The Blessed Unseen
Text: Rev. 7:2-17, 1 John 3:1-3, Matt. 5:1-12
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Looking around at cultural trends, I’ve noticed something interesting showing up, from books to movies to TV shows to general cultural awareness. There’s a growing openness to the acceptance of the unseen—whatever form it might take in each of those areas. The resurgence of the Lord of the Rings and its mythology of magic and mystery; the hidden world of Harry Potter; superhero movies diving into the microscopic unseen world of quanta, alien conspiracies, and the ancient tales of gods and goddesses; the growing belief in ghosts and the like that makes itself very known around Halloween; all of it shows that people are starting to recognize that there are real things, just beyond our senses. There’s an entire world that we might not always see, but has very real effects on plots and characters, even the plots and characters of our own lives.
Of course, this trend is on to something. But as can be expected, mortal authors and Hollywood scriptwriters get a lot of the details wrong. Please don’t base your understanding of angels and demons off of what you see on a TV show. Please don’t let the tales of the world determine your understanding of God’s creation, seen or unseen.
For we in the Church have known about this hidden reality from the beginning. Because we believe in the Almighty God who made the heavens and the earth, all things visible and invisible, we have the same God who has given us the truth about those things that are unseen. We don’t have to rely on speculation of pop culture or the fairy tales told by producers to know what’s going on beyond the veil. Our God made it. He traveled there Himself in His life, crucifixion, death, and resurrection. And He has told us all that we need to know about it.
Since the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels a couple weeks ago, we’ve been turning our minds toward the invisible part of God’s creation. Now this week, our meditation on those unseen realities will reach its peak with our celebration of All Saints Day. On this day we recall and give thanks for those who have gone on ahead us in this walk of faith. We no longer see them with our eyes, but we still acknowledge that they’re just as real as ever. We don’t have them before us, accessible to our senses, but they still exist, even if it’s unseen. We know from Jesus that they are at rest. The terms used to describe their current state are sweet and comforting terms: asleep in the Lord, at the bosom of Abraham, alive in Christ, resting under the altar before the throne of God. We can take a deep breath and know that whatever afflicted them in this life has ended. They have the glorious vision of standing before God and before the Lamb, victorious in their robes of white, rejoicing even as they wait for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come, when their souls and bodies will be reunited in perfection and bliss. We remember them with joy that this is what they experience now, even if there’s still grief and sorrow in our hearts.
Yet All Saints’ Day is more than just a day for remembering. For when we recall what we just learned, or perhaps re-learned, last week on Reformation Sunday, that we’re all made saints by God’s grace through faith and not by our own works—then that means that All Saints’ Day also has meaning for those of us who are still alive in this world. It means that the number of all the saints includes us, even right now.
This is where that unseen aspect comes back into play for us. It’s not just about what’s going on with the other side of the veil. Our own lives have an unseen dimension to them. Because if we look at our lives with our mortal eyes and reason, if we focus only on what we see, we’re not exactly saints. Sure, some days might be good. We might even call ourselves pretty decent. But then there are those other days. Then there are those hidden thoughts, feelings, and desires that the Ten Commandments tell us are not what makes a saint, no matter how good we might look on the outside. And then there are the days that we certainly don’t feel like we’re living a blessed life. We’re sorrowful and mourn, we’re mocked for our simplicity and naïveté, we’re spiritually broke and empty. Some of our fellow believers—and perhaps even you in your own way—are persecuted for the faith. Could this really be the blessed life of a saint? Our hearts and minds scoff at the idea. Of course not. A blessed life would be lucky, financially comfortable, popular, happy by standards we can see, mark, and measure.
But with the Lord, the best things are hidden. He’s able to take things beyond our imagining and hide them beneath their opposites, so that the world would never know where to find it unless He tells us where to look—which He has. So His body and blood, which give forgiveness, healing, and peace, are hidden under simple bread and wine. The Son of God, almighty and infinite, is hidden in human flesh, placed in a manger, walking the roads of Galilee. Eternal life and salvation is hidden under the death of Jesus on the cross. So too, even when we suffer, when it doesn’t look or feel like a blessed life, we have Jesus telling us what’s unseen about our lives: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
That’s how it went for the prophets, the apostles, and all the saints who were before us. They did not always look or feel particularly blessed. There’s a reason that they’re described in Revelation as “coming out of the great tribulation.” They hungered and thirsted. They were struck by the heat of the sun and the elements and the wrath of men. They mourned and wept, eyes filled with tears. But now, in the unseen, God in His mercy has fixed all that. He has restored all that the devil, the world, and sinful men tried to take away. “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 shelter them with His presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. 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.”
All Saints’ Day is to remind us that this life, our reality as children of God, goes beyond what we see and feel, beyond the world’s way of measuring and knowing. Our status before God, our eternal fate, is guided and determined by what’s unseen—by faith, which is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen; faith, which itself cannot be seen, but is still real and present. Our lives are protected the unseen angels of God, the unfathomable hand of His providence. Our comfort comes as we look to those whose race is complete, who we can imitate in strength and faith, even though they are not available to our sight. The Apostle John, who was given the glimpse of our loved ones in that great host dressed in white before the throne realized this. He knew that what’s unseen is often the most beautiful. He also knew that there will come a time when the unseen will become visible to our sight. When Jesus returns, all that we hoped for, all we trusted will happen, will finally happen. So he writes: “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.” We will see Him—our Lord who keeps His promises. We will see Him with all the host of heaven, the faithful departed, and all who have been cheering us on as we complete our race in faith. In the name of Jesus, who makes us all saints, Amen.