‘Death is broken’

Psalm 24:10
Who is the King of Glory? The Lord of Hosts, He is the King of Glory.

            Hallelujah! Just as we have sung, He is the King of Glory! Jesus Christ the Righteous! The Lord of the angelic hosts and the armies of all the saints. The one who has defeated death. And this wonderous, and strange Psalm, a song written by King David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and prayed by God’s people ever since. But what does it mean, and why has the Church decided that we pray it today as we commemorate all the saints?

            Well, this day, we celebrate and commemorate, because Jesus Christ is Lord of us all, not just you, this parish, not just our LCA, nor the Christians we know; but all Christians across this world, and also all the Christians, the saints, who have passed through death and await Christ’s return. All the saints in warfare; that’s us as we struggle against the enemies of humanity, against sin, death and the devil. And all the saints at rest; those who’ve gone before us in faith, by grace into the presence of God, to await the return of Christ, the New Creation, the Final Resurrection. This is a celebration of all God’s people. That we are one people. In Christ we are not even separated by death, for death is defeated.

            And this is what our Psalm today proclaims! This Psalm was used in the time of David every Saturday evening, for the Hebrews the beginning of the first day of the week, of what we call Sunday. Written for when they ascended with the ark of the Covenant mount Zion, the mountain Jerusalem was built on, the mount on which the Tabernacle then the Temple stood.
Singing, proclaiming, The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the whole world and those who dwell in! For it is He who founded it on the chaotic, dark, deep seas, on the shifting and flowing streams. These words echoing the Creation accounts in Genesis, in the beginning the deep waters, chaotic and empty, a picture of falling into the deep dark ocean in the midst of a storm. Yet God brings order to the chaos, He fills the earth with good things, He overcomes the sea with its chaos and darkness by setting down His kingdom and bringing light to the world. Now high above the sea, who could come to stand with Him?
For those ancient Israelites chanting this as they step toward the Temple, up atop mount Zion. Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? He who has clean hands and a pure heart. Who will stand in God’s Holy Place? Jesus the clean and pure. Yet also us, as we confess our sins and Christ Himself washes us clean in the absolution, takes away our sin and guilt, defeating it on the Cross (Ephesians 5:25-27). As we approach God, His Word and service to us here today, we don’t lift up our souls, we don’t offer ourselves to what is false, nor lie, but with a true heart by God’s grace we have confessed our sins, and according to His Promise God has forgiven you, cleansed you, purified you. This is one reason we have Confession and Absolution before we hear God speak to us, and the reason why some have it before coming to receive Christ, His Most Holy and Precious Body and Blood. For now forgiven we receive blessing from God in His Divine service to us here, we receive righteousness from God our Salvation.
And now the Israelites are at the gates of Jerusalem, The King of Glory sees these doors and demands they rise up to the honour of having Him enter. But who is this King of Glory? When Jesus entered on that donkey, who is this King riding in? When the devil deceived Judas Iscariot, did he really understand who he was dealing with? The Lord, strong and mighty, mighty in battle, The Lord of Hosts; Jesus Christ the Victor, He is the King of Glory! And the doors, they open.

            Now that last part, with the doors and the King of Glory, I wonder, as a child did you ever hurt someone, or do something wrong, and run and hide behind a door? Like a little boy who took the car keys or something. The dad comes to the door and says, ‘open it up’. The boy asks, ‘who is it?’ not wanting to open the door. The dad replies, ‘it’s the man who owns this house.’ ‘Yeah, but who’s there?’ ‘It’s your father.’ ‘Who?’ and the dad breaks the doors open.

            Everything in all creation is God Almighty’s. And yet the devil by deception sought to claim some for his own. This is the serpent, Adam and Eve, the Fall and the beginning of death. From that time on many people have died, fallen into deaths arms, into the grave and covered over with the doors of death closed and locked to them. Even many of God’s own people, King David and those ancient singing Israelites, claimed by death. This is not the way it should be! This is not what God created us for! He made Adam and Eve for life everlasting with Him, just look at their names, Adam means humanity, Eve means life. And yet after the Fall it was no longer Adam and Eve, but Adam and death. Who could fix such a thing, such a horrific thing; Who could defeat death?

            Thanks be the God through Jesus Christ our saviour! The King of Glory, The Lord, strong and mighty, mighty in battle, The Lord God of Hosts! The King of Glory, crowned on the Cross. Jesus, God incarnate, ascended Mount Zion with clean hands, never having done evil or wrong, with a pure heart; He came to that which was His own and yet His own did not recognise Him, His people, His Creation, had been gripped by fear of death. We were owned by death in the power it held over us. So the King of Glory died on the Cross. But when He came to death, to those doors that are made to divide us from our lost loved ones, when He came to those gates of Hades they did not prevail (Matthew 16:18)! Like Samson before (Judges 16:3), Christ broke those ancient doors and threw them down, He tied up the devil, that strong man (Matthew 12:29) was no match for Jesus, and Christ took back what is rightfully His, all the saints who have gone before. Although we here might not remember it, the Church still commemorates this wonderful truth in her art and her liturgy. Just as those ancient Israelites sang this Psalm on Saturday evening, still many Christians in Eastern Europe sing this Psalm in the evening of Easter Saturday; remembering and reliving Christ’s destruction of the power of death just before He rises to proclaim this victory to Mary Magdalene and His disciples.

