Happy All Saint’s Day!! Yes, you heard me correctly “Happy” All Saint’s Day. Today is a what is considered by the church as a principal feast day. All Saint’s is one of seven great feasts and is also one of the preferred days to baptize new members into the church. Yesterday, All Hallow’s Eve (or Halloween as it has become to be called) was traditionally the beginning of a three-day remembrance of those who have died. Today, All Saints Day, was the traditional day to incorporate the living into the celebration followed by All Souls Day on November 2, which in Mexican culture has come to be known as Dios de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead). This three-day celebration has been consolidated into a one feast day celebrated on November 1st , or the first Sunday after November 1st. Not surprisingly, it is thought that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenburg, Germany disputing indulgences for the dead on All Hallow’s Eve in 1517 setting off the Protestant Reformation. As this calendar year and as this church year begins to wind down, it seems very appropriate that we take a minute to remember those who have died. In a year marked by pandemic and the Coronavirus that has claimed far too many loved ones, we should feel especially called to remember those who have died.
In this morning’s Gospel, we hear that portion of Matthew known as the Beatitudes. What are we to make of these rather perplexing declarations from Jesus about the Kingdom of Heaven? In the Monty Python movie, The Life of Brian, the main character Brian is at the back of a huge crowd that has gathered to listen to Jesus as he delivers the Beatitudes. Brian is with the people at the back of the crowd who all have a hard time hearing. Someone in the crowd turns around as says “I think he said blessed are the cheesemakers.” Someone then replies “Why would he say blessed are the cheesemakers? To which the reply is, “I don’t think he was being literal, I think all dairy products are important.” Well, contrary to Monty Python, I do believe Jesus is being literal here. While Jesus often uses stories and parables to get messages across, the Beatitudes are intended to give a very clear picture of what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. The Beatitudes take their name from the Latin translation of blessed which is beatus and they are found in the part of Matthew’s gospel that we call the Sermon on the Mount. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus ascends a mountain and delivers a sermon to his disciples. This imagery evokes an almost Moses-like image of Jesus which seems to be intentional by the author. So, what is it that we are supposed to make of these statements that seem to contradict what we think of what it means to be blessed? Richard Rohr, in his book Jesus’ Plan for the New World, states that “The Beatitudes offer us a more spacious world, a world where we do not have to explain everything, fix everything, or control anything beyond ourselves, a world where we can allow a Larger Mystery to work itself out through us and in us. These things are done to us more than anything we can do. The Beatitudes are about changing you and me, not changing other people. Wonderfully, it is not about being right anymore. Who can fully do the Beatitudes “right”? It is about being in right relationship, which is a very different agenda.” So, what does this right relationship look like? In the Beatitudes, Jesus is giving us a very clear image of what the Kingdom of Heaven looks like, and further on in chapter six Jesus will teach us how to pray. He will give us instructions so that we can seek a personal relationship with the Father and not rely on others to intercede for us when he replies to the disciples’ question, “how do we pray?” Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted and, yes, even blessed are the cheesemakers. They and we will all have rewards in Heaven as we all are restored to a right relationship with God.
All Saint’s Day is always special to me as it is a day that calls me in a very solemn way to remember my Mom and my Dad. They may not have been saints in the way that we typically think of saints, like “super Christians.” But Martin Luther reminds us is that in the New Testament the word “saint” is only used to refer to all Christians. In Ephesians, we read in the salutation “Paul an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus.” In the New Testament the word “saint” is never used to refer to the best, most virtuous or most faithful, but rather refers to someone who has been sanctified by baptism into the death and resurrection of Christ. My Mom and Dad may not have performed three miracles, per what the church has historically required for canonization, but they did survive raising three sons and I think that counts for something.
All Saint’s Day is a day for all of us to celebrate the larger family that we have been baptized into, and to remember the greater kingdom that we are fortunate to be invited into as members of the body of Christ. I know we are on the eve of a national election that for many stirs up strong emotions one way or the other. The Beatitudes and our lessons this morning call us back from our anxiety about our worldly situation. We are all together, whether we are republican or democrat, Auburn or Alabama fan, male or female, cat person or dog person, in that wonderful and sacred mystery the church and they will know we are Christians by our love. In a few minutes, we will give thanks in the Eucharist. As we approach God’s table, we will commune not only with God but also with all the saints and the great cloud of witnesses as we enter into the body of Christ. We do this in part so that when we leave this beautiful church building and these beautiful church grounds to go out into our wider communities, we can serve God’s people as the hands and feet of Christ out in the world.
As we navigate this coming week let us remember the following prayer:
Go forth into the world in peace.
Be of good courage.
Hold fast that which is good.
Render to no one evil for evil.
Strengthen the fainthearted.
Support the weak.
Help the afflicted.
Show love to everyone.
Love and serve the Lord,
rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit;
and the blessing of almighty God,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be among us and remain with us always. Amen.
All Saints Day: Revelation 7:9-17; Psalm 34:1-10,22; 1John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12
The Episcopal Church of the Ascension, Montgomery, Alabama
The Rev. Drew Brislin
Sunday, November 1, 2020