Today we celebrate the feast of All Saints. It is a feast that we as Anglican Christians celebrate annually along with our brothers and sisters in some other denominations. However there are many Christian denominations out there that have completely done away with the idea of celebrating saints days - and even this general thanksgiving and celebration of All Saints. Can I say at the outset that I view that as a great shame. We as Christians can learn so much from those who have come before us! And from those boldly living out their faith today. Today is about giving thanks for the gift to the world that the lives of Christians past, and present are and have been - it is not about putting these people in exalted positions in place of God - it is about looking to them as ones who point the way to God. A clear example of this for me is found in the story of St Francis. Tell me what do you think of when you recall the love and compassion of St Francis of Assisi, and the faith that made him say, whilst undergoing great pain and suffering which eventually led to his death: "I thank you, Lord God, for all my pains; if it pleases you, Lord increase them a hundredfold. I shall thankfully accept whatever sorrow you give, not sparing me; for in the fulfilment of your will I find my greatest solace."
What a faith is this! To be so committed to God that even pain and suffering are no barriers to your commitment. When I read of Francis’ life I give thanks to God, I pray to the Father that I might be able to emulate the faith, love and devotion of Francis - I certainly don't elevate him to any position of deity. That my brothers and sisters is the point of days like this - we celebrate and give thanks for the Saints - for those known to us like Francis and for those who are unknown, the ones who have been and still are faithful servants in the Kingdom of God. We pray today that like them we can be faithful, and we ask God that we might follow their example of devotion to God.
Of course there are many many millions of Christian faithful who have come before us and who live now, who are not celebrated as examples like St Francis is. We know of many people in our own lives who have been for us examples of Christian love, care compassion and Who have been fortresses of faith. Some of them have been very dear to us, and have now gone to dwell with God, some are still with us. Today though is a time to reflect, and give thanks for all the saints, famous or not. It is a day to thank God for their influence in our lives, for their courage to continue the spread of the Gospel for their ability to follow their Lord and saviour.
On this day I also want us to remember that we are members of a communion of saints. We regularly recite the creed as part of our worship and say that we believe in... 'the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.' . How often have you read or said this without thinking on what it means? There are key phrases there I want you to notice - they are the communion of saints, and the life everlasting. Now If we are a part of a communion of people who have everlasting life what does that mean? Christian tradition has since the earliest times of the church held that this means that we faithful witnesses don't worship alone, but that we worship together with all the angels and the saints who have left this world and are now alive (cf. Jn 3:16) and in the presence of God.
But what does this mean for us to be saints? ANd we are all saints my brothers and sisters - all who place their faith in Christ are saints. What does it mean for us in our everyday lives? Our Gospel reading today points us to the answer.
Lets examine it and see what it has to say to us.
5When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
A common problem I found in trying to research the beatitudes was – no-one seemed to know what it meant to be poor in spirit, in this context. However it seems to me that this points to an acknowledgement – that we are all poor in spirit, we all are stained with sin, and through acknowledging this and turning to Christ we are cleansed – and become inheritors of the Kingdom. Jesus himself became poor in spirit for us when he went to the cross.
4 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Again, this can be a difficult one. Some scholars suggest Jesus is referring to people mourning their sins, and the comfort they receive through the forgiveness of the cross. It could just as easily point to those who mourn the loss of loved ones, and today as we give thanks for the lives of Christians past and present – and we recall to mind the loss of our own loved ones it gives us a reassuring hope that comfort will come, that the faithful departed live on in the Kingdom and we will see them again. Jesus mourned over Jerusalem, he mourned over Lazarus and he mourns with us.
5 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
In modern usage meek has connotations of someone who is a door mat, who is timid, afraid to step forward. The original meaning however referred to someone who is humble, gentle and kind. Jesus tells us in Matthew 11 that he is meek (gentle) and lowly of heart, and that we should learn from him…
6 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Righteousness, or being right, is a reference to our relationship with God, as much as it is to our relationship with each other. We by ourselves are incapable of ever coming into right relationship with God. We deserve justice - judgement. But Jesus lived in perfect relationship with the father, he walked in God’s righteousness. He also called for righteous behaviour from the world – he thirsted for it. We are called to trust in his righteousness, and to call on the world to follow him.
7 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
It is so tempting for us demand vengeance when we are wronged. However Scripture tells us that vengeance belongs to the Lord. Jesus calls us to turn the other cheek, to forgive and be merciful. ABove all Jesus himself is mercy personified - on the cross, God incarnate, who could have called legions of Angels to bring wrathful vengeance on those who had beaten and tortured him said instead: Forgive them father, they know not what they do…
8 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Jesus was sinless, the only one ever to walk the earth and be truly pure of heart – and though we are not, the stain or impurity of sin is wiped away when we put our faith in him.
9 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Jesus is the prince of peace (Isaiah 9), he came to bring reconciliation. This might be troubling for us when we read of Jesus saying that he came not to bring peace but the sword(Matt 10) – however this is a reference to the actions of humanity in response to the offer of reconciliation and peace that Jesus brings – people turn against each other, those who take up God’s offer are chastised, rejected and persecuted by those who refuse peace. We are called to continue to be makers of peace – following our Lord – by continuing to proclaim the Gospel.
10 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
I wonder if you have picked up the pattern yet… who could this beatitude be linked to… Jesus who was born as a man in order to fulfil the righteousness of God on our behalf was pursued relentlessly. The religious authorities hounded him and eventually he was beaten, scourged and died a tortuous death - all for us.
11 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
We in our modern liberal democracy where we have the freedom to worship without fear, have it relatively easy on the persecution front - but of course many millions of Christians around the world don’t. Of course we don’t get off scott free - we are still subject to ridicule, and mockery. We can still lose friends and family - just as Jesus warns us in Matthew 10 which we mentioned earlier. But we can take ultimate comfort in the fact that Jesus suffered first - and he is faithful to us.
Brothers and sisters - The Beatitudes all point us to Jesus. They are not a strict moral code against which we are to judge each other, but rather they are sign posts which point us directly to the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. As members of the communion of saints we are called to unswervingly follow Jesus.
Please as you reflect on our readings this week, look forward to the new heaven and the new earth, and give thanks for the promise contained within. Give thanks for those Christians who are in the presence of God now, and for those who roam the earth now. Give thanks especially for those who have been a part of your life and faith journey. Pray that we, like those who came before us can be faithful servants in the Kingdom of God, so that at the end of our earthly lives we might join with them in worshipping our King in eternal life. Above all pray that we might all earnestly seek to walk with Jesus, seeking to emulate him and to be shaped and moulded that the beatitudes might also be used to point to us just as they point to Christ.
The Lord be with you.