November 3, 2019
All Saints/All Souls Sunday
(Romans 5:5-11; John 6:37-40)
On the feast of All Saints the Church assigns the Beatitudes of the Gospel of Matthew. I sometimes wonder what a life of Christ would look like in a different age or culture, or from different perspectives. For this, we have the Saints. Each Saint takes as a keynote the life and mission of Jesus and transforms it into something of his or her own expression of the Christian life.
St. Francis of Assisi showed us how it was done in the thirteenth-century Italy. St. Ignatius of Loyola showed how this is done in Reformation Spain. Mother Teresa showed us how it was done in the late twentieth-century. Our task is do this in our own place and time.
The Gospel for All Saints begins with Jesus ascending the mountain, sitting down, and issuing these Beatitudes which comes across like an echo of the Sinai covenant when God issued the Law to Moses. It gives the feeling, to the reader, that Matthew is saying this teaching of Jesus is the new Law. In fact, chapters 5 through 7 are referred to as the Sermon on the Mount, opened by the Beatitudes. The three chapters could very well be considered the new “Law” to his followers.
These Beatitudes have a significant importance not only to All Saints Day, of which this reading is assigned, but also for All Souls day. The nine Beatitudes that Matthew gives us are translated as “Happy” as in “Happy are the poor in spirit.” These Beatitudes express a different way of approaching the world. The poor in spirit in Jesus’ day were certainly not considered “blessed” or “happy,” but for Jesus theirs was the kingdom of heaven. For Jesus those mourning would be comforted and the meek would inherit the earth. A reversal was in order to be brought by God himself. The kingdoms of this world do not alleviate all poverty and mourning. But God will! This doesn’t mean we don’t work to alleviate suffering, poverty, and the like, but it will happen once and for all with God himself as King.
As the Beatitudes are often considered a self-portrait of Jesus, we might apply them to ourselves as a modern variation of disciples. The disciples, like Jesus himself, are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. They are merciful, clean of heart, and peacemakers. Though God will bring about his kingdom in the end, that does not excuse us from doing the work of justice or bringing about peace.
The examples of the saints shows us what the Christian life, the self-portrait of Jesus, looks like throughout history. We have many examples, from whom we should emulate, so as we live the Beatitudes in our time and place.
On All Saints, we celebrate those heroes of the faith who have gone before us as exemplars, and there are thousands. These are the ones who have been “officially” proclaimed by the Church as saints. But we know there are many more saints than those. Even St. Paul addressed his letters to the “saints” in the various locales to which he wrote. The meaning behind Paul’s usage of “saints” is that of one who is set apart for the service of God. Many of whom may have led exceptional lives in a service to God, but were not given the formal title of “Saint.”
Those who did not obtain a formal title are likely those members of our family who have gone before us in faith. Such as, our parents, grandparents, friends with all their siblings and extended families as well. Christianity is a faith that is passed down through storytelling, one person telling what God has done through Christ. Many stories are in the Bible, but after two thousand years we have many more stories of heroic figures of faith to tell. And these heroes of faith extend to those we have known and loved.
The Gospel reading today reminds us that Jesus does not reject anyone who comes to him. In our denomination we teach this without prejudice, because many churches will claim this, however they will inhibit the Eucharist from those they deem not worthy. (Think of the incident in the news this past week about Presidential Candidate Joe Biden being denied Communion by a priest, because of Biden’s view on abortion. Joe Biden would be welcomed to our altar! The Eucharist is not a tool or weapon to make the faithful toe a line or teaching. It is a gift and supernatural grace given to us freely!) Shy of you committing murder front and center here in the church before me while about to administer communion to you, I (we) presume nothing about your soul, nor will any race or other factor, make you unworthy in our eyes. And this, we believe, is how Christ viewed it. We teach in his example.
Nor does Jesus lose anything given to him. On the last day he will raise them up! This hope of eternal life and reconnecting with those we love who have gone before us is an essential element of Christian faith. We have this hope precisely because Jesus himself rose from the dead and promised he would do the same for those who come to him.
As the weather is turning cooler and we make a month and a half approach to winter, it seems an appropriate time to recall those who have gone before us. All lived lives of Christian hope built on the promise of Jesus to raise them up on the last day. This is our hope too, inspired by that same promise. And there will be Christians who will come after us who might be remembering us too. We are in a long line of those who believe in Jesus, the one sent by the Father. And with that belief comes eternal life. Our own personal death is not the end, and Jesus’ own death was not the end for him. Resurrection and new life await. This is not a restoration of the old, but something new and transformative when we will all be united in him, generations past and those still to come.
This is the Paschal mystery where dying leads to new life. One end leads to a beginning, and the tomb opens to the resurrection. With the Beatitudes as our new “Law” and guide from Jesus, we have hope. Happy are we who have hope. On these days of commemoration of all the Saints and the faithful departed, let us celebrate their lives by sharing stories of faith, enkindling in us that Christian Hope which inspires. When darkness and cold increase, our Christian hope in eternal life remains resilient and ever present.
Let us pray.
That the Church be a beacon of blessing within the darkness and chaos of the world. We pray to the Lord.
That all people will come to know the blessedness, happiness and beauty of living a life faithful to the beatitudes. We pray to the Lord.
That all those oppressed by grief and persecution may find hope and comfort. We pray to the Lord.
That all gathered here, inspired by the lives of the saints, might persevere in the life of faith. We pray to the Lord.
That strengthened by the faith of countless followers of Christ throughout the ages, the Church might grow in holiness and fidelity to the Lord’s will. We pray to the Lord.
That those grieving the loss of a loved one, especially those killed this week in the multiple shootings, may be comforted by the Lord of everlasting Life. We pray to the Lord.
For those on our parish prayer list, that they may find consolation through Christ’s healing presence. We pray to the Lord.
We bow our heads and remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
Holy God, throughout the ages you have called holy men, women and children to live lives of peace, beauty, and blessing. Hear our prayers that we might answer your call to holiness within our own lives. Loving Father, we long to share the communion of charity that the Saints in heaven have with you. Make us holy, deepen our desire for sanctity, and let that desire govern everything we say and do. Further, God of eternal life, you desire to raise all souls to the abundance of heaven. Hear our prayers that we, and all people, might lead lives of holiness and peace. Most merciful Father help us to still and quiet ourselves, confident in your unfailing mercy. We ask all these things, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA USA