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All Saints Sunday Sermon

Today we are observing All Saints Sunday. All Saints is a day when we take time to remember all those who have died in the faith, our ancestors in the church from long ago, and those who have passed away a little more recently.

I realized something this week when I started thinking about us doing this together, and that’s that we don’t all have the same beliefs about what happens after we die. In large part because none of us has done it yet. But also because of popular culture.

Whether it's cartoons in the newspaper with St. Peter manning a desk in front of pearly gates, or movies about ghosts, or my personal favorite, "The Good Place". Our beliefs and expectations about the after life come from the media more than they do from the Bible.

But none of that is what the Bible teaches.

Everything that we believe about life after death centers on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The whole of scripture points to this as the primary event of history.

But some people tell the story like this, they say there’s heaven, and then there’s earth. Our real home is heaven, and we got exiled from heaven and we’re serving out our time here on Earth until we can return. Have you ever heard that story? Me too. I think it was a Pixar movie?

But it’s not the story that the Bible tells.

Lucky for us, the church has been around a long time, and has navigated a whole lot of bad teachings. In fact, that’s where progress comes from! Whenever the church faces a controversy ab out theology or practice, we have big meetings that produce concrete answers that are much better than whatever happens to sound good to any one person in a given moment. So today, we’re going to look at one paragraph from one of our church’s confessions, and all the verses that it cites to arrive at an answer to the question, “What happens when we die?”

This is going to be more of a Bible Study today than a sermon, so let’s start out by reading the whole quote. It’s from 1647, so it’s a little wooden, and then we’ll go back through and look at the scriptures it cites. But first, a quick word about confessions.

You probably remember from when we did Confirmation of Everyone, but just in case, I’ll remind you, our church has a book of Confessions, which are statements of faith from church history in which our ancestors in the faith struggled together with the scriptures to wring out propositional truth from the many and varied revealed and historical truths of the entire Biblical witness. Scripture comes first, and is the only thing truly necessary for us to know the good news about God in Jesus Christ, but we’re also not even close to the first people to wrestle with hard questions. These confessions are officially authoritative for us as Presbyterians, but we’re still completely free to point out where they might suffer from some biases and such.

Here’s what it says in its entirety. Then we'll go through it bit by bit, looking at the scriptures cited.

Westminster Confession of 1647: Of the State of Men after Death, and of the Resurrection of the Dead

I. The bodies of men, after death, return to dust, and see corruption, (Gen 3:19; Act 13:36): but their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them, (Luk 23:43; Ecc 12:7): the souls of the righteous, being then made perfect in holiness, are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God, in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies, (Hbr 12:23; 2Co 5:1, 6, 8; Phl 1:23; Act 3:21; Eph 4:10). And the souls of the wicked are cast into hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, reserved to the judgment of the great day, (Luk 16:23-24; Act 1:25; Jud 6-7; 1Pe 3:19). Beside these two places, for souls separated from their bodies, the Scripture acknowledgeth none. II. At the last day, such as are found alive shall not die, but be changed, (1Th 4:17; 1Co 15:51-52): and all the dead shall be raised up, with the selfsame bodies, and none other (although with different qualities), which shall be united again to their souls for ever, (Job 19:26-27; 1Co 15:42-44). III. The bodies of the unjust shall, by the power of Christ, be raised to dishonour: the bodies of the just, by His Spirit, unto honour; and be made conformable to His own glorious body, (Act 24:15; Jhn 5:28-29; 1Co 15:43; Phl 3:21).

The bodies of men, after death, return to dust, and see corruption;

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust…where does that come from? The Bible!

In Genesis, God says to the first people after they’re cast out of the garden of Eden that they would have to work hard to survive, and after they were done surviving, they would die " are dust, and to dust you shall return."

This is the way things are meant to be. Our bodies are supposed to decay after death. In Acts 13:36 , the Apostle Paul points out in a sermon that King David, ... died, was laid beside his ancestors, and experienced corruption"

So everyone, even the greats and even the saints, except for Jesus, loses their body to decay.

but their souls (which neither die nor sleep), having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them.

Ecclesiastes 12:7 when talking about death says "and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the breath returns to God who gave it." In the Bible, the word for breath is the same word as the word for Spirit, in both the Old and the New Testament. So here, the Scripture says that it’s not just that the body has died, but that the breath, the spirit, which God breathed into us to make us his little image bearers, returns to God immediately.

Remember how Jesus, according to Luke 23:43 said to one of the men being crucified with him, "He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’" This is what is promised.

(We should come back to this whole “immortal subsistence” thing some day though. Because the scriptures cited don’t get that specific.)

But the picture they do paint is that upon death of those who are in Christ, things are better, amazing even. Jesus calls it Paradise.