One thing’s needful; Lord, this treasure Teach me highly to regard; All else, though it first give pleasure, Is a yoke that presses hard. Beneath it the heart is still fretting and striving, No true, lasting happiness ever deriving. The gain of this one thing all loss can requite And teach me in all things to find true delight. (TLH 366:1)
The pursuit of happiness is the American dream. We want to be happy. We don’t want to wait to be happy either. We want happiness immediately. We want it our way too. We don’t care how it will affect others. We don’t even wonder if God likes it or not. We want to be happy. We want it now. And we’ll define what that means and requires too.
God wants us to be happy too. But the happiness He intends is nothing like the happiness of this world. The pursuit of happiness in the world’s eyes is the pursuit of the desires of the flesh. It chases after sin after sin to get the high that sin gives. But the high is never enough. More is always needed. More is always chased after. It is always a pursuit. True lasting happiness is never found. Contentment can never be filled up. More is always needed. The denizens of the world are never truly happy. They may think they are, but they are deceiving themselves.
The saints in glory are truly happy. The word translated “blessed” in the Beatitudes is not the same word we read in St. Luke 2 when Zechariah sings his Benedictus, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel.” Zechariah is saying: Praised be Yahveh, God of Israel. But your Lord is not giving you divine praise. Praise belongs to God in Zion. We praise Him. He does not praise us. We deserve no praise. He alone is to be praised and will not share His glory with another.
So when you hear Jesus say “Blessed are you” in this Gospel, what does He mean? He means you are happily favored by God. He Who receives praises wants to make you happy by means of His grace and favor. It is idolatry to pursue happiness according to what one thinks will make him happy without any trust in God, the Giver of all good gifts. Therefore He wants to be the One Who makes you happy. And that can only happen when He favors you with His grace. Only His grace gives a happiness that lasts. Only His grace and blessing satisfies and makes us content.
How can this be? It’s because sin is selfish. Your father Adam believed God didn’t give him enough. That made him unhappy. He pursued happiness by eating the fruit. What did he find? He still wasn’t happy. He realized he was happier before he ate it. He realized once the high was gone that he was naked. He was completely vulnerable. He was no longer safe. He was the devil’s dog. His leash turned him towards sin, and his cage kept him in the devil’s power. He was most certainly not happy.
It’s an ugly picture, but it’s accurate. That’s what sin does. It controls us. It enslaves us. There’s no joy there. No true happiness can ever be found. It can only end in a complete lack of any semblance of joy eternally. It can only end where God is not, in hell itself, where there is eternal weeping and gnashing of teeth. This is because sin’s true goal is to make us gods, but that can’t happen. If it has not reached it’s goal, and it never will, it will never be a source of true happiness and contentment.
So you can only be truly happy if God is with you, if He has favor on you, if He has unleashed you from the devil’s power and opened up the cage of hell so you can leap out free in joy. You can only be truly happy if you follow God’s will and not your own, if you let Him have His way with you, if you rest in His unfailing love. For the only true happiness is found in Jesus’ Cross.
This is what the saints in glory found. All Saints Day, November 1, has long been on the Christian Kalendar. Throughout the year the Church remembers her faithful departed, those who have gone to be with Christ. At this time she especially remembers all those who aren’t honored with their own day; today we remember our parish’s faithful departed. The Church does not do this to take the focus off Christ. Instead she does this to thank Christ for the gifts He gives His Church through them. We remember the Apostles and Evangelists out of thanks that Christ used them to deliver to us His saving Gospel, just like we celebrate the Reformation to give Him thanks that Dr. Luther brought back to light for us the saving Gospel. We see their examples of following Christ in order to encourage us to follow them in following Him. The chief way you follow them is by believing what they believed. It is not at all about them, but about Christ Jesus and His Death for us on The Cross.
For you are saved the same way the saints in heaven are saved. They are saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ Jesus. They too were sinners. They even confess their sins to us through the Scriptures, which tell us all about the faults of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and his sons, Moses, David, and Solomon, Ss. Peter & Paul, Ss. John & James. They are telling us through what they wrote that they didn’t deserve anything God gave them. They only received it because of His grace, for the sake of Christ our Savior.
In the same way you don’t deserve eternal joys. There have been times when you were not meek and mild, but were rude and rough. There have been times when you hungered and thirsted not for divine righteousness, but for fleshly, earthly pleasures as you were full of envy and greed. There have been times when you should have shown mercy but showed instead hatred. There have been times when your heart was made dirty by sin you enjoyed. There have been times you wanted a fight, not peace, and acted out of rage. God’s grace you do not deserve.
But if you deserved it, would it be grace? Not at all. It would be wages. But if God is to be praised, He must be the one to show you favor and mercy and save you in spite of you. No, we do not deserve His favor, but He shows it. He shows it because Jesus died for you. He did not just die for Abraham or St. Paul; He died for you too. The meek and mild Lamb of God suffered for you because He thirsted to make us righteous, wanted us to inherit eternal life, wanted to comfort us in our distress, wanted to lead us into the kingdom of heaven. The Son of God died so you could be called the sons of God in verity and truth, at peace with God His Father.
How are the saints saved? How are you saved? They are saved, you are saved, by the Blood of the Lamb. That Blood covers you. It was poured out over you when you were baptized and your sins were washed away. Trust this. Trust that holy, precious Blood saves you, delivers you, rescues you from sin, death, and the power of the devil. Receive that Blood along with His holy Body at this Altar, for He has knit you into the communion of His saints that you may come to those unspeakable joys that await those who love Him.
The saints in glory are blessed. You are blessed. They are happily favored by God. You are happily favored by God. They are saved, you are saved, solely by God’s happy favor, by Jesus’ saving bloody merit. Sin can never give lasting peace and joy. It eventually leads sooner or later to the sorrows of hell because its founder, the devil, is there. True lasting happiness is given us by Christ our Lord, and no one can take it from you, for He is victorious over death. Therefore, “Rejoice in the Lord, O ye righteous: for praise is comely for the upright.” For that Lord says to you, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden: and I will give you rest.” And you respond, “Thou only, dearest Lord, My soul’s Delight shalt be!” (TLH 430:1)