Often hymns both old and new speak of going to heaven when you die as though heaven is our final home. Scripture speaks of something else though. It speaks of our life being a seed that, when planted in the ground, waits patiently for the day when it will rise again.
Hello everyone and Welcome to episode #16 of the Anno Domini Podcast. A podcast dedicated to the supremacy of Christ over all things including our days, weeks, and months.
Join me as we explore how Christ is revealed through the cyclical life of the church calendar year. We’ll discover how this calendar once structured culture and how it can again. We’ll also discuss practical ways to observe and celebrate these holy days in our quest to glorify God and live the good life in the midst of all good He has given us.
The James Jordan article I reference: http://www.biblicalhorizons.com/open-book/no-28-concerning-halloween/
It has been over 5 months since our last episode of the Anno Domini podcast. During those 5 months, we have been observing the period of the Church calendar known as Ordinary time. We are approaching the end of this period with the coming celebration of Reformation Day and All Saints Day. On these days, we celebrate the life of the church as it has grown in maturity through its reformation as well as the lives of those saints that have gone on to glory from Abel to Zachariah and from Stephan to the present.
The calendar can be divided roughly into two halves. The first half, beginning at Advent, marks the life of Christ and includes celebrations such as Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Pentecost, etc. During the first half of the church year we celebrate the life of Christ. This is a season of special days and feasts: a festal or festive time. The second half of the church year is marked by the Ordinal numbers of weeks going back to Pentecost. Ordinal numbers signify a position relative to something else. Therefore, Last Sunday, October 25th, was the 21st Sunday after Pentecost. This ordinary time is certainly not mundane or boring, or forgettable, but simply isn’t marked by any feasts. Instead, each Lord’s Day is marked with it’s ordinal position relative to Pentecost. This is important because while the first half of the Church year marks the life of Christ, the second half marks the work of the Spirit, given at Pentecost. This is the work of the Spirit as He brings about transformation through the ministry of the Church during Ordinary time. Extraordinary things can happen during Ordinary time which we will soon see.
This leads us into the two holidays which mark the beginning of the end of Ordinary time; Reformation Day on October 31st and All Saints Day on November 1st.
Let’s start with Reformation Day, this actually was liturgically observed last Sunday October 25th. If you attend a reformed church, it is likely they referred to it as Reformation Sunday. Often, reformed churches take the entire month of October to mark the reformation but the actual day on the calendar is this Saturday the 31st. On Reformation Day, we celebrate the glorious Protestant Reformation that is officially marked as starting on October 31st, 1517. This is the day in history, in the midst of Ordinary time, that Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the castle church door in (vit-en-berg) Wittenberg Germany. Within this document, Luther took an extraordinary step of faith by calling out the massive corruption within the catholic church at the time. Luther specifically took issue with the church selling indulgences. Believers were promised that buy indulgences would get their loved ones out of purgatory and into heaven. This of course is high-handed, oppressive, and shameless wickedness and Luther’s extraordinary act of courage began in earnest a protest that had been forming in the catholic church for over a century.
The reformation brought to the world the biblical truth that our own merit plays no role in our salvation. The idea of meritorious work being essential to salvation was and unfortunately is still common within the Roman Catholic church. Alternatively, clear biblical teaching places grace as the primary means by which salvation is applied. Good works are seen as a result of salvation; not a prerequisite for salvation. However clear biblical teaching was not available at the time as most were not allowed to have access to scripture. Often the mass or church service was performed in Latin so the people were not allowed to either read or understand the Word of God. This all changed when the Reformation spread and the people were given back the Word of God to read, and hear, and understand in their own language.
Many of us are familiar with this story but it is important to note it didn’t come about overnight. Martin Luther is certainly the most famous name associated with the Reformation but their were many that came before him who built much of the foundation upon which Luther eventually understood as salvation by grace alone through faith alone by Christ alone. More on that in a moment.
