"Love Remembers" is the title to a bittersweet country song out now. Love remembers all right but love doesn't always rightly remember.
Love remembers its loved ones taken to heaven by the Lord. Love remembers them more than it does all the other saints that have died in the faith. This is the distinction between All Saints' Day, November 1st, and All Souls' Day, today. The former is a commemoration particularly of the saints in the Bible who passed away in the faith and those who died for the faith. Today, All Souls' Day, is when we remember our saints, our loved ones in Christ who have died. As famous as Saints Peter and Paul are, as well as we remember how St. Stephen died for the faith, and Abraham lived in it, our own dead in Christ are far more vivid in our mind.
Love remembers; it remembers the good things about them. I remember the startlingly kind things my mother or father did for me. I remember their special ways of speaking or looking. I remember funny things about aunts and uncles. Yes, love remembers, but not only the good; love remembers some of the bad and even the ugly things about a loved one in heaven.
There are bad and ugly things in all saints, the famous ones and our loved ones, and so love remembers these too, but as time slips the departed farther away from us love remembers less and less of the bad and ugly and more of the good about them. However, that's not how it is for us. While love remembers some of the ugly and bad about lost loved ones in Christ, it remembers all of our bad and ugly toward them. We wince as we recall that time we didn't say we were sorry; that time we caused them so much sorrow or worry; all the times we could have been more loving. Yes, love remembers all of this vividly, dramatically, technocoloredly.
For that reason, the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed cannot be only about what we remember about loved ones. This sort of remembering leaves us with country singer Randy Travis "digging up bones" better left buried. No, we don't only want to remember what we or our loved one remembers but what God who is love does. God who is love remembers His Son, and that's important for us to remember.
God the Father remembers the obedience of His Son. The Father remembers the Son willingly took on flesh and blood: the immortal took on mortality, the eternal took on time, omnipotence took on weakness, omnipresence took on space; omniscience took on not knowing. The Father remembers not only did His Son go but He we went to live under the laws given to man. Try asking an older child for even one night to go to bed with the younger children; try asking an Army officer to live like an enlisted man; try asking a citizen to give up his rights, such requests pale in comparison to God asking His holy Son to live under laws made for mankind. Yet, God did ask, and God remembers His Son did it.
God who is love remembers that Jesus obediently became a Man and lived a perfect life under all the laws we find so galling, goading, and guilting. He also remembers that Jesus was obedient even to the point of dying on a cross. Having completed the first two things God the Father asked Him to do: take on flesh and blood and live perfectly under the laws given to man, God the Father asked one more thing of Him. He asked Him in Gethsemane, remember? "Drink completely the cup filled with all My wrath against the sins of the world."
This cup was more disgusting than any offered on "Fear Factor." You know how mad you get when you feel you have a right to be. You know how mad you become when you feel you've been unjustly wronged. You know how intensely you seek vengeance when you think it's yours. Well, "Vengeance is Mine," says the Lord.
Can you remember how you couldn't bear your mom or dad being mad at you? Can you remember how bad you felt? Imagine the wrath of God against the sins of the world. Imagine His wrath against people who use His name as an exclamation point. Imagine His wrath against those who put His name on things He never said. Imagine His wrath against those who believe they are free to hear or not hear, believe or not believe His holy Word. Though Jesus never did any of these, He willingly drank the cup filled with God's wrath against these sins and all others.
All this the Man Jesus did and God the Father remembers. So the Father has granted this Man Jesus to have life in Himself and authority to judge everyone. As True God, Jesus always had life in Himself and authority to judge. Along with the two other Persons of the Trinity, God the Father and God the Spirit, God the Son always had life and authority in Himself. The Man Jesus had to be given these, and He had to win the right to use them for the benefit of sinful mankind.
My flesh and blood, your flesh and blood, the flesh and blood of your lost loved ones in Christ is not life giving. It's dying; it's decaying. Only in connection to the Flesh and Blood of Jesus can our flesh and blood live. Outside of His flesh and blood ours can only die and putrefy as those ugly Halloween masks show. Paul says in Baptism we put on Christ. If you're clothed with Christ, you're clothed with His Flesh and Blood, and though you will die, He will raise you back to life as easily as you wake a sleeping person. Jesus has the power to give life by merely speaking. Though your age, your illness, your own body says, "Die, die, die," Jesus says, "I've put away your sins live, live, live!"
Our flesh and blood lead us relentlessly to the grave. God raised the Flesh and Blood of Jesus from the grave because Jesus successfully kept the Law and died to pay for our not keeping it. The Son of Man now has life in Himself and is able to pass on this life to all who share His Flesh and Blood. He does so through things that touch our flesh and blood: through Baptismal water that touch are flesh; through Absolution whose forgiving words enter our ears of flesh and vibrate the flesh of our eardrums; and through Communion where His Body and Blood are eaten and drank by body and blood.
Now let love remember; once we've seen what God remembers, let love remember our loved ones who have departed in Christ. Let us remember that they will be raised to life not condemnation. How do I know this? Because the only one who has ever done good before God is God the Son. Jesus told the rich young man, only God is good, and the only God in flesh and blood is Jesus, so the only one capable of doing good is Jesus. In being baptized our loved one was clothed with Jesus, and that's good before God. In being absolved our loved one confessed their bad and it was sent far away from them for the sake of Jesus' goodness, and that's good before God. In receiving Holy Communion Jesus was brought back to them to give them forgiveness, life, and salvation, and that's certainly good before God.
Our loved ones in Christ will rise to life not condemnation because in Christ there is no condemnation says Paul. How can there be? What in the life or death of Jesus can be condemned? Find me one sin of your loved one that was not washed away by their Baptism. Show me one bad thing of your loved one that was not forgiven by Absolution. Tell me one even not so good thing that Christ's Body was not given to pay for and Christ's Blood was not shed to cover? Do you think eating the holy Body and drinking the holy Blood of Jesus for forgiveness has no effect on flesh and blood? Does it not join us to the Body of Christ? Do you think Christ the Head can rise from the dead and leave His Body in the ground? Do you think anyone in all of heaven, hell, or creation can condemn the Body of Christ?
Let love remember now. Let love remember all that was best about their loved ones forever with the Lord because all that was best is even better now. When you next see them you will see them as God always meant for them to be. Whatever toll sin, death and the Devil took on them in this life, Jesus having paid that toll means they will rise to the life He always meant for them to have.
Let love remember now, and let love forget your real or imagined sins against your loved ones. Their forgiveness is your forgiveness. Their Baptism is your Baptism; their Absolution is your Absolution; the holiness communicated to them by Jesus' Body and Blood is yours too. By remembering your sins against departed loved ones, you're remembering what God has long forgotten. You're remembering what Jesus washed off of you in Baptism and left floating in the font. You're remembering what Jesus sent away from you as far as east from west in Absolution. You're putting together, you and your sins; two things the Absolution says can never be put together again. Well, forget that.
Let love remember the forgiveness of sins Jesus won for you and gives to you in holy Words and Sacraments, and then let love remember the fact that the faithfully departed and the faithful here have Jesus in common. The same Jesus who rules heaven rules earth. The same Jesus we bow before here they bow before in heaven. The same Jesus that they praise there for forgiving their sins and giving them eternal life we praise here for the same reasons. The same Jesus we see on our altar in Bread and Wine; they see too because we gather here not just with angels and archangels but with all the company of heaven.
I love to remember that, don't you? Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Commemoration of the Faithful Departed (20081102); John 5: 24-29