All Saints’ Sunday: The Two Fellowships

All Saints

A meditation given at New Creation Church (Anglican) on All Saints’ Sunday, November 4, 2018 in Hagerstown, MD.

By the Rev. Justin Clemente

As Christians, there are two fellowships, and two only, that will last forever. The one is our fellowship with God, the second is our fellowship with those in God – in Christ. Today we rejoice in that second fellowship, which we have because of the first.

We see that fellowship on display in Revelation 7, as the Church Triumphant gathers around the throne of God and of the Lamb:

16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

It is the “they,” “them,” and “their” that we are particularly rejoicing in today. We, as the redeemed, are bonded together. Everyone from Grandma to Augustine to Billy Graham will be there. Even now we have fellowship with those who have gone before us. The Holy Table we gather around today stretches farther than the eye can see, with Saints gathered ‘round on all side, both in time and eternity. While we don’t pray to the saints, we sure as heck better know that we pray with the saints, in their fellowship, surrounded, as Hebrews 12 puts it, by “that great cloud of witnesses.” Lewis famously said that there is no pleasure on earth as great as a circle of Christian friends by a fire. Isn’t that true? Perhaps it’s because we are tasting, in some pale measure, the joy of that second fellowship – the joy of “the children of Zion,” as Psalm 149 says.

Why is the joy of this fellowship so strong and everlasting? Because it is held together by the person and work of Jesus – a fabric which can never fade or fail. “Christianity” wrote Bonhoeffer, “means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this. Whether it be a brief, single encounter or the daily fellowship of years, Christian community is only this.”

Our fellowship together, here and now, and with the saints before us, is not based upon hobbies or interests or politics or language or ethnicity, but upon Christ – and therefore it is indestructible. All of us here have all lost friends and family who died in Christ, but we have not lost them irretrievably! We will be reunited, and in a way which can scarcely be adequately described in mere words.

From New Testament times onward, God’s people have expressed the strength of this fellowship in how they’ve spoken about death. So, Paul tells us that death, in the Lord, is merely “falling asleep.” He explains in 1 Thessalonians 4;13-14: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him [meaning, when Christ comes again] those who have fallen asleep.”

I heard a song around this theme that has deeply impacted me. It’s simply called “Goodnight” and it’s by Matthew Smith of Indelible Grace. The words are based on old German hymn. It was originally printed in a book called Hymns from the Land of Luther and titled, “The Long Goodnight.” Matthew Smith’s updated version is written from the perspective of a believer on their death bed, peering into eternity. Here are three of the four verses:

I journey forth rejoicing
From this dark vale of tears
To heavenly joy and freedom
From earthly bonds and fears
Where Christ our Lord shall gather
All His redeemed again,
His kingdom to inherit–
Goodnight, goodnight till then

I go to see His glory
Whom we have loved below
I go, the blessed angels
The holy saints to know.
Our lovely ones departed
I go to find again
And wait for you to join us–
Goodnight, goodnight till then

I hear the Savior calling–
The joyful hour has come
The angel-guards are ready
To guide me to our home
Where Christ our Lord shall gather
All His redeemed again,
His kingdom to inherit–
Goodnight, goodnight till then

Brothers and sisters, there are two fellowships – and both can never be broken. No matter who you’re celebrating today in Christ, no matter who you are mourning today, in Christ, remember those two fellowships, and be thankful. Amen.

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