23 Pentecost/ All Saints Day; November 5, 2023
Saint David’s Episcopal Church
Revelation 7:9-17; Psalm 34:1-10, 22; 1 John 3:1-3; Matt 5:1-12
Today we celebrate All Saints, one of the great holy days of the Christian year. On this day, we commemorate the great saints of our tradition.
Even more important for most of us, at least more personal, we also celebrate the saints from our own lives, the people we love who have died. Today, more even than other days, we include them in our prayers. And today, more even than other days, we rejoice in the Christian hope that we will someday be reunited with them in the great communion of saints.
Our readings for this morning work together beautifully to proclaim the good news of this day. Our Gospel reading describes the world as we actually experience it, with hardships but also with God’s help. Revelation gives us a picture of God’s kingdom, to which we are destined. It gives us hope. And First John expresses that hope.
I start with the Gospel, Jesus’ famous “beatitudes” or blessings. I tried to memorize this passage as a child, and I have always loved it. But the beatitudes are a little confusing, if you stop to think about them.
To be blessed is a good thing. So, it would seem like we should strive to be the kind of people who get blessed, the kind of people Jesus describes as blessed.
But the kind of people Jesus describes as blessed aren’t exactly the kind of people most of us want to be. To be persecuted, or to be reviled and slandered doesn’t sound great. I don’t know anyone who sets out with the goal of making people hate and oppress them. That’s certainly not my goal!
So, what’s going on here?
Take just one of the beatitudes. Since this is All Saints Day, when we remember those who have died, I focus particularly on verse four: “Blessed are those who mourn, [those who grieve,] for they will be comforted.”
Jesus’ point in our passage is not that we should try to grieve so that we will receive God’s blessing. I don’t wake up and think to myself, I’ll do a little grieving today. Grieving is never my goal.
But whether or not I seek it out, grieving happens. We don’t have to seek opportunities to grieve. Grieving finds us. Grieving is a tragic and inevitable part of human life. Terrible things happen. People we love die. We’re remembering many of them today.
In a fallen world, we all will grieve at times. That’s a given. The only question is, how will we experience the grief that comes our way?
The good news of our Gospel reading is that we never grieve alone. In our grief, in our suffering whatever form it takes, God comes to us. God blesses us. God sustains us.
And sometimes, in the thick of grief, we may not feel God’s presence. But even then, especially then, God is with us. That is Christ’s promise to us in this beatitude, the promise of Christ who is himself God with us.
Two things are true about our lives. We suffer. And God blesses us, especially when we are suffering and need God most. So, says Jesus, blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are those who mourn, not because mourning is itself a good thing, but because people in need can rely on God to show up. Thanks be to God.
But grief and suffering are not the end of the story. Not even God’s blessing when we are grieving is the end of the story. As people of faith, we look beyond the grief, beyond the consolation. We look forward in hope to a time when suffering will end, when grief will end, and all that remains is God’s blessing.
And that is the picture we get in our reading from Revelation.
Revelation is a challenging book, the most challenging book of the Bible. But in the middle of strange and terrifying visions of tribulation, we get beautiful passages like the one we just heard.
In this vision, we see the throne of God, and Christ the Lamb of God, surrounded by angels, and elders, and people from every family, language, tribe and nation, all singing hymns of praise to God.
Then one of the elders tells John, the seer, that all these people had suffered in their lifetimes, and that their suffering has now ended. God had wiped the tears from their eyes and welcomed them into God’s own presence in the heavenly kingdom.
That is the All Saints vision. That vision is what we celebrate today when we acknowledge the people we have loved who have died, when we celebrate their presence with God, when we consciously join our voices with theirs, and with angels, and archangels, and all the company of heaven, in singing God’s praises.
The people who have died have not simply left us. They have before us on a journey that we all will take, a journey deeper and deeper into the presence of God. And so, even when we grieve their loss, we can also rejoice in their eternal life in God’s kingdom.
That is the promise of hope in Revelation.
And then there is First John, which acknowledges the gap between what we experience now and what we will experience when we join those who have gone before us into the communion of saints.
It’s another packed passage. “John” writes, “Beloved, we are God’s children [even] now,” even in the midst of our trials and tribulations. That’s Jesus’ message in the beatitudes, too.
“What we will be” in that day, in God’s kingdom, he continues, “has not yet been revealed.” But this much we do know: in that day, when Christ returns, when God’s kingdom is established, when the vision in Revelation comes true, “we will be like Christ, for we will see Christ as he is.”
I am going to say that last again. We will be like Christ.
Already we are children of God. That is true even now, despite all our foibles. But in our fallen world, handicapped as we are by sin and suffering, we are not yet fully Christ-like. That’s clear enough if we look in the mirror
or anywhere around us. At this moment, we are still very much in the process of becoming, of being formed and reformed into God’s true image and likeness.
But, John assures us. we will get there, with God’s help. We will get there, and the people we love will get there, and someday we’ll all be reunited in God’s kingdom, and all shining with God’s glory, like Christ himself.
That is a vision, a hope, that can sustain us in hard times.
And our times are hard. I think especially about all the suffering in the Holy Land these days, about the violence that has happened and that continues to happen every day.
But God is with the people who are mourning, blessing them. As Christians, we hold on to the vision of God’s kingdom to come. And as people walking the way of Christ, we do our best to purify ourselves, to become more Christ-like, confident that God’s grace will get us there in the end.
And for those blessings, I give thanks. In Christ’s name. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Harvey Hill
Third Order Franciscan