Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Washed in the Blood of the Lamb...
As we gather today for a day that reaches to the heights of Easter in my book, we find ourselves also confused about what it means to be a saint. As we honor those who went before us – the giants and the anonymous – we dare to apply that term to ourselves because of the Lord’s gift and promise in baptism. Yet with that baptism comes a radical new reality that we too often treat casually.
The classic college picture shows a student with no clean clothes who picks up the dirty ones, sniffs them, looks them over, figures that they don’t stink too bad and puts them on. If you cannot see or smell the dirt, it is not there. Too often that is exactly what happens at church on Sunday morning. We look and sniff and figure we are not that dirty – at least not in comparison to some – and then we wait for God to bless us. But there is no blessing in being not too stinky. Without repentance the Gospel just does not make sense. Without conviction of our sin stained lives, we feel we need for washing. And so too many folks leave Church on Sunday morning having received little more than a pep talk to keep up the good work – being better than some and not as good as others.
In contrast to that is the classic picture of someone holding up the favorite shirt or blouse only to find it stained. You Tide to go it and spray and wash it and soak it and when the laundry is done you find the stain is still there. It did not come out despite your every effort. So you are left with something you cannot wear, something useless, something worthless. Your heart is weighed low at the loss and you live with the regret of what was ruined. That is exactly the point of repentance. We confess that the stain remained despite our efforts. We can do no more. Because of sin we have become utterly useless and worthless. Only God can help us. We cannot help ourselves.
The saints are those whom God has washed. And the miracle of this washing in the blood of Christ is that the stain we could not remove, God has made clean. The saints are whose who have come through the Lord's laundry with the surprise that the blood of Christ that flows red washes us pure and clean. We come with the lament of our failures and God comes with the power of the blood and the result is that we are washed clean. The worthless and useless have been reborn as those made worthy and made useful by God!
Saints are those who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb. All our sins are gone... All our failures erased... All our guilt lifted out... The Gospel works. The stain that we could not remove, God has taken away. This is the surprise of grace, the Word of the cross, the power of Christ at work. That is what we celebrate on this day called All Saints. The saints are those who are left with the misery of their sin, with the stain of its guilt, with the marks of its death, and with their fruitless efforts to fix it. The saints are the repentant who acknowledge that if they are to be made clean, only God will cleanse them. The saints are those in whom God has done what we could not do for ourselves – wash us clean and make us whole and useful again.
Now to be sure, our sins were real. Their stain was obvious - more obvious to others and to God than to ourselves but we knew they were there. Not the fake sins of a people who lament that our lives are not better but the real sins of a people who are ashamed of the thoughts that pass across your mind. The real sins of a people whose mouths daily speak words that need recalling. The real sins of a people who have made themselves God, who have disrespected their families, who have killed with words and deeds, who lust in their hearts if not in their limbs, who steal what is not theirs, who lie with abandon, and who covet the things, relationships, and reputations of others.
All of these real sins and their stain.... washed in the blood of the Lamb. But not only the big ones. Every little or hidden disappointment and wound. Every momentary fear or worry. Every hurt and wound. These too have been erased by God in Christ... healed by God in Christ... forgiven and forgotten by God in Christ so that we can finally let go of them as well. When God gets a hold of us stained, worthless, and useless sinners, He washes us in the blood of the Lamb. And what is left, what comes out of the laundry is only saints. The saints who have gone before and now rest from their labors – whom we recall today – and saints still struggling against temptation and trial, sin and struggle, disappointment and death – saints like you and me.
This is the Gospel. We come with our sin stained bodies and lives and with the regrets of our tried and failed efforts to fix us and what we meet in Christ is not condemnation but cleansing. We expect God to discard what is useless and worthless but instead we find the surprise of grace to forgive, heal, restore, and reclaim the lost. God does this for us not because we are worth it but simply out of His great love for us. His love for us takes us and remakes us new in the blood of the Lamb. He broke through every barrier to wear our human flesh and blood. He took what belonged to us in the suffering and death of the cross, claiming it as His own burden and love’s responsibility. He tore through the wall of death to install the door to eternal life. And then He calls us to faith and life in Christ that we might walk through that door to the future prepared for us in Christ.
We are not here for a pat on the back and an encouraging word. We are here for Him to do for us what He has promised, what only HE can do. This grace is not understandable but it is predictable. His grace is incomprehensible but we know exactly where to find it. It is where the means of grace, where the Word and Sacraments are. It does what it promises and delivers what it speaks of. It does not disappoint us.
The dead in Christ are not lost to us. They have only passed on before us. They have received by sight what we hope for by faith. They have seen the completion of what was begun in them in their baptism – even as we struggle every day to die to sin and live to righteousness in Christ that God’s work may be completed in us. This life is no picnic but eternal death is far worse than any glitch that we might experience and complain about. We are not here to have our best life now or even to have a bad life made better. We are here to die and be reborn to the life that is beyond imagination, that is ours by pledge and promise now until it is fully delivered to us in heaven, that will erase every guilty, painful, sad, and wounded memory with blessedness and contentment only God can give.
The saints in heaven cheer us on even as we shed our tears that for now they have gone ahead of us. We walk the same path toward the same goal, behind them in time but not separate from them, toward the blest reunion in heaven of those washed in the blood of the Lamb. This we acknowledge in the wonderful words of the preface... Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify Thy holy name, evermore praising Thee and singing: Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God Sabaoth! One voice, one people, one song, glimpsed here and now and soon forever as all who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb are one in His presence eternally. Amen.