Feast of All Saints
Psalm 34:1-10, 22
1 John 3:1-3
Preached by the Reverend Shireen Baker Sunday November 5, 2017 at Church of Our Saviour Elmhurst
This week on November 1st the church celebrated All Saints Day and some churches would follow All Saints with All Souls on November 2nd. Traditionally these days were part of a triduum with All Hollows Eve – now of course known as Halloween. While there is a long and varied history surrounding allhollowtide, the overall theme remains the same.
Here at Church of Our Saviour we have conflated allhollowtide into one day as we both pray for our loved ones who have gone before us, and celebrate the communion of saints to which we all belong. We are bonded forever to all Christians throughout history. As members of Christ’s body, we are not separated by space, time or even death.
Perhaps there is no better passage in Matthew to describe what it means to belong to the communion of Saints, than the beatitudes. The beatitudes are merely the opening sentences of the Sermon on the mount – which goes on for three chapters in Matthew – and they are meant to be startling, disorienting, to bring the listener to attention.
To be blessed is to be ‘favored by God’. These blessings are not necessarily aspirational, they are not the same as being granted a wish or winning the lottery, rather blessings remind us that God is with us, God knows our heart and our struggles.
With these words Jesus is announcing something new, he is ushering in the good news of God’s Kingdom. He is beginning a new era for God’s people and God’s world.
Jesus is calling a community into existence, establishing a covenant between the Kingdom of Heaven and the world.
These beatitudes are portraits for us of what the Kingdom of God looks like, what the holy people of God are like and what God is like when god is faithfully being the God and Saviour of god’s own people.
The beatitudes are about reversal. They express the upside-down nature of the kingdom of God, that is meant to turn the world on its head.
The poor in spirit are the ones to whom the kingdom of god belongs – the Kingdom of God does not belong to those who have the ability to take up arms and oppress the people around them, The Kingdom of Heaven does not belong to those who are popular or powerful.
The kingdom of heaven hunts down the people who seem to never belong, those who look like the non-citizens, those who struggle but cannot pull themselves up – and tells them – you do belong, this Kingdom is yours all along. This is Jesus touching a leper, Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners, this is Jesus exorcising demons from the possessed and feeding the hungry. This is the story of the gospel, Jesus coming in taking what we see with our eyes and turning it on its head.
Our problem is that we so often see meekness and gentleness as weakness. We only seem to know how to see greatness in power, powerful rhetoric, powerful actions and force of arms. The strength found in peaceful non-violent action can be terribly slow moving, not very glamorous and often lacks the excitement of brute force.
Our whole culture is built around images of violence as the way to power. It would take a lot of intentional reprogramming for us to be able to truly see meekness as power, to be able to see meekness as the way to lay hold of something, anything, much less the whole earth.
Maybe that is part of the point, the kingdom of god is about receiving the transformative power of god as a gift, not seizing it for ourselves. Perhaps this is the power of God’s kingdom, the power to give rather than to take.
It may be tempting to think of the beatitudes as some kind of list of rewards offered to those who suffered in life. The easy thing to say would be that the beatitudes will come true in heaven, after death. After all ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ seems to imply just that. But this would be a misunderstanding of the meaning of ‘heaven’. Heaven is certainly God’s space, where reality is at its fullest existence, but God does not choose to keep the kingdom of heaven separate, just as he chose not to keep himself separate from the imperfect and broken world in which we reside. Rather the kingdom of heaven interlocks and suffuses the world. One of the main clues to this comes in the next chapter, and in the prayer we all know that Jesus taught his followers – ‘God’s Kingdom come, God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven’.
As followers of Christ we are to live by the rules of heaven – here and now.
Ultimately, we need to ask ourselves where do our priorities lie? Do we value the poor and meek, do we strive for mercy and peace? Do we choose to live like citizens of Heaven or are we led by the fear and hate of this world? We cannot strive for the former while still holding on to the latter. We cannot let fear dictate our actions and still proclaim our love for God. Only one of those things can be true at a time.
We are part of the communion of Saints because we are part of God’s Kingdom, here and now, whenever we choose mercy, kindness and love, we walk with the saints who have strived for God’s Kingdom throughout all ages.