All Saints – Festival of FriendsPentecost
This passage from Matthew is generally described as the Beatitudes, taken from the Latin – meaning the state of being blessed. Luke has his own version in Chapter 6 but it takes place on a plain. No – Not the kind that goes in the air. But that’s a story for another day. Matthew has Jesus talking about who is blessed as he sits on a mountain. And why a mountain as the setting?
Jesus going up on a mountain is meant to make us think back to Moses who goes up Mount Sinai to receive God’s commandments to tell everyone how they are to behave, how to live. It is very prescriptive. Thou shalt not…. But this is more the Mount of Blessings. Jesus gives us a description of those who are blessed by God.
Blessed are the poor, the meek, the hungry, the pure in heart, and so on. but Jesus isn’t saying that in order to be blessed that we need to necessarily be naive, starving or down and out. There is a tendency to think of the word Blessed meaning something close to Happy. Some paraphrased New Testaments use this word in place of Blessing. But to be honest, it is a poor translation of what being blessed truly means.
The Beatitudes also do not say anything like ‘Blessed are the rich or the well connected, for you will be noticed. or Blessed are the well educated for you will get the good jobs.” While it is true that we can never be truly happy with self centred lives, there is much more to it.
The book of Matthew was written in Greek and the original word used for Blessing here is Makarios. Originally this word referred to the Greek Gods who were other worldly and beyond all cares and worries. So to be blessed meant basically that you had to be one of the gods. But it came to have a second meaning, which referred to those who had died and were with God – thus having no cares or worries. Being blessed also came to mean those who were rich and powerful, and had no cares or worries.
In the Old Testament to be blessed meant more that you had lived right. You had honour, riches, beauty perhaps, wisdom, health – in other words you were blessed if things were going along swimmingly.
But Jesus turns these understandings of being blessed upside down and inside out. His words are practically a daring act of protest. These words of Jesus do not give us the entrance requirements for Heaven or a guide to successful living. But, Jesus proclaims a new way of seeing the world and a new way of being within it. So what does it really mean to be blessed? What is Jesus saying here?
I would say that Jesus is telling us that no matter what we are going through, we still, always – belong to God, to Jesus. Jesus’s hand is on each of us and touching our lives no matter what sorrow or sadness comes. No matter what appears to have gone wrong. We are blessed even when we are broken. We are beloved by Jesus.
Today we are celebrating All Saints Day. Tomorrow is All hallows Eve – or Halloween. And the following day is actually all Saints day. Most parts of the Christian Church mark these two days in some fashion. All Saints Day is about remembering and celebrating those who have died in the faith and belong to God. Nov. 2nd is called All Souls Day. You may have heard of this. This was a day intended to remember and pray for those who were in purgatory – that in between place between heaven and earth and hell. It is still celebrated by some.
Indulgences long ago could be paid to the church to ‘get people out of purgatory.’ And it would pay for prayers to ‘get’ people into heaven. That concept was something that led to the reformation.
Now All Saints is celebrating Christ’s victory over death, remembering those saints of the church – known and unknown. Some have ‘St.’ affixed to their names already but many don’t. They simply followed Jesus and put their trust in Christ alone.
Jan Richardson – artist and theologian says this: The Feast of All Saints assures us that even here in our grief and loss, there is a doorway – a place where the worlds touch. We press our ears to the door In this liminal space- an in-between thin or holy place – there is mystery, wonder, love, longing and even grief. And now – I will perform the death defying act of proclaiming the Good News! In Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, he says: So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God – built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets. (Eph. 2:19) And we all perform this death defying act together when we proclaim the words of the Apostles Creed and sing the words of many of our hymns. Death doesn’t have the last word, even though we see death casting shadows on our own lives and so often upon our world. We boldly wait with hope for the resurrection. Our life in Jesus Christ isn’t interrupted by physical death. Jesus spans the gap of the already and the not yet. Which reminds me of Paul’s letter to the church Corinth. In 2nd Corinthians Chapter 3 Paul speaks with an unmoving certitude of God’s power to defeat death and in Christ being able to transform our fragility and brokenness. God chooses us mere mortals to be witness to his Divine Glory. Think back to Moses being on the mountain receiving the law and returning with his face glowing so much he needed a veil.
But Paul tells the church, that ‘all of us – with unveiled faces – seeing the glory of the Lord – as though reflected in a mirror are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. The veil has been lifted and we now have an eternal weight of glory, that we are being transformed into. The scriptures insist that we are essentially spiritual beings you and I. We are built for eternity.
As C. S. Lewis once pointed out: There are no ordinary people. And you have never spoken to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, these things are mortal. But it is immortals whom we joke with, talk with, work with, marry, snub, exploit and love. Lewis said: ‘Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses.’ And when our earthly tent – our bodies – are finished, we know our eternal home where we will be present in and behold God’s Glory is indestructible. Our citizenship is in heaven. each one of us is being transformed and prepared for an eternal weight of Glory. And odd phrase.
What does glory weigh? The Hebrew word for Glory is Kavod and technically means ‘heavy.’ This can mean something like a burden – but this word for heaviness can also mean the weight of wealth, say, or an honour. I want you to picture scales – like the scales of justice. On one side there are afflictions, sin, sorrow, anger, bitterness, pain, loneliness… These worldly things weigh us all down from time to time. (M. Bailey, Dallas seminary). On the other scale – the other side, is the eternal joy that is felt in heaven. It is the eternal weight of Glory. The other side of worldly sorrows becomes like a mere vapour compared to this overwhelming weight of Glory. Pain, suffering – it is all gone. When we are in the Presence of the Holy One, the Glory is reflected from us. We – you and I – are being transformed from one degree of glory to another. Today we celebrate All the Saints – the myriad of unknown souls blessed and transformed, and the ones we have known and still know now. You are no longer strangers and aliens – but citizens with the saints and members of God’s household.
One of my favourite musicians is Bruce Cockburn. He has a song that speaks of this. – some of it says: An elegant song won’t hold up long,
when the palace falls and the parlour’s gone.
We all must leave, but it’s not the end.
We’ll meet again at the festival of friends.
Smiles and laugher and pleasant times.
Theres love in the world but it’s hard to find.
I’m so glad I found you. – I’d just like to extend
and invitation to the Festival of Friends.
Some of us live and some of us die.
Someday God is gonna tell us why.
Open your heart and grow with what life sends.
That’s your ticket to the festival of friends.
Like an imitation of a good thing past
these days of darkness surely will not last.
Jesus was here. And he’s coming again.
To lead us to the Festival of Friends