            This Psalm proclaims the truth, and points us, as all scripture does, to Jesus and His victory, this wonderful news for you and all people. He has defeated death, He is life everlasting, and according to God’s trustworthy Word we are joined with Him, just as all the saints are for that is what a saint is, one trusting Christ. When we commune with Him, The Lord of Hosts, it is not just Jesus we are united with, it is also the great hosts of all the saints, those across this world, those who have gone before; in God’s mercy those we have lost.

            In Christ we are not cut off from those who have died, because death cannot hold us. Christ has smashed down those doors. So we may be comforted by the Gospel, Christ’s Victory over death, and thank Him for those faithful who have gone before us, look to them for examples of a life trusting Christ, and pray for mercy and strength to persevere unto the end; knowing that The Lord of Glory will return in power to set things right, to destroy all evil and death, and to raise up all the saints in renewed, glorified bodies, and that we all will live with Him forever together.

            And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now unto the end. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Twentysecond Sunday after Pentecost. All Saints Day

Matthew 5:3
Fortunate are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

            What is a saint? In our bible studies recently, going through the Acts of the Apostles; our church after Christ ascended. There’s Pentecost, the first preaching, and Stephen the first recorded saint to receive that crown and fortune of Martyrdom, dying for the faith. Fortunate are you Stephen, for yours is the kingdom of Heaven. Down the ages there have been so many faithful Christians, gentle, merciful, pure of heart, craving righteousness and making peace. Fortunate are the saints who have gone before inheriting the earth, filled with righteousness, called children of God, seeing Jesus face to face. This is our church, this is our family; you are not baptised into the LCA, you are baptised into Christ’s church.

            The same Church, Paul, Stephen’s vicious opponent, was baptised into, adopted as God’s son, then sent to strengthen and grow. The same church you were baptised into, the same church Karissa will be baptised into, that same church of those of our parish who died this last year, Lewis, John and Ruth. Fortunate are they who rest in Christ now, fortunate are the saints, people who embodied these beatitudes.

            But these beatitudes are not attitudes you must work towards. Just take hungering for righteousness. Do you decide when you are hungry or not? We can choose to eat or not, but do you choose to be hungry? No. It’s something you’ve no control over. It just happens to you, almost as if it’s given to you. Just like the Holy Spirit giving us the desire for righteousness, we receive this hunger and all these blessings from God. And all these blessings point to Jesus. The lives of the saints, the lives of all good Christian examples, point to Christ. Those people who prove, that Jesus isn’t just up there in heaven somewhere, but here in the lives of us Christians. Who is poor in spirit? Jesus emptied Himself and became obedient unto death even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8). Who mourns? Jesus wept when He saw Jerusalem, How I long to gather you as a hen her chicks (Matthew 23:37). Who is meek, powerful yet gentle? Jesus to Peter at His arrest, you think I can’t call on my Father and Him send 12 legions of angels (Matthew 26:53). Who hungers for righteousness? The boy Jesus listening and asking questions in the temple (Luke 2:46) Who is merciful? Jesus healed the silent long-bleeding woman (Matthew 9:20-22). Who is clean/pure in heart? From His purity Jesus cleanses lepers (Matthew 8:3). Who makes peace? Jesus says, peace be with you, my peace I give you (John 14:27). Who is persecuted because of righteousness? And so the Pharisees sought to kill Him (Matthew 12:14).

            Who are the saints? The last beatitude: Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Jesus. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted, not only the prophets and saints who were before you, in the same way they persecuted Christ Jesus Himself. We have been hearing since Trinity Sunday who we are in Christ’s church and what that means. Today we remember we are not alone, Christ is with us, He shines through us, His saints, by the grace given to you by the Holy Spirit through the means of grace, you are already called children of God; and in another great mystery we are united together with all the saints who have gone before, in Christ’s Holy and Beloved Bride, His Church. Remember who you are, who we are together; and remember the fortune waiting for you, peace, joy, love and life everlasting with Jesus and all the saints who have gone before.

            That peace of God, which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now and to life everlasting. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

All Saints Day

Daniel 7:18
“But the holy people of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever—yes, for ever and ever.

