Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. —Hebrews 12:1-2
Rev. William W. How was the pastor over a congregation of simple farmers in England. He was looking for ways to teach his flock the deep, theological meaning behind the words of Creed, referring to “the communion of saints.” He wanted a way to depict the “great cloud of witnesses” who lived “by faith,” and with whom we are connected “by faith.” (Hebrews 10-12) Rev. How searched for something to use to teach these mysteries to his congregation, but could find nothing.
So, he set to writing. And the product of his efforts are the words we sing every year on All Saints Day—just as we did this past Sunday, once again. The hymn he wrote is, “For All the Saints.”
Now, I don’t know about you, but I for one find it hard to get through singing that particular hymn. The lyrics so beautifully depict the “communion of saints,” those in the Church Militant on earth, and those who have passed on in the faith in the Church Triumphant. And, while the text does demonstrate the reality of that “great cloud of witnesses,” most importantly the version we have today points entirely to our Triune God, and the victory won in Christ—each verse ending with a triumphant “Alleluia! Alleluia!”
But, while we were commemorating the faithful departed this past Sunday; while we celebrated the life of all saints—past, present and future; while we rejoiced in the life we have by faith in Jesus; while we sang that triumphant hymn…a great evil was being plotted and carried out against fellow saints in Sutherland Springs, Texas. We came home from a joy-filled morning to news of another shooting. Our cell phones buzzed and dinged notifications of the tragedy. Our TVs and computers flashed scenes of the massacre.
We were shocked.
We were horrified.
We were saddened.
We were angry.
We may not agree with everything, theologically, with those at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs. We understand baptism and the Lord’s Supper differently. We talk about Law and Gospel in different terms, generally. We do things differently than them…and yet, we are all bound together in Christ, “by faith” and the working of the same Holy Spirit.
We are united in a mysterious, common union—the communion of saints. We are surrounded by that same “great cloud of witnesses.” We are, by faith, recipients of the same forgiveness of sins, life and salvation; the same hope of the resurrection. And so, we mourn with them—all the saints in Sutherland Springs—and we continue our common prayer, “Come soon, Lord Jesus!”
But until He does come, as we await our own time to join the Church Triumphant, we continue on this side of eternity in the Church Militant. The fight is real. The struggle is real. It is not always against people who are antagonistic against our theology and doctrine, nor against Christianity in general.
In fact, more often than not, it will be a fight against the sinful realities and relationships around us—that is the fight in which we find ourselves. Domestic disputes, abusive relationships, addictions, moral relativism, etc.—those are the skirmishes for which we arm ourselves with the armor of God (Ephesians 6). The fight is real, for all the saints and for all the sinners.
But the good news is that for all the saints, we have a hope beyond this world. For all the saints, we can take courage, knowing that the victory is one. For all the saints, we can face the struggles of this world, knowing the crown of gold and glory that awaits us. For all the saints, we can continue to fight the good fight, surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses, empowered by the Holy Spirit, living by faith, we continue on with peace and joy that the world cannot give.
And so, like the saints before us, we press on toward the victory we have in Jesus. We, by faith, throw off everything that hinders, running the race that is set before us. And in all things—especially the shocking, horrifying, saddening, angering things—we look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith!
Come soon, Lord Jesus. Amen.
For all the saints who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest. Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thou wast their rock, their fortress, and their might;
Thou, Lord, their captain in the well-fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true light. Alleluia! Alleluia!
Oh, may Thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Oh, blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine. Alleluia! Alleluia!
And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong. Alleluia! Alleluia!
The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors cometh rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blest. Alleluia! Alleluia!
But, lo, there breaks a yet more glorious day:
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of Glory passes on His way. Alleluia! Alleluia!
From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost: Alleluia! Alleluia!
Written By: Pastor Jonathan Meyer
Posted on Tue, November 7, 2017
by Stacy Yates