In these last four years we have seen trials and troubles, drought, fire and flood; pandemic; death and for some family break up. Life in this world is hard. Imagine being driven out of your country, fleeing an army coming to slaughter you; being in a city as walls and buildings collapse around you; being rejected by your family and friends, being locked away not allowed outside. Now, I’m not talking about fleeing Prussia or Ethiopia, or the war in Ukraine, or disownment because of conversion, or even those Covid lockdowns; rather the Exodus from Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea, Rahab seeing her corrupt city’s walls fall around her, David rejected by his people for a time, and Samson imprisoned. There is nothing new under the sun. God’s people have always struggled since our first failure in Adam and Eve when pain, tears and death came into the world. And yet God came to help, He comes to save.
The saints of old suffered because of their own sins and the sins of others. In the face of that sin, in the face of death, and before the face of the devil; they suffered, yet God provided for them. The Lord God gave them strength! “Through faith they conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; they shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; their weakness was turned to strength; and they became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again.” You know these saints, Joshua, Josiah, David, Daniel, Elijah and Elisha. You know what God has done through them and for them in their struggles, the same struggles you now face.
And yet God did not take their suffering away. “There were those who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawn in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and ill-treated – the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.” They suffered sickness, cancer, rejection and ridicule even by their own family, their own children. “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God has planned something better for us so that only together with us they would be made perfect.” That we would be made perfect in Jesus, by His suffering, death and His resurrection and ascension.
Before Christ, the Old Testament saints were longing for the reconciliation to come, yet they could not see or understand what God was doing. Now with Christ, in the Year of our Lord 2022, we know Jesus our Saviour and Lord. We know what He has done for us and all people, all His Creation. United in Him, we join His suffering, His joy, His peace, and His faithfulness; yet still often we cannot see what God has done. And so Lewis, John, Ruth, Bev, Geoff, Joy, Vee, and Bill also joined Christ in His suffering and death and in His Resurrection being made children of God; yet still not seeing God’s promises fully come to pass.
We have commended them into God’s care, put in a eulogy, a good word, for them because of their faith. Yet God has planned something better for us all, that all together at the end of this world we will not just see the fulfilment of His wonderful promises, peace, joy and love everlasting; not just see Jesus; not just see each other; but also hold each other, and dwell with each other forever. This is the Resurrection when this fallen world finally passes away with all brokenness, corruption, pain and death passing away with it. When all those things that separate us, sin, hurt, death, and not enough hours in the day, when all these things that separate us pass away and we dwell together, with all the saints, with Jesus the founder and completer of our faith.
He is the one who began the good work in you, and He is the one who completes it. He is the one who sends the Holy Spirit from the Father to guide you and draw you to His gifts. He is the one into whom you were baptised, united with Him in His life, death and resurrection. And He is the one who gathers the souls of those who fall asleep in faith, bringing them with Him wherever He goes. And finally He is the one who will raise the dead, the faithful to continue in His love together forever, and those who reject to continue in their rejection and hatred of Him forever. Now we see as through a dirty glass, but then we will see the truth clearly (1 Corinthians 13:12); that as we are in Christ, you are surrounded by all these saints whose souls rest in Jesus, resting in peace as we together await the consummation of God’s promises. You are today surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, even if we cannot yet see; these who kept the faith despite all that the world and that pathetic devil threw at them. Who through many of the same sufferings you face, by the strength the same Spirit provides, stood against the same enemies, and now stand together with Christ in Victory.
This is our goal, to stand with them in the Resurrection, in Christ. So throw off all the things that hinder you and the sin that so easily entangles and run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing your eyes on the goal in everything you do; your focus on Jesus the author and perfector of your faith, on Jesus who began and completes your salvation and the salvation of all the saints.
So together with this great cloud of witnesses, the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now and to life everlasting. Amen.