This morning we name the names of our dead, those people of our St. Peter’s family who have died since last All Saints Day. We name them here, together, before the Lord…remembering as well the many, many others whose faces we see no more in this life, but whose memory remains very dear to us!
Growing up in our ‘Iowegian’ congregation, every funeral was an All Saints observance. Without fail a soloist would sing, “Den store hvite flokk, å se som tusen berge full av sne…” “Behold the host arrayed in white, like thousand snow-clad mountains bright…” And in our little congregation of ordinarily stoic Norwegian-Americans, there would hardly be a dry eye in the house, because everyone remembered…everyone remembered someone.
And when I was a boy there were still folks in that congregation who remembered life on the far side of the sea, in the land of fjords and the midnight sun…and those they had left behind to come to this land of opportunity. And for a moment, during the singing of that old hymn, the distance between here and there, between the living and the departed, the distance became at once so very great, and yet…so very near.
This is what All Saints Day brings us. All Saints Day brings us to face death honestly, without pretence, and in good courage. Oh, but when life is supposed to have a point and meaning and worth…it is hard to think of such things when we must look into a grave. And these days we tend to skip over the dying, to rush to the hereafter.
But you cannot face death honestly and fully unless you have faced that death on the cross. Three men are crucified; Jesus in the center and two others, one on each side. One of the two acknowledged the truth: “We have this coming, but He is innocent.” Jesus was different from them both, yet there He was, dying on that center cross. “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
That is the ultimate death…forsaken by God. The death we define as no more brain waves, heartbeat, or breath becomes the heavier not simply because it nullifies any worth or meaning or happiness we may have known or hoped for in life. The weight of death becomes all the heavier because we are held accountable for our lives.
Yet the more we insist about the value of our own life and the lives of others, the more there is uncertainty about that value, because we do not do the final judging. Who does? You say, “God”? Our text says, “God and the Lamb.” Both together. There is only one throne in St. John’s vision, the throne of God and the Lamb.
Because if God alone is our Judge…well, be afraid, be very afraid. As the Scriptures reveal from Genesis to Revelation, God says, “Vengeance is Mine; I will repay.” The Scriptures say “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” They say, “Our God is a consuming fire.” No wonder, then, that at death, we, like Adam and Eve in the Garden, go clutching for whatever fig leaf of reputation we can find to cover the departed and our own selves; when facing that final curtain we croak out a chorus of “My Way”! “He was always so good!” “She was always so kind.” Even though we know very well…it wasn’t “always.”
But the wonder of St. John’s vision, the glory of the Gospel in this vision, is that God alone is not our judge. It is God and the Lamb upon that throne of judgment. For us—baptized into Christ, clothed with Him like Norway’s rugged fjords, “like thousand snow-clad mountains bright”—for us it is always “God and the Lamb”!
But we know this, because we have faced that death of the cross. When Jesus cries, “My God, My God…” God and the Lamb are pulled apart! Indeed they are, because on the cross the Lamb is where we are, in the place of sinners, condemned before the vengeful gaze of that Judge who is a consuming fire. Anyone who faces death “My Way” is lost, judged, consumed. But on the cross Jesus wraps up each one of our own “My Ways”, the good and the damnable, He wraps it all up together with His Way, in His life.
Forsaken as chief of sinners on the cross by God the consuming Judge, Jesus does not let go of God as Father…“Into Your hands,” He says. But neither does He let go of us to save Himself…“Today you shall be with Me.”
So the crucified One becomes the Lamb who is slain. And in the Resurrection, He becomes the risen One who sits upon the throne of God and the Lamb. And from that throne, God is for us; God for us as the Lamb is for us. God is now no other than as He is in the Lamb. Which means no more for us the fearful Judge alone. God is now for us, the crucified and risen Lamb who shelters us with His presence, who leads us to springs of living water, who wipes every tear from our eyes.
And that is how we read the names this morning, that is how we remember the many we have known who are no more in this life…all these names are remembered and spoken in the presence of the Lamb who was slain, in Him who answered our sins upon the cross. “…for tronen stå med kroner på i himlens prestedrakt.” He is our white robe. He is our crown of righteousness. He is our priestly vestment of life and resurrection.
And knowing this…we are free. We are free to mourn these names today without pretense about who they were or who we are; free to fully and truthfully mourn them, free to shed the tears that Jesus shares with us when He says, “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
For we have been buried with Christ by baptism into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, jus so, we also shall live His new life. We have died with Christ, and our life is now hidden with Him in God. And when Christ, who is our life, appears, then we shall appear with Him. We shall be like Him!
Oh…blessed, then, are the dead who die in the Lord. And blessed are you! Because they and you stand before the throne of God and the Lamb…a great host arrayed in white, ja “som tusen berge full av sne,” like thousand snow-clad mountains bright. Rejoice and be glad!