The second holiday we mark this weekend is All Saints Day. This is a day dedicated to giving thanks for the life and death and most importantly the coming resurrection of all those Saint’s who are claimed by and with Jesus in glory. It is a time known as Hallowtide which includes Hallows Eve or Evening and Hallows Day or All Saint’s Day. Hallow means to set apart as holy. But that is when it is used as a verb. When we use the word Hallow as a noun, it means Saint. This is pretty cool. When we are baptized into Christ, we are sacramentally being set apart and made holy or hallowed as a visible sign of the covenant is poured out upon us. Our baptism signifies us as members of the body of Christ. This makes us both hallowed (set apart) and Hallows or Saints. This is a critical distinction as connected with the Protestant reformation as we believe that all those who are baptized into Christ and have put on Christ in faith are already saints. While the catholic church taught (and still teaches) that one must rise to an exceptional level of piety to be considered for sainthood and bypass purgatory WE believe that Sainthood begins in this life at the moment we are justified by faith through the gracious work of Christ’s death and resurrection.
Therefore Hallowtide means Saints Time or a time to recognize and be thankful for the Saints who have come before us. We rejoice with them but we do not worship or pray to them. Those with Christ do not need our prayers nor do they want us to pray to them. This holiday originally began to be celebrated in May of the 4th century to honor the many Christians who had been martyred for their faith in Christ. The biblical day began on the preceding evening. Just as our observance of the Lord’s Day would begin at sundown the night before. So a holiday such as Christmas Eve or Hallows Eve actually begin on the Eve or evening before the actual Day. This would have been useful knowledge to know as a kid when I was excited for Christmas morning, Christmas had already begun! We of course are familiar with Hollows Eve or as the Scots dialect pronounces it ‘een. Halloween didn’t use to be a holiday glorifying violence and satanism but instead was the beginning of the All Saint’s Day celebration. In fact, in the Anglosphere, it has been said that All Saints Day began to be celebrated on November 1st in the 8th century. This time was chosen as an answer to the common pagan fears that would spring up every year amongst the unconverted tribes of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Fall and winter were seen as wicked times when evil forces would rule the cold dark nights. All Saints Day was an answer of hope to a fearful community. This is Christianity taking dominion over a fallen world. We actually have the answers to the fears of life. As the body of Christ moves through this world, we can have the greatest impact by having courage, trusting in Jesus, and not being afraid when others are. This distinction has been lost on most of us but Halloween used to be a day filled with laughing at the darkness, smiling at the future, and joyful anticipation of the coming glorious resurrection of the Church Triumphant. Those of us still living are the Church Militant. We have been tasked with battering down the gates of hell. Those who have died in Christ are the Church Triumphant and we are told in Hebrews that they are a great cloud of witnesses that are encouraging the Church Militant to run with perseverance and throw away anything that slows us down from bringing the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
One of these Saint’s who faithfully worked to bring God’s kingdom on earth came over 100 years before Martin Luther. He was a Saint. He was a Reformer. His name was John Huss. Huss, which means Goose in Bohemian, was a catholic priest in the area that is now the Czech Republic. Huss preached fiercely against indulgences, taught that the Church was founded upon Christ and not the pope, and that Christians were to obey God and not men. Theses are ideas that seem common to us Protestants now but at that time, when the word of God was locked away by the Church, they were revolutionary. Huss wrote out 6 glaring errors that he saw the Catholic Church committing and nailed them to the church doors of Bethlehem Chapel. The church was furious and excommunicated Huss immediately. This excommunication was not enforced though and Huss continued to preach openly. Then the church “invited” Huss to defend his ideas promising him safe passage to and from Constance Germany where the council was being held. When Huss arrived at the meeting, he was immediately arrested and sentenced to death. While tied to a stake and surrounded with kindling, he was given a chance to recant his teaching and instead, it is said that he replied “I would not for a chapel of gold retreat from the truth! Today you burn a goose, but in one hundred years a swan will arise which you will prove unable to boil or roast.”
Whether or not Huss actually prophesied this isn’t really important. The swan that came was of course Martin Luther who, following in Huss’ footsteps, nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg. In this way celebrating the Reformation and All Saint’s Day back to back is an exercise in thankfulness to the graciousness of God. God preserved His Word and His people through one of the darkest periods of Church History and He advanced His kingdom during this dark time through the blood of the martyrs.
During our biblical section of the Anno Domini podcast, we generally look at scripture from the lectionary. The lectionary has an Old Testament reading, a psalm, an epistle, and a gospel reading. Both Reformation Day and All Saints Day carry an interesting oddity thrat no other holiday carries. Instead of Old Testament readings, both days carry passages from Revelation. On the 52 week calendar this is the only time it happens. The passage we will look at today is from Revelation chapter 7 verses 9-17 with the context of verse 2-8 emphasized in the lectionary. Here is the passage from 9 to 17
After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying:
“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom,
Thanksgiving and honor and power and might,
Be to our God forever and ever.
Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?”
And I said to him, “Sir, you know.”
So he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
The context that came before this was the remnant of Israel that had just been numbered. Israel had, for the most part, apostatized and yet from each tribe there had been preserved a remnant. 12,000 in each tribe that had remained faithful. This 144,000, were sealed in Christ but we’re a small minority of God’s chosen people as they could be counted. Then we hear about the new Israel. A multitude which no one could number from every nation in whom all the promises of God have found their yes and amen. This church is the whole world perfected. It is the final goal of the mission of Christ “that the world should be saved through Him.”
I believe this passage is chosen against an Old Testament passage because this passage is describing all of the eschatological promises of the Old Testament up to this point. The Saints, both the faithful remnant of Israel and the new Israel have been grafted together into one tree to share in the new heaven and new earth.
Reformation Day and All Saints Day can be intensely practical. For Christians, Christ is Supreme and not popular culture. This is why merely providing “alternatives” to the degeneracy surround Halloween is not enough. Christ isn’t a plan B or an alternative to sin. He is the King and Captain. We should be careful not to merely create cheap imitations of what the world offers. Remember first that the world is offering the counterfeit and Christians have the real everlasting answer. When we imitate the world, we are imitating an imitation. The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. We must first understand that Christ is King and then we will know not to engage in the world’s twisted sense of pleasure. Screwtape, the demon or master tempter in CS Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, knew this. He writes speaking of God:
“He’s a hedonist at heart. All those fasts and vigils and stakes and crosses are only a facade. Or only like foam on the sea shore. Out at sea, out in His sea, there is pleasure, and more pleasure. He makes no secret of it; at His right hand are ‘pleasures for evermore.’…He has filled His world full of pleasures. There are things for humans to do all day long without His minding in the least– sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying, working. Everything has to be twisted before it’s any use to us. We fight under cruel disadvantages. Nothing is naturally on our side.”
When He moves in history as He most certainly did during the Reformation, we ought to respond with a hearty and jolly amen. We should have nothing to do with aping foolish and twisted imitations of pleasure. That being said, there is nothing wicked about dressing up and going door to door to ask for candy. Carving pumpkins, brewing spiced ciders, and bobbing for apples are all good pleasures that God has given us to enjoy. And we should enjoy them knowing Christ is seated firmly on the throne. James Jordan has a wonderful article on this that is edifying each time I read it which I will link to in the show notes. One tradition my family has done the past 2 years is to read through (or at least read some) of the 95 theses. You should too it a hoot! No one can write quite like Martin Luther.
From the practical side of All Saints Day I think it is helpful to think about our own mortality. Cemeteries are great places to do this. If you know of Saints who are buried in your local cemetery, go and visit their graves. Burial is a gift that Christians gave the world. While the pagan world has always burned their dead in funeral pyres, Christians, filled with the hope of resurrection have built gardens filled with the planted seed of those who have gone before us who are patiently awaiting the resurrection. When Jesus comes again it is said He will come from the east. This is why old cemeteries used to have all of their headstones facing east. So that when He comes again, the dead will rise and immediately be facing His return. Its symbolic of course but that symbolism gives us hope whether our bodies are planted in the ground or we are lost at sea or die in a fire we still will rest in peace awaiting the day of resurrection.
For our music portion of this episode, I chose a classic hymn, written in 1864 by William Walsham How titled ”For All the Saints.” Often hymns both old and new speak of going to heaven when you die as though heaven is our final home. Scripture speaks of something else though. It speaks of our life being a seed that, when planted in the ground, waits patiently for the day when it will rise again. What springs forth isn’t the same thing that went in the ground and yet it really does spring forth. It goes into the ground a kernel and rises a beautiful plant. What rises is totally unlike the seed and yet totally connected with the kernel that came before it. One cannot have the beautiful plant without the death and burial of the seed. In this analogy those who have gone to be with Jesus are the kernel in the ground. Their spirits are in the presence of Christ and to them just as Paul promise it is gain. But they too are looking forward to the day when their own natural body will, just like that kernel, rise out of the ground and be resurrected and glorified. This coincides with the Return of Christ and with His return heaven and earth will be united and the gospel will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. This hymn beautifully encapsulates this eschatological glory.
