All Saints’ Sunday
November 6, 2011
Matthew 5: 1-12, Revelation 7: 9-17
It was not unusual for my Father’s parents to spend a large part of the winter with us, driving from snowy Springfield Illinois to sunnier Arizona or Southern California until the spring. It was my grandfather’s habit to sit down at the piano in the afternoon and play and sing some of his favorite hymns. He had a lovely baritone voice, and we heard the same hymns often enough that we kids pretty much have them stuck in our heads to this day. It was also not unusual that he would be come so moved by the words of some of his favorites – Just As I Am Without One Plea, or Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me – that he would begin to weep as he was singing.
I think of Grandpa’s voice this Sunday as we listen to the Revelation reading in which the saints and angels cry out, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” “Amen!” They sing, “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen!” When we raise our voices to sing “Now the Feast and Celebration, all of creation sings to you…” we are joining with the church on earth and the hosts of heaven, with the all the saints and angels gathered around the throne. Did you know that you are not singing alone? Did you know that you are really joining your voices to an on-going choir and that someone you have loved dearly in your life is singing along with you? It’s easy to forget, and this Sunday just reminds us that we are part of a throng that has already been through all that we suffer and all that we love, and awaits us at the end of our time here.
My Grandpa’s trust in his Savior and his confidence about how his future would be with Jesus was complete. We kids ran for cover, overwhelmed at his emotion, but none of us has ever forgotten his shining faith. Growing up, we were blessed by people who were ordinary in every way, with regular jobs and temperaments and flaws, but whose life of faith comes to mind for me every year at this time. The saints we meet in the reading from Revelation are those who have gone through great trials and who have not lost faith. This was written at a time when those who were faithful suffered, when Empire crushed whoever did not bow and obey its commands. The story of those we lift up as saints is often the story of ordinary people who lived the most extraordinary lives of faithfulness and humility. They gave up lives of wealth and comfort to feed the poor and heal the sick. Their conversion caused them to turn against their former businesses and fight against slavery and war.
There’s an old Jewish story that tells of a Rabbi teaching his students. “A long time ago there was a Rabbi who saw the face of God,” he tells his charges. “Only one man?” they ask, “how come no one else has seen the face of God?” “No one else has stooped so low,” is the reply. As Jesus gives us the Sermon this morning in Matthew’s Gospel, he is at the beginning of his preaching and teaching ministry. He sits down, as is the custom of the great law teachers, upon a mountain, bringing the image of Moses, the greatest law-giver to mind. It’s as if every ear is attentive to hear his words of greatness, and everyone is holding their breath while he gets ready to teach. What they hear is surprising. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven….blessed are those who mourn… are the meek…the peacemakers…those who are persecuted.”
This is Jesus declaration of the character of the kingdom of God and the nature of citizenship within it. This teaching is primarily about the character of God and what God loves and only secondarily about the character of Christians. It gives us important clues into the proper understanding of sainthood and the communion of saints. God does not expect “super-Christians.” God does not recognize us for deeds of power against evil and defeating the devil. God sees us as the people we: poor in Spiritual power, mourning, unable to stand up for ourselves, hungry for a life of faith, tender-hearted, loving, longing for peace, sometimes laughed at for our faith. If this sounds like you, Jesus is telling you that God loves you, that God wants you. What you lack in spiritual prowess and mighty righteous deeds has been healed and forgiven by God in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus is the One who has stooped so low as to live with us.
There is a promise attached to each “blessed:” “they will be…” This tells us that the world we live in is not the world that God envisions for any of us. We live into the day when we see the comfort, the inheritance, the righteousness, and receive the promised kingdom. It is ‘already-and-not–yet’ for us. When we come to this table we join with those who eat the feast in Paradise already. They bear witness to the truth of the universe and who is really in charge, and they testify to God’s already, in the midst of our not-yet. As our lives continue, we are not alone. God walks with us. The lower our hopes and our faith, the more carefully God stoops to walk with us. We have the saints above and the saints around us to join us on our journey to live in a world that is growing into God’s world as we go forward in time. Until the day when we see the fullness of the Lamb as our shepherd wiping away every tear and leading us to springs of the water of life, we have each other to lean on, to embrace, to encourage and to testify that here among us is the truly the path to God’s kingdom.
Now may the peace which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.