“Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).
As I get older, I’m more mindful of my own mortality. In human life, one generation is followed by another, as the generational torch is passed in succession. When I was younger, I didn’t think much about these things. Now I know: human beings are creatures of time, and the time is passing.
St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians describes death as “the final enemy” (1 Cor. 15:26). According to Paul, the universe is disordered; humanity has rebelled against God, and as a result sin and death have entered the world. Our Lord Jesus Christ comes into the world to defeat sin and its terrible effects. Injustice and oppression, violence and war: these are the result of the hatred that infects the human heart. On the cross, Jesus takes away the sin of the world. He is the sinless One, who bears the unbearable burden of our sins.
Death comes into the world as a result of sin. We know the story, of how in the Garden of Eden our earliest ancestors believed the serpent’s lies and disobeyed God. That was the beginning of mortality. When Jesus rises from the dead, death itself is defeated. The power of sin and death is broken. The devil has done his worst by bringing Jesus to the cross, but now he is alive again. There is new life and new possibilities for the human race. Life is victorious as Jesus rises from the dead.
Our reading from Revelation gives us a glimpse of what this will mean. “Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). The “first things” are the old order of sin and death. Revelation tells us about the suffering of the church in a time of persecution. This is the origin of the celebration of All Saints, a time to remember those who gave their lives for the sake of the Gospel. It’s a time to remember all those who are persecuted for Jesus’ sake. “Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints” (Rev. 13:10), as it says in Revelation.
Here and now, we have our share of “mourning and crying and pain” (Rev. 21:4). Each of us could tell our own story. We’re experts on the subject of mourning and crying and pain! Jesus has conquered sin and death, but death, “the final enemy,” remains with us. At Jesus’ coming again, at the end of time, death will finally be destroyed.
At the Feast of All Saints, we celebrate the communion of saints. These are the ties that continue to bind the church across the generations. Whether living or departed, we are joined together in Christ, in one communion and fellowship, in the Body of Christ, the church. “Mourning and crying and pain” (Rev. 21:4) cannot defeat us or drive us apart. We have faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
Today we celebrate the baptism of one person, and the confirmation of several members of the church. Here, before many witnesses, our fellow Christians will re-affirm their faith in God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They will receive baptism, and the laying on of hands, with prayer for the gift of the Spirit, and for the grace to live a Christian life. Each of us will have an opportunity to re-affirm our own faith. We are all bound together in this community of faith, in the communion of saints in Christ.