Blessed are you… – Sermon for All Saints Sunday

The Feast of All Saints sometimes is depressing. We remember those who have died. Death is not a happy subject. Let’s be frank about that. Even for those of us who hold fast to promise of God in Jesus that death no longer has the last word, death is still not something insignificant or immaterial. We must still face death, our own death, and the death of those we love and care about, just as Jesus had to face his own death. Death is part of the human experience…And All Saints shouldn’t be depressing. All Saints is a time for us to remember the promise of God—to be reaffirmed in our faith, in our unshakeable, indominable relationship with God through Jesus. All Saints is a time for us to remember those who have gone before us and are now wholly in the care of God, no longer assailed by the whimsical vagaries of humanity, they rest secure in God’s mercy. And the promise made them is the same promise made us. We rejoice that those we love have finally reached God’s promised land, and we rejoice that we too shall join them when our journey likewise reaches its end.

Today isn’t a day for despairing over time cut short, but a day for celebrating those whose victory in Jesus has come home at last—and celebrating that our own victory in Christ is shared with them. Let us remember those we love, not with sadness or misery or patinaed nostalgia, but with joy and fullness of life in this life and with hope and sure certainty in the Word of God made fully human for us in Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection. The saints who have gone before us are an example of faithful living that ends in the merciful compassion of God’s love, and so we do well to honor their memory to hold fast to the promise of God—even in the face of all adversity. God does not abandon his faithful, you, me, or those who have died. God is with us—our Emanuel.

Let us pray. May only God’s Word be spoken and may only God’s Word be heard; in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Who here considers themselves a morning a morning person? Someone who wakes up in the morning ready to jump up like a jack-in-the-box to face the new day, maybe even before the sun is up? Now what about those here who consider themselves a night person? People who are just getting going at 8:00 or 9:00 PM? Who think going to bed at midnight is “early?” Our early birds…and our night owls, as it were. And then there are those of you who probably didn’t know exactly which category you are…because, let’s face it, some of us are neither really an early birds or a night owls, but something much more like a eternally exhausted pigeons.

And let’s not forget maybe the most controversial dichotomy—summer versus winter. Who likes summer? Who likes winter? Some of you can’t wait for the temperature to go over 80º so you can put on your shorts and drink lemonade on the pool deck, while the rest of us would much rather sit inside under a blanket watching the snow come down. And summer people think winter people are crazy and winter people think summer people are crazy. And never the twain shall meet.

We could keep going on listing such examples of opposites that set people apart. Most of the time, such differences between people are harmless, such as chocolate versus vanilla ice cream people, but there are times when people are so polarized, so far apart from each other on things that they repel each another. We only need to turn on the television, log on to the internet, or go about the community, what with all the yard signs right now, to see that we are living in a time where people are motivated more by what divides us than what unites us. And yet it is Jesus’ prayer that his disciples, we who call ourselves Christians, we who’ve put on Christ and claim him as Lord—it’s his prayer that we be one with each other as he and the Father are one. The nature of our differences are not to separate us, but to reflect the diversity of God’s own nature—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and to embody God’s own desire for creation in, with, and through our own lives. When our differences cause division between us, God’s desire for creation grieves under the burden of sin, and we not only suffer but so does the very heart of God.

In today’s gospel, Jesus pronounces blessing in ways that might seem strange to us. Blessed are you who are poor. Blessed are you who are hungry. Blessed are you who weep. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you. Those hardly seem like things we’d think of as blessing. They sound like the very opposite of blessing, very different from blessing. How can it be that weeping is a blessing—even if we are promised to laugh later? Anyone who has experienced the suffering of a loved one or a friend, maybe because they’re chronically sick, or maybe you’ve experienced suffering yourself—knows the pain of weeping, of worrying, of wondering how thing will turn out. And anyone who’s experienced the death of friends or family, maybe your best friend, or your husband or wife, your mother or father, or perhaps a sister or brother, or the worst of all, of your child—anyone who’s gone through the death of someone they dearly, dearly loved knows the pain of mourning and weeping, either outward wet tears or inward dry ones. How is that hardly a blessing?

Blessing is bigger.

Blessing is bigger than our current circumstances.

