Scripture for All Saints Sunday:
Revelation 7.9-17; Psalm 34.1-10, 22; 1 John 3.1-3; Matthew 5.1-12
In the course of the past week we have celebrated the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, Halloween, All Saints and All Souls.
The Reformation shone a light into some dark areas of the church at the time. Halloween shines the light of humour and ridicule into the dark areas of death and so diminishes its power. All Saints Day shines the light of the witness of human endeavour to bring God’s kingdom closer into dark areas of life – and death; All Saints Day celebrates the best of human attempts to follow faithfully in the footsteps of Christ.
Where do those footsteps lead? One place is to Jesus, preaching on the mountain and delivering the beatitudes. But for many people, this list simply uplifts a bunch of losers – whom Jesus describes as ‘blessed,’ or ‘happy.’ How can this be?
The reason that the poor, the downtrodden, the mourners, and others can be happy is that the kingdom of God belongs to them. The kingdom of God is a kingdom where the people whom life casts as “losers” are honoured by God. The kingdom is a place where we can find welcome even when life doesn’t seem hopeful. The point is that we can take heart that we belong to God, that we are honoured by God, and not because our lives are successful, but rather in spite of our lives not being perfect
The beatitudes remind us that it is God’s measure of success that matters: that the kingdom of God belongs to the ones honoured by God, not honoured by the world; that God’s answer to the homeless person is not to give them a bag of food, or even a home, but to invite them into a kingdom.
And we don’t all like that. We are not comfortable living in the world of Jesus’ beatitudes. We don’t all want to have to deal with being close to those whom we dislike or even despise. Maybe all of us, at some time, have balked at the prospect of actually living in the world of Jesus’ beatitudes. We forget that, ‘There, but for fortune, go you or I …’ and instead of turning the power of humour and ridicule on the darkness of death, we turn it upon those who are weak and vulnerable – the ‘losers’ uplifted in Jesus’ list of beatitudes.
Nevertheless, it is a wonderful hallmark of God’s love channelled through humanity that it cannot help shining through, illuminating the little piece of saintliness in all of us. Death’s power over us is the idea of eternal darkness, which we affirm to be subject to Christ’s eternal light.
How this all works is, of course, a mystery. I read an article this week by a priest celebrating 40 years of ordained ministry, and contemplating retirement. He wrote about understanding the tiredness that comes as we get older, even if we do resist the terminal aspects of our mortality. Acknowledging that it is, indeed, a mystery, he commented that he could use a rest. The idea of dying into rest before rebirth into energetic glory is not new – Tom Wright has, for example, written in this vein.
Perhaps we are all entitled to a little rest before being raised in energetic glory to participate in God’s new world. But are we willing to begin participation now?
We need to decide whether we are willing to let that piece of saintliness within us come to the fore – because it might cost us something. We really need to decide whether we are people of the beatitudes, whether we are willing to allow this world to become a place that more closely foreshadows the life to come – because it will cost us something. We need to decide whether to turn on the light switch that might illuminate far more than we realise – including things about ourselves that we might be quite comfortable keeping in the dark.
If we do, then we are, in whatever way God decides for us, marching towards joining what we call the communion of saints. We are called children of God, and are invited to be so. But are we up to it?