See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 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. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. 1 John 3:1-3 (ESV)
The celebration of All Saints’ Day traditionally is a somber holiday in which we remember the saints (meaning all who lived and died in Christ) who have gone before us. On Ash Wednesday we are made aware of our mortality as we remember that we are dust and will return to dust. (Genesis 3:19) On Good Friday we are reminded of our mortality again as we remember Jesus sacrificing Himself, taking the punishment of a cruel death and paying the penalty we deserve for our sins in our place. As Jesus breathed His last and gave up His Spirit, the curtain of the Holy of Holies in the Temple where the Presence of God lived was torn open as salvation and redemption was bought and paid for all, once and for all.
The celebration of All Saints’ should make us aware of our own temporary existence and mortality but this remembrance should also point us to the joy that those who have gone before us are already living in. We are in Christ now, but we are still living with one foot in the “not yet,” in hope of the promise to come. While we are on this earth we will always grieve those who we loved, but we can take comfort in knowing that they have stepped over into the Kingdom of God in all its fullness. We can take confidence and radiant hope in the knowledge that death is not the end for those who are in Christ.
While the Book of Revelation is apocryphal literature and it uses great imagery and allegory, it also gives us a vision of the new world to come in which we will be with our fellow saints again, but with an important distinction. We will be made holy and whole and clean, without sickness, sin or death, in the presence of God forever. The simul Justus et peccator (saint and sinner at the same time, as we are now) will finally be made a pure saint.
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!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “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.
“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.” Revelation 7:9-17 (ESV)
Even though our hearts hurt when we think of those who have gone before us in Christ, we thank God for their witness and for the legacy they have given us. Death is not the end and we are not in the same position of despair as people who do not know of hope in Christ. As the apostle Paul teaches:
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (ESV)
It’s easy to be discouraged in this life. The older we get, we are more touched by the deaths of our loved ones and it is easy to get mired in grief and longing for them. There is no shame in grief. Yet we have confidence that those who have lived and died in Christ are already in the joy of eternal life with Him. We thank God for their witness and example, and we take great hope and joy in knowing that death is not the end. We will be with Jesus and we will be together again.