unshackled from the limitations of the clock and calendar. True, we do not yet see the full dimension of what it will be like when faith gives way to sight, and sorrow and sighing flee away, when death shall die and God’s own hand will wipe away all tears from every eye. That we haven’t yet experienced, but this blest festival day is a foretaste of that glorious Day which we await in sure and confident hope! Already, but not yet!

Beloved, even though what we will be has not yet appeared, we already are God’s children now. One day when He appears, we shall be like Him. Then no longer will we see Him as only in a mirror dimly! One blessed Day soon, in our risen flesh, we and all those who have gone before us shall see Him as He is! These very eyes, and the eyes of the saints that have been closed in death, shall behold Him face to face! Sweet is the calm of paradise the blest! No wonder, then, we pray to God that even in these grey and latter days there still may be those whose life is praise, each life a high doxology unto the Holy Trinity, the focus of all His saints!

+ In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. + Amen.

Tags: 1 John 3:1-3