We aren’t blessed because we mourn; we mourn because we are blessed. We cry because we know what it’s like to experience something far greater than the pain of loss. We know the joy of living in relationship with someone we love. We come to appreciate the blessing of relationship more deeply with friends, with family—with people we love and who love us us—precisely when they are no longer there, when things change. We value their presence in their absence. Just like you know you’re a summer person because you’ve been through winter after winter and you know what that’s all about, or just like you know you’re not a morning person because for years your most productive hours every day are after the sun’s gone down, so too do those who mourn know the blessing of God because they’ve known the blessing of relationship. Blessed are those who mourn for they know the joy of love. Blessed are those who weep, for you will laugh—because, indeed, you know the promise of God.

This difference, this absence, this apparent separation for a time is a blessing because we already know the joy of relationship filled with love, and we look forward in hope to the fulfillment of God’s promise when love is all things. This difference, when our lives change after someone we love dies, and we cry or mourn—this different life squarely confronts us with the mercy of God and reminds us that God who raised Jesus from death to life again promises never to abandon us or those we love. That reminder and the comfort that comes from believing it, even for a fleeting moment, is a blessing—a foretaste of what is to come when love is all things. We are blessed to know that…and our mourning is a sign that we are do know it.

“Grief,” Queen Elizabeth, a saint whose death the whole world lived through this past year—“grief,” she once said, “is the price we pay for love.” The queen was as wise woman, and a devout woman. She was remembered as one who prayed and worshipped often, and she had often said it was her faith that got her through difficult times. Even as she was the perhaps one of the most privileged people in the world, someone we might consider richly blessed by earthly standards, she often would speak of her personal difficulties, her human difficulties, and she would tell people how thankful she was for her faith that saw her through. In this regard, Elizabeth Regina was an example of faithful living, and her confession about grief is a testament to her own conviction in faith, and it’s a good lesson for us.

Grief is the price we pay for love. We know the pain of grieving, of mourning because we know the joy of loving, of being loved. When Jesus blesses those who mourn, he’s not raising mourning to some higher moral plane. He’s making a simple statement about the nature of grief and its relationship to love. To understand the nature of God’s love for us more fully, we must confront the totality of its cost—and those who mourn understand it even better than those who have never mourned over someone they dearly, dearly loved. The more passionate the love, the more profound the grief.

And yet—God’s love for us is still more profound than any love we have for each other, for friends, spouse, or child even. God’s love is perfect, for indeed…God is love. The price that God pays for his love for us, for all people, is not merely his aggrieved heart at the brokenness of relationship with creation, but it’s his life—his life given for us and for our salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord. Death is the price God pays for his love for us.

And yet this very death is death’s undoing. For death will not have the final victory. Love triumphs, because God triumphs, and God is love. Mercy triumphs over judgement, and the promise of life in Christ Jesus our Lord is that nothing, nothing in all creation, will separate us from God’s love. Even death may seek to undo us, but because God claims us, because God loves us, God’s death has been our death’s undoing. In perfect love, Jesus once and for all revealed to us just how much God loves us—to death and back.

And his victory over everything that stands in the way of relationship with us once and for all removes all barriers that stands in the way of our relationships with each another now, the living saints on earth—showing us that whatever separates us pales in comparison to the love that God challenges us to have for another. What seeks to unite us is far greater than what seeks to divide us. And what’s more, God’s victory also once and for all removes any and all barriers for us between relationship with those who have gone before us, on to the great adventure—beyond the veil of death. That veil is no longer an impenetrable wall, for all who are united with Jesus in a death like his, are truly united with him in newness of life like his. And the promise of life in God is twofold—we live in that life now, in a foretaste of the fullness of God, the fullness of love, and even in death, we are bonded together with God and each other in that fullness, a fullness where God is all and all is God.

We know the pain of mourning because we likewise know the joy of loving. Likewise, we know the peace of God in the face of all manner of suffering and difficulty because we also know the truth of God that surpasses all understanding—for God so loved the world that for us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, lived with us and died for us that we who live and move and have our being in him might not grope about under the shadow of death, but embrace and ever hold fast to the blessed hope that God has promised us is ours because of Christ Jesus our Lord.

Blessed are you…

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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