All Saints Day 2011

The first of November is, traditionally, the feast of All Saints. I take a “reformed” view of the day, and, I think, the biblical one as well, that saint means Christian. Paul addresses us as such in his letters. Just look at the opening of most of his epistles and you will see him using the term to address those he is writing to.

The readings for the lectionary (of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer at least) for All Saint’s Day includes the beatitudes from Matthew’s Gospel.

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:1-12 ESV)

Jesus’ words at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount are appropriate to reflect upon on All Saint’s Day because in them, Jesus illustrates that the Kingdom of Heaven–that is, “sainthood”–is open to all.

Often we hear these qualities lifted up as things to attain to, and this has a long tradition in the church. I think there is also validity in the view offered by Dallas Willard in The Divine Conspiracy. Namely that as Jesus sat down to teach, he looked at the crowds, and reassured them. He was not in an Ivy-League lecture hall. He was not sitting in a great cathedral. He was sitting on a Judean hillside surrounded by the common people, and a lot of the outcasts of society.

Jesus speaks to their unspoken concern, “Is this for me? Sure, he healed me, or my friend–he’s got my attention–but can I afford what he’s selling?” Jesus turns the world’s pecking order upside down, as he so often did, with the beatitudes. Those the world looks down on, marginalizes and even persecutes, those are the people my good news is for. Not so much for the all-together up-and-comers. No, this is good news for the down-and-out and the bent-and-broken.

Jesus, continues to live up to his name given by Gabriel–Immanuel. God with us. He is with us, so that we can be with him. He opens the Kingdom to all of us, so we can all become saints, and more importantly, children of God the Father. We celebrate our membership in the fellowship of the saints on this day, we are a part of the great cloud of witnesses of Hebrews 12:1. They have gone before, and we are following after. One day, each of us will be one of those who has “gone before.”

May we leave a heritage that is worth celebrating by future generations on this historic feast day of the church.

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