One of the great things about music in the Church is how it represents the ongoing praise of God’s people. Whether you are using an old hymnal or a new one, “contemporary” praise songs which were current 20 years ago or actual current, brand-new, creative music heard, maybe, for the first time on a given Sunday morning, the songs of the Church continue to sing our confession. They sing of how we understand the works of our God. They offer Him praise and thanksgiving for all He has done and continues to do. The singing of the Church is a dynamic and living thing, but it is not all equal. Some of the songs rise above others. They manage to get it just right, to speak with such poetry and power it eventually becomes a true gem of the faithful confessing their faith yesterday, today and tomorrow. I would suggest the hymn, “For All the Saints,” rises to such a level.
“For all the saints who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest,
We recall the saints of God who faithfully confessed His name before the world. Those who have gone before us and now rest from their labors. But the hymn does not just focus on the past, it deals with us here and now. In fact, it will go on to confess how we are still united with those who have gone before us. It relates how we here today are all part of the saints of God.
“Oh, blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine,
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine,
We are connected with all the saints of the Lord in a blest communion which is greater than what we can see with our own eyes.
This hymn beautifully confesses our faith. It is a stunning and shocking faith seemingly too good to be true. But it is true, and its truth is rooted in the Word of God. Saint John writes in his first letter, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called the children of God; and so, we are” (1 John 3:1). Why should we be called the children of God? Why would you bear such a wonderful title? Truly, this must be an incredible love to say you are God’s children. I am not saying you do not have your finer points, that you are not a fun group to be around, but he did not have to love you. He never had to claim you as His own children. And let us be honest, there are a whole lot of flaws and failings to mark a group like this. You did not come into this world longing to be the children of God. You had no predilection to being on His team. You were happy going your own way, even if it meant you would not know the love of God. At least you got to do whatever it is you wanted to do. Stubborn, jealous, prideful, selfish, these are the best descriptions of you. But then God calls you children, His children.
In fact, He does not just say it, does He? No, God attaches His Word, the declaration of your identity, to water and He baptizes you. He pours water over you, giving you something to remember, an act outside of your own feelings, outside of your own desires. The water and the Word proclaim to you over and again how you really are the children of God. Just as there was real water trickling down your head, so there is a real adoption, a real promise of your new identity. This renewal in the Sacrament turns your gaze from the here and now to the future, to the day of the coming of Jesus and to the fulfillment of all He has promised for His children.
As we wait for that day there will be trials and temptations, the ups and downs of life, and constant opposition, false teachers and wolves in sheep’s clothing and more. With such things will come a concern, perhaps you are not really God’s children. You will have people all around you who are sure you are anything but that. You do not act like it, look like it, or sound like it, so how can you be sure you are the holy children of God? But you do not have to rely on the words of others to doubt your identity, you just need to take a good, hard look in the mirror. You can come to the same conclusion all by yourself. Do you fear, love and trust in God above all things? Do you love your neighbor as yourself? Will they know you are Christians by your love? Perhaps not. Try as you might you do not seem to be getting any better. You do not seem to be any more the children of God then when it all began. Perhaps there was some confusion, some mix up. It does not feel right.
And then we sing:
“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.
The waters of your Baptism are the songs of triumph. There the promises of God in their entirety are given freely to you. Forgiveness for your failure. Forgiveness for your weakness. Forgiveness for your willful disobedience. Forgiveness is poured out upon you. The words of doubt are replaced by the Word of Christ. Words which declare to you once again, “You are loved. You are forgiven… for all of your sins.” You remain the children of God, the saints of the Most High, and upon His return the whole world will see. You will see what He has said is what will be.
John puts it this way, he says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). The promise is yours now, right now, but there is a greater unveiling of all it means which has not yet been revealed. This “not yet” is what defines your hope. This “not yet” is what is so often sold short these days. It is not about just going to be with your Lord in Heaven. It is also not about just leaving this mortal flesh behind. No, the “not yet” of your faith is the resurrection of the dead, the return of Christ, the new Heavens and the new Earth, the great reunion of all those saints who have gone before us with those saints who now walk all around us.
Which is why the great hymn has the Church sing loud and long as we declare:
“But lo, there breaks a yet more glorious day:
the saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of Glory passes on His way.
“A yet more glorious day,” is the day when you will see with your eyes the promises of Christ fulfilled. A day where every tear is dried, where death is no more, sorrow is no more, but rejoicing and celebration begins around the Throne and the Lamb. There you gather with all the children of God in the great wedding feast. There you embrace with those long parted from you. There you drink deep from the eternal gifts of God.
Let us never forget this hope. Let us proclaim it again and again into each other’s ears. Let us forgive and love and care for one another as we remember the waters of our Baptism and hear the triumph song. Let us continue to confess the promises of Christ.
“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: