Yes, LORD, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts. My soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you. Isaiah 26:8,9
Joel C. Seifert
Long before our nation started celebrating Thanksgiving feasts, the Christian church celebrated a very different feast. Two versions of it are common among us. Some churches celebrate the Sunday of Saints Triumphant (around the middle of November); others celebrate the more ancient All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1). God makes us his holy, sinless people—his saints—through faith in Jesus. On those festival days we celebrate the saints who have gone home to their heavenly rest.
Or to say it simply: We’re praising God for our loved ones who died.
Maybe that sounds like the last thing we’d look forward to celebrating. But consider the words of an ancient prophet: “Yes, LORD, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts. My soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you.”
Give thanks for the victory of the saints
I was just a boy when I prayed for my Grandpa Seifert not to die. I wanted nothing more than to have a few more years with my father’s father.
I think Grandpa wanted more time with his wife, children and grandchildren too. But there’s something that our Christian hearts desire even more. My grandpa grew up being taught that a saint was a holier, better person than everyone else. Later in life he learned about a God who gave his life to give us all the gift of holiness. A God who gives us such unbelievable love? Grandpa longed to see him face to face. He got to.
When Grandpa died, I wasn’t able to give thanks for his victory—not right away. But I’ve learned to. Over the years, I’ve mixed together my tears of sadness and tears of joy at more gravesites than I can remember. The reason they’re not here with us anymore is because they’ve finally received everything that their hearts of faith were longing for. I give thanks to God for their victory as I remember them.
Thankful for our longing
Of course, it’s not only thankfulness. I’m not there with them in heaven yet. I’m not rejoicing in God’s presence at their sides. I long to see them. I long to see God. And I give thanks for that longing. That longing reminds us that we have something to look forward to just like farmers look forward to the harvest.
There’s a reason why these festivals fall in November. It’s harvest time. Just like we bring in grain from the field and fruit from the orchards and rejoice in the blessings our Creator has given, we pause and rejoice in the greater harvest of souls made ready for heaven by our Redeemer. I think about them every Thanksgiving as we sing: “Even so, Lord, quickly come to your final harvest-home; gather all your people in, free from sorrow, free from sin” (Christian Worship 613:4).
So for now, we long. We still mix together our tears of sadness and our tears of joy. We gather around Thanksgiving feasts, giving thanks to God even though there may be an empty seat at the table. I’ll sing harvest songs at church and think about the grandpa I didn’t know long enough, the grandma who went home to heaven before I was born, and my babies that I won’t meet until I see them at Jesus’ side to join in the feast of the Lamb that will never end. We believe, we long, and we give thanks.
Come, you thankful people, come.
Contributing editor Joel Seifert is pastor at Shining Mountains, Bozeman, Montana.
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Author: Joel C. Seifert
Volume 103, Number 11
Issue: November 2016
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