The dead may tell no tales, as the saying goes, but on All Saints’ Day, those dead in Christ preach the gospel. To be clear, we don’t hear their voices beyond the grave, but their names proclaimed in the worship service remind us of the lives they lived.
To speak ill of the dead is usually considered distasteful, but the truth is those who have gone before us were wretched sinners - every single one of them. That’s why they died. “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23).
Their names, however, also cause us to recall God’s promise of where they are now in eternity. Their reality proclaims good news to us. We will be like them: sainted sinners living in God’s heavenly kingdom.
More than that, the saints who have entered the church triumphant remind us that we are sinner/saints living in God’s kingdom on earth. All Saints' Day is a reminder that God’s kingdom is also here now, but not yet in a fullness we can see.
God’s kingdom is not a kingdom as we would define it. Though God’s kingdom is on earth, it is not of this world. It is not tied to any one location. Nor does its power structure work like ours.
It is not, as Robert Capon observes, a kingdom of right-handed power, a kingdom in which God applies direct force on us to achieve a desired result. It is rather one of left-handed power.
“Which,” as Capon writes, “for all practical purposes will be indistinguishable from weakness.”
Despite our sinful rebellion, God desires a relationship with us, people he created in his image. And, like relationships between human beings, God’s relationship with us can’t be the result of right-handed power. Love forced onto another cannot make them respond in kind. God does not rule over us as automatons. His kingdom is not one of force and might for our exploitation and his gain, but one of his patience and long-suffering for our benefit. This is part of why it appears indistinguishable from weakness.
His kingdom is not one of force and might for our exploitation and his gain, but one of his patience and long-suffering for our benefit.
Another thing that makes it indistinguishable from weakness is what John Pless points out, “the kingdom of God is not an empire visible to the eye. It is a kingdom accessible by the ear.” This accessibility is what Luther draws our attention to in his explanation of the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer, thy kingdom come. “How does God’s kingdom come? God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us his Holy Spirit, so that by his grace we believe his holy word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.”
God’s kingdom comes among us on the lips of another speaking his holy word into our ears. This holy word is nothing other than the declared forgiveness of all our sins on account of Christ. By it, our heavenly Father gives us his Holy Spirit who brings with him the gift of faith by which we believe God’s holy word that declares us forgiven.
God gives us his kingdom. It is pure gift. We don’t storm in and occupy it ourselves. We don’t merit it. It’s not a wage. We don’t possess God’s kingdom; it possesses us.
God’s kingdom is Jesus. Not Jesus the moral example, but Jesus crucified for you. To “lead godly lives,” both “here in time and there in eternity,” is not an act of human will or the outcome of human action. It is the result of Christ’s work for us, which the Spirit delivers to us through God’s word. By his word, the great exchange takes place: Christ gets our sin, and we get his righteousness.
On All Saints’ Day, we remember more than those sainted sinners who have gone before us. We recall the gospel they preach. The gospel that made them righteous. And we recall this promise of God that holds true in our lives; the promise that by Jesus Christ given for the forgiveness of your sin, we are sainted citizens of God’s eternal kingdom for sinners.