To God All Are Alive

A meditation by Pastor Michael Pahl on November 25, 2018, Eternity Sunday, called “To God All Are Alive,” Jesus’ words in Luke 20:38. Eternity Sunday (also called Totensonntag) comes out of the German church tradition and is celebrated on the last Sunday of the church year, the Sunday before Advent. It is a time for remembering those who have died.

It can be easy to forget.

In a world of tweets and Facebook updates and blog posts that are here today and tomorrow are ancient history, in a world where what is newer is always better and what is older is inevitably worse—in this kind of world, it can be easy to forget.

It’s hard work to remember. Certainly, it’s hard work to remember well.

Dozens of times in Scripture God’s people are commanded to “remember,” precisely because it is so easy to forget.

“Remember the Lord,” we’re entreated. “Remember what God has done,” we’re told. “Remember Jesus’ broken body and shed blood,” we’re commanded.

And tucked away in Hebrews is this call to remembrance: “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith” (Heb 13:7).

Of course, this is speaking of church leaders in particular—whether formal or informal leaders—all those who have shepherded God’s people and shaped their hearts and minds toward faith and hope and love. We are to remember these people, to remind ourselves of the way they lived in order to follow their faithful example.

But this call to remembrance also recalls the long list of people just a couple of chapters earlier: the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11. And not all of those people were “leaders” in any formal sense.

Remember Abraham: by faith Abraham obeyed God. Remember Sarah: by faith Sarah trusted God’s promises. Remember Jacob: by faith Jacob worshiped God. Remember Moses: by faith Moses identified with God’s suffering people. Remember Rahab: by faith Rahab welcomed God’s people into her home and her land.

The author could just as easily have said of all these people—both leaders and followers—what he says later in Hebrews 13: “Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.”

It can be easy to forget.

It’s hard work to remember well.

But God does not forget, and so neither should we. God remembers, and so should we. God hears our cries, God bottles up our tears, God sings over us with joy, God numbers our days—God’s eye is always upon us (Ps 56:8; 139; Zeph 3:17). And his eye is not just on us who still live, but also on those who have gone before—whether leaders or not, whether faithful or not—for, as Jesus puts it in Luke 20:38, “to God all are alive.” Did you hear that? To God all are alive.

And so we are commanded to remember, and we remember because God remembers. One might even say we have a moral obligation to those who have walked among us, who have gone before us, to remember them—to speak their names, to recall their faces, to tell their stories.

Of course, neither God nor our loved ones want us to dwell in the past. We dwell in the eternal present, in light of the past and in anticipation of the future. We remember, but we always remember with a forward look.

“Do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus commands us at the Last Supper—“and so we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26). We remember the Lord, we remember what God has done, we remember Jesus’ suffering on our behalf—we remember those who have gone before us—so that we can step into the future with God more faithfully.

It can be easy to forget.

It’s hard work to remember well.

But it’s a good work to remember well, to remember those who have passed away, to “consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith,” perhaps, or even just to speak the names and recall the faces and tell the stories of all those who are still alive to God.

And so, on this Eternity Sunday, we remember.

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