The Feast of All Saints – Go To Church

“Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say” (1 Corinthians 10:14).

Saint Paul wrote those words to the Corinthian church just as he was about to begin explaining the doctrine of Altar Fellowship, which when you really get down to the nuts and bolts of it, is all about what’s happening in Holy Worship, namely, the Lord’s Supper.

This post begins as it does because Paul’s words just felt right. I wanted to urge you to flee from idolatrous things. You are sensible people. Judge for yourselves the words that follow, the first of which is a very short and easily understood statement.

Flee from idolatry.

Today, if your church is at all mindful of her history, she will be observing the Feast of All Saints. If you have plans to be somewhere else, or to do something else, change your plans. This time, instead of rearranging your schedule to accommodate idolatry, change your schedule to accommodate the forgiveness of sins delivered through Word and Sacrament. Skip that which would conflict with those divine things which give to you all that Christ has won by virtue of His life, death, and resurrection.

Go to church. Take a look in the mirror and recognize that you need to be there, not only because of your idolatrous tendencies—which is evidenced by your excuses and your absence—but also because you belong there by virtue of your baptism into the fellowship of Saints.

Know this—you won’t be alone in feeling a little uneasy if you’ve been away for a while and then suddenly reemerge. In fact, think of it this way. In the Confession of Sins right at the beginning of the Divine Service, we drop to our knees as an entire congregation. We bow our heads. We close our eyes. We confess that all of us are members of the fellowship of sinful man in our thoughts, words, and deed; by the things we’ve done and the things we’ve left undone. We confess this together, and with that, I can affirm for you as a fellow sinner that there are plenty of reasons for everyone in the room to feel uneasy. You most certainly won’t be alone. We’re all acknowledging that God knows something about us, and it isn’t pretty.

But know this, too—after all of the penitent voices speaking in solemn sadness go quiet, you will hear a solitary voice, the voice of your pastor, the one Christ has called to stand in His stead and by His command, and it will be for you as the Lord’s own voice announcing to you that you need not fear. You need not be uneasy. You need not be afraid. Through repentance and faith in His mercy, you belong here, and He wants you to know with absolute certainty that He loves you, forgives you, and will lift you to your feet to sing as much in the Introit appointed for the day: “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. In you, O LORD, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me. For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me.”

So, stop making excuses. They don’t measure up, anyway, and you know it. Stop skipping church. You already know there’s no better place to be. Hear this Gospel imperative to repent and believe in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Be moved to come and get from Christ what He has won for you—which is also the only thing that will sustain you in a world seeking to impose itself upon you day after seemingly endless day.

In and by faith, you are a Saint. Today is your day. Join your fellow believers. Be with your Redeemer at the feast!

Far Better Than a Children’s Sermon

A few years ago, during the hymn at the retiring procession, my daughter Evelyn began pushing her way past her siblings in order to join her dad in the doorway at the back of the nave to sing. It wasn’t long before Madeline and Harrison began joining her. Over time, other little ones saw this happening and began to join in, too. Of course, the first time it happened, Evelyn’s facial expressions betrayed she wasn’t too pleased. She wanted it to be an alone-time moment with her dad. But now it happens pretty much every Sunday, and not necessarily with any of my own children. And by the way, Evelyn is perfectly fine with it, too, even as some Sundays there will only be two or three children joining, and other Sundays as many as nine or ten.

No matter how many gather there in the back, I love it.

Some congregations do children sermons. I won’t comment on that particular practice, except to say that there are some pretty good reasons I’ve never subscribed to it. (By the way, to give you a sense of my feelings for all things trendy in worship, take a look at this portion of the paper I gave at our recent “The Body of Christ and the Public Square” conference this past week.) Obviously, I do subscribe to what I’ve described happening in the back of the nave at the end of every service. It’s a unique moment at the outer edge of the congregation’s worship (that is, the benediction has occurred, the actual Divine Service is over, and we’re preparing to go out into the world as God’s forgiven people), and in that moment I’m able to kneel beside the littlest of God’s lambs and give them a little extra attention as their pastor. We sing together. I show them the hymn stanzas. Sometimes I explain what certain words mean. I most certainly show my excitement for their presence in worship. We make the sign of the cross and pray together, giving thanks to the Lord for the day.

I guess I’m sharing this with you because if your child suddenly tugs on your shirt sleeve and asks to join his or her pastor in the back the nave at the end of the service, you may just want to let them. It is by no means a bother to me, that’s for sure. In fact, it’s just the opposite. It is the perfect, most appropriate time and way in a worship service for something like this to occur, and I’m glad to be able to do it.

Celebrating the Mystery

I wanted to share that I just had a phone conversation with ******, one that really made me smile. The reason it made me smile is because a few Sundays ago, he and his wife, **** caught me before the Divine Service and shared with me that they would be celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary, and with that, I was so happy for them. In fact, I suggested that they consider celebrating the wonderful event for all that it is as a gracious gift of God by renewing their vows in the Rite of Affirmation of Holy Matrimony, which can happen as a separate event on a different day, but is certainly most appropriate during a Sunday morning Divine Service. In fact, the Lutheran Service Book Agenda, which is the book we pastors rely on for the various rites and ceremonies in the church, suggests the Sunday morning Divine Service as perhaps the best option.

Well, they talked about the idea and have decided to do it! And the date they’ve selected is Sunday, June 10 (which is also Graduation Sunday, so it will be a rather full day of celebration)!

This means that the Divine Service will begin that day as usual with the tolling of the bells during the procession of the cross and assistants. But then right after the Invocation, in place of Confession and Absolution, I’ll call ***** and ***** forward to the altar where they’ll be flanked by those who stood as their best man and maid of honor, and they will participate in the brief rite. As it is when we have a baptism, the rite of Confession and Absolution will be set aside, but not because it is negotiable, but rather because the Baptismal Rite is already chock full of Law and Gospel, all of which acknowledges our sin while at the same time preaches to our hearts the forgiveness of Christ. It’s the same with the reaffirmation rite for marriage. The rite itself communicates Man’s truest nature in sin and God’s merciful love expressed through the gifts He gives. In an age of confusion, one in which the sanctity of marriage is so often lost and the institution is more and more despised, this is an opportunity for the whole congregation to acknowledge and celebrate marriage as the gift of God that our Lord intends it to be—one that serves as a direct reflection of the relationship between Christ and His bride, the Church (Ephesians 5).

As you can see, I’m excited to have this happen. My hope is that it will serve all of us well, and that perhaps it will spark an interest among other couples to do the same when the time and milestone opportunity arises.