Let’s hear the words.
1 For all the saints who from their labors rest,
who thee by faith before the world confessed,
thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.
2 You were their rock, their fortress, and their might;
You were their captain in the well-fought fight;
and in the darkness drear, You were their one true light.
3 O 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.
4 O blest communion, fellowship divine,
we feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
yet all are one in thee, for all are thine.
5 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.
6 The golden evening brightens in the west;
soon to faithful warrior comes their rest;
sweet is the calm of paradise the blest.
7 But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
the saints triumphant rise in bright array;
the King of glory passes on his way.
8 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,
Verse 1 speaks of the saint’s of the Church Triumphant and the rest they now enjoy because they confessed and trusted Christ. Because of this may the name of Christ be blessed forever.
Verse 2 Jesus is the focus. He was and is the rock (foundation) of the church. He is the fortress (a hiding place) He is our might (because we are weak He is strong). He is the Captain of the fight of the Church Militant. And in the dreary darkness of the shadow of death He is our one true light.
Verse 3 The Church Militant prays for faithfulness, truth, and courage as we seek to fight as those now in the Church Triumphant. While we are breathing and for as long as we are breathing we are fighting for a crown of salvation. We pray for endurance in this fight.
Verse 4. While we aren’t able to see, hear, or feel those in the Church Triumphant, we still fellowship with them. We are feeble and we struggle. They are in glory and are shining with Jesus. And yet even though there is such a stark contrast, we are all one in Christ because we all belong to Christ.
Verse 5. The Church Militant should expect struggle, strife, and warfare up until the day we die. When that day approaches and we hear the “distant triumph song.” We know that we are moving into eschatological hope. A time when hearts will be again brave (because now we struggle with fear) and time when arms will again be strong (while now we are weak but Christ is strong) soon we will be like in when we see him face to face.
Verse 6. This is the point, the golden evening brightening in the west, when a Saint is called from this earthly life and enters into the rest of paradise. Saints are promised this will be a time of sweet calm and repose. We will be with Jesus and for those who have battled long and hard in this world, this will be a blessing bigger than we can possibly imagine now. But there is so much more to come. Unfortunately, this hope is the hope that many if not most hymns stop at. They see going to heaven when you die as the final place for believers.
Verse 7 changes all that. But Lo! or But Look! it says. There is a much more glorious day breaking. The Saints are triumphantly rising in bright glory. Why are they? BEcause the King of Glory has returned is is passing on His way to defeat the last enemy of all, death itself. Alleluia!
Verse 8 is the final eschatological hope of this earth. Rather than the world perishing in an ash heap, we believe that Jesus came to save the world. We are told that from all over the earth from the farthest oceans to the farthest coasts will come a countless host through gates of pearl. What will these hosts be doing? Praising Father, Son, and Holy Ghost! Alleluia.
Before we play an original setting of this hymn, I would like to say that I am concluding the Anno Domini Podcast in its current format with this episode. This doesn’t mean the podcast will go away but rather that the format will shift. The beauty of the Church Calendar is that within just a few short days we will begin again where we started; With the Advent of Christ. Instead of continuing in this format I am shifting my emphasis onto a related but different topic; church planting. The Anno Domini podcast is not the only podcast I am working on. In January of this year, I and several other families began meeting with the desire to plant a distinctly reformed church in Lewis County WA. We have met over 20 times since January and all of them have been recorded. The podcast is called Reformation Roundtable and you can find it on iTunes. The point of the podcast if very provincial. I would like those in my province or parish to listen to the discussion on reformed theology and join us in our vision to plant such a church. This will be my main focus over the next year and I won’t be able to give this podcast in its current format the same level of attention I have up to this point. Stay subscribed though because I will likely continue to put out episodes emphasizing the psalter and hymnody. I already have one planned for the last Sunday of the Church year: November 22nd. Stay tuned.
With that I will bid you adieu and play for you this original setting of For All the Saints which will also have an accompanying video in the show notes which will go live on November 1st 2020. Thank you to everyone who has stayed with me during this last liturgical year and I really can’t wait to start again.