Receive the kingdom that will last forever, the kingdom of God. Today we are celebrating the Christian festival of All Saints from last Friday. We thank God we are in His kingdom, and for all our brothers in Christ, Christians throughout the world now and those who have gone before, all the saints at warfare and all the saints at rest. We are all in Christ, so we are all together. God gave Daniel a vision the worldly kingdoms defeated and the Holy people of the Most High to receive this everlasting kingdom, and earlier a vision of a great rock that crushed the powers of this world then grew to fill all things (Daniel 7; 2). Jesus is the fulfilment and in His ministry proclaims it, ‘The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is here, repent and believe the good news.’ (Mark 1:15) The king foretold, coming on a donkey (Zechariah 9:9), suffering, dying forever victorious over sin for your forgiveness, and rising forever victorious over death for your life. The power of this world destroyed, the power of God’s kingdom has come and the gates of hell and death will never overcome it (Matthew 16:18). This is the wonderful news for you today.

Last week we remembered the church of God throughout human history, how and why the reformation happened, but now we remember all the members of God’s kingdom and the eternal truth that together we receive this kingdom, this inheritance of the King of kings. You were marked with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). And when were you sealed, given the Spirit? As Jesus said you must be born again by water and the Spirit (John 3:5) and then Paul writing to Titus, He has saved us in mercy by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5), this is the one baptism all saints are baptised into (Ephesians 4:4-6). And so sealed in baptism in the Spirit, elsewhere joined to Christ Jesus in Holy baptism (Romans 6:3), we are members of the kingdom (Ephesians 2:19), you are a co-heir with Jesus (Romans 8:17), inheriting with Him and all our Father’s children the kingdom of God. The Holy people of the Most High will receive this everlasting kingdom.

And that kingdom of forgiveness and everlasting life is here. God is not a god of the dead but of the living (Mark 12:27), so you who are in Christ are with all others who are in Christ. It’s not something we can comprehend by our own human understanding and without a God-given vision we cannot see this truth, but today you are in the presence of God, in the name of Jesus. He is here! Just as we are joined mystically with Him, we are joined together with all who are in Him, all Christians suffering and struggling throughout this world, and with those Christians who have died before us. We remind ourselves in the prayer before communion, together with angels, archangels and all the company of heaven. This image from Revelation (4:2-11; 7:9-17) of the multitudes of martyrs and all saints praising and glorifying the Lamb who was slain, the victorious lion of Judah. Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God Almighty! We are not alone, in the wonder of Christ descending to you and me offering Himself in bread and wine we have a foretaste of the feast to come. Coming to the table in Christ with all saints, one in Christ and not separated. You are forgiven, you are freed by the truth, you, together with all the holy nation, the royal priesthood, the chosen people of God, we have received this everlasting kingdom, together. And thank God for that!

The peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now to the final revelation of His kingdom. Amen.

Joseph Graham

24th Sunday after Pentecost 4th November

All Saints reflection

Matthew 5:1-12

Fortunate are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
Fortunate are you when others despise you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

We hear blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The Kingdom of Heaven, God Almighty’s Kingdom, that belongs to all those who He has justified through Jesus; for all those saints who have gone before. It’s always a bit funny, or rather strange, talking about our Christian brothers and sisters who have died. There again is the pain of loss, of what could have been, that sorrow at sin and its final consequence; but also the comfort and joy that those who rest in Jesus, baptised into His death, will surely rise again with Him on the last day, or maybe they’ve joined up with the angels singing God’s praise in His glorious presence as Revelation shows us. We don’t know exactly what happens after a Christian dies, God only saw fit to write down that we will find our ultimate rest and peace in Jesus Christ His Son.

But I am not talking to the saints who’ve gone before, but rather to you, the saints still in the war. Fighting against temptation, against fear, despair your own sin, even the sins of those down the street. We are still in the thick of it, and just like many farmers in this drought we are called to be vigilant all the time. Are you?

Do you always reject temptation? Do you realise that you cannot live on your own? Are these beatitudes things that you need to do, God’s Law for you? Jesus was teaching His followers when He spoke these beatitudes. Fortunate/blessed/happy are the poor in spirit, the crushed and broken, those who have no self assurance, no self esteem, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; do you hunger for something when you’re full, or when you don’t have it? Rather than God’s Command these are promises for who? In the final one we hear who Jesus is talking to: Fortunate are you, Jesus says, when you are despised and persecuted for His sake, rejoice and be glad.

And you are blessed and fortunate because you have been shown your sinful failings and been washed in the saving waters of Baptism, as that saint who came before us said in his letter to the Romans (6:1-11), in baptism we are joined to Christ in His death and so too you and all the saints who have gone before, all those who knew their need and received Christ’s righteousness, all of us have suffered under sin, but will be ultimately be united together in His resurrection, on the last day.

Pastor Joseph Graham.