All Saints Day
Texts: Ephesians 2:11-22;
COMMUNION OF SAINTS: HEALING ALL DIVISION
I’d like to add one more text appropriate to our All Saints Day celebration. It brings to a close perhaps the greatest chapter in the Bible, Roman chapter 8:
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35, 37-39)
It was this time of year twenty-six years ago that I remember using this text for my first funeral as a pastor. I was on internship at Trinity in Ann Arbor (where Lori Carey is pastor now). The mother of one of our members had taken her own life, and my intern supervisors thought this was a good opportunity for my first funeral. It was a small funeral at the cemetery, on a cold gray day like a lot of the ones we’ve had around here lately. I read these words from St. Paul proclaiming that there’s nothing in this universe that can separate us from God’s love, and I hoped to say some comforting words.
It would be difficult to count how many times I’ve read that passage since then — to many, many families in need of comforting words. A couple of weeks ago we were one of those families. On this All Saints Day, we count the first of our parents to die, Ellen’s father, as among the Blessed Saints in light. And it is good to remember God’s promise that there is nothing in all of this universe that can ultimately separate from God’s love — and so there is nothing that can ultimately separate from one another either, even death.
These are words of salvation, in other words. We are saved from the powers of death so that nothing can separate us from God’s love, which is the power of life itself, and which is eternal. Now, you have probably noticed that when I speak about our Christian hopes for salvation, it may seem like I downplay life after death. I do tend to talk about a shift in our reading the New Testament hope for salvation such that our full hope is for New Creation. God is not just saving human souls for some heavenly places, but God in Jesus Christ began the process of saving the whole creation on the first Easter morning. And we are called to be part of that mission of New Creation each and every day.
On this All Saints Day, I do want to make it clear that this mission to be part of God’s New Creation does not at all erase the comfort of words like the ending of Romans 8, especially when we are facing death and loss in our own lives. The chapter of Romans 8 is great because it’s all there. It begins with life in the Spirit, talks about the wider hope for the whole creation, and then ends with these words of comfort, that there’s nothing in the whole creation which can separate us from God’s love, not even death. I take this to mean that when we die, God somehow holds us in a loving embrace of his power of life until the day of resurrection when we will receive resurrection bodies with which to enjoy the New Creation in its fullness. I don’t understand how this can happen. But I believe it because God has promised it through raising Jesus on Easter. And I cling to the promise especially when I’m faced with the death of a loved one, like I have been these past couple weeks. I know that my Redeemer lives! And because of that I know that my father-in-law is in his loving embrace of life right now, waiting for that glorious day when we will all be raised with spiritual bodies to celebrate forever God’s power of life filling the whole creation.
Nothing can separate us from the love of God. These are comforting words when we directly face the power of death in our lives. But I want us to glimpse this morning, as well, that they are comforting anytime we are faced with the power of sin to work it’s separation, too. For when I’ve used these words at funerals over the years, I’ve often used it to acknowledge the other kinds of separation that can occur because of the power of sin. Because our desire is fallen, we fall into envy and rivalry and conflict just as often as we fall in love. We experience brokenness in our relationships, things like addiction and angry abuse. And often times, even as spouses or partners, we just plain fall out of love because our desires grow apart instead of remaining one flesh. We experience divorce and broken families. It’s not just death that separates us in this life but also the power of sin. We grow apart and put up walls between us.
Let’s take this one step further. Even if we are fortunate to grow up in families with more love than envy and resentment, families that are able to stay together with a reasonable amount of love, we live in societies and cultures that promise peace and security to its families on the basis of being over against some other culture’s families. The power of sin looms in terms of racism and sexism and especially nationalism, so that we are always at war with one another — never a lasting peace that isn’t based on keeping someone as the marginalized, the outsider. We have peace in families on the basis of having an enemy, a racial outsider, or even just the poor, the left out. There is never any separation-free human communities, in which we haven’t built up any barriers of hostility or even just barriers of neglect and indifference. As long as we cannot be God the Creator’s one human family, the powers of sin will always keep us separated somehow.
But that’s why this message of salvation goes so far beyond those separations we experience because of death and loss. Jesus Christ, as God’s true Son, came into this world in order to make us all truly one human family. He took all the powers of sin and death upon himself. He lived a life among the poor, the sick, and the marginalized. He let himself be declared an outlaw, a criminal, a blasphemer of God. He let himself be brutally abused, humiliated, and executed on the cross, in order that in raising him up to new life on Easter, God might unleash his power of forgiveness and love and grace upon this whole creation. And those barriers of hostility and separation which we erect can begin tumbling down. We begin to find ways of joining our families together on a world-wide basis, so that we can begin to live as God’s one human family. In God’s love nothing can separate us ultimately from one another.
Let us celebrate once again the power of that love. And let us go out this week once again, finding meaningful ways to live as God’s family. Come to the family dinner table that we might celebrate. Amen
Paul J. Nuechterlein
Prince of Peace Lutheran, Portage, MI
November 1, 2009