Today is All Saints Day.
This is one of the primary feast days of the church year. Depending on who you are, when you hear the word “saint,“ you might be a bit uneasy. The reason for that has to do with a lot of history, in particular around the so-called “cult of the saints.” One of the hallmarks of the Reformation, which we celebrated yesterday in addition to Halloween, was that we come to understand that our holiness has nothing to do with what we do but everything to do with what God does. In that regard, everyone who is a baptized Christian can consider him or herself a saint. Those who are called saints by the church are recognized for their dedication and service to the gospel, but each and every one of us is made holy through the work of the Holy Spirit. No one – past, present, or future – is somehow holier than anyone else.
Nonetheless on this All Saints Day we remember and celebrate the lives of all of those who have gone before us in the faith. We remember them for who they were, and we remember them for what they did as examples of faithfulness in our own lives. We also remember we too are saints, living saints, who even now lead lives made holy by the Holy Spirit. We too are called to be examples of faithfulness in our living for the saints of today and those to come. With this recognition in mind, I challenge you to think again about what it means to call yourself a Christian, and to think of yourself as a saint. Does that make a difference how you go through your life on a day-to-day basis? How are you an example to others of faithfulness in your own daily living?
Would you pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your site, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
During the summertime when I was growing up, beginning around Memorial Day each year and running until late September, my family would go to different family reunions. There was the Slatterback family, then the Klingler family, then the Rager family. When my father married my stepmother, we started going to the Tice family reunion.
These reunions of course were outside, because it was summer, and of course there had to be food. Each family brought something share. At the Klingler family reunion, we always had barbeque chicken quarters, cooked long and low over an outdoor pit for hours leading up to mealtime. Grandma Klingler made sure that we had that chicken, and when she died, my grandma and her seven brothers and sisters picked up and carried on the tradition. Each year, a different Klingler child would provide the chicken for the whole family, beginning with Grandma and going down the line. When I was a kid, I always looked forward to going to the Klingler family reunion because I could see all my cousins and other relatives that I sometimes hadn’t seen since the previous year.
Over the years, the family grew bigger and bigger as cousins grew up and had their own kids. I have to admit now that I don’t know the names of all my family at the Klingler family reunion anymore, but they’re still family. And the family gets together to share memories from years past. Family reunions are a time to come together and appreciate all that we’ve been through as people with an intimate shared history. Family reunions are an opportunity to appreciate the blessings that we have as a family.
In today’s gospel text, Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount with the famous Beatitudes—the list of “blesseds.” Even people who don’t know the Bible terribly well are likely familiar with some of the lines from this list. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are the pure in heart. Blessed are the peacemakers.
These beatitudes, or blessings, show up all over—even as decals on people’s dining room or living room walls. But like so many things in the Bible, when looked at in context, they don’t make as much sense as they do as a quote inside a Hallmark card. One beatitude in particular is particularly odd—“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
Today on this All Saints Day, this blessing seems to make sense at face value. We remember people in our lives who’ve died. When someone close to us dies, we go through a time of mourning. It’s natural. In fact, if you don’t mourn the death of someone who was close to you—be it parent, brother, child, friend, brother or sister—there’s clearly something wrong with you. On All Saints Day, it would seem natural therefore for us, as we remember those whom we loved who have died, to mourn. And so a blessing from Jesus for those who mourn, that we will be comforted—that makes sense. But does that really fit? Is that the end of the story? Is that what All Saints Day is about?
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted…Mourning is natural, granted, but for Christians, for us, the story doesn’t end at the grave. “All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus,” St. Paul tells us, “were baptized into his death,” and because of that, we must consider ourselves “buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”
This is the fundament, the core, the very kernel of the Christian confession of faith. We who have been baptized into Christ have been united with him in a death like his, and so we are united with him in a resurrection like his. The story goes on, even after death. We believe this as Christians, and so mourning is not the end of the story either. We look beyond the grave and forward to the future with hope. When Jesus speaks of our blessing as people who mourn, it’s this hope that he draws upon to point to our comfort. Because we know God is faithful, we can be comforted even as we mourn. We know the sting of loss, but we know the solace of God’s promise.
As Christians, baptized into Jesus, we are members of a family—the family of God. When we look around this room, we see our brothers and sisters in Christ. Rightly so, we speak of our church family. Emanuel is a family, in more ways than one, but one of the most important ways that we are family is that we are united with one another just as we are united with Jesus in our baptism.
We share with one another our joys and concerns, our burdens and delights, our anxieties and hopes. When someone among us is sick, we not only pray for their wellbeing, but we also put our prayer into action and offer to help out however we can. When someone gets married, we not only pray for their life together with their new spouse, but we also support them through thick and thin. When someone leaves us for a time, we not only pray a blessing over them as they head off, but we provide them something with which to remember their connection to us and the wider family of God by.
Emanuel is a church family, and like any family, we have our moments. We have our dysfunction. We don’t always get along. We have our disagreements and our differences, but what holds us together is far stronger than what might seek to separate us. What holds us together is our love for one another—the same love that God has for us in Jesus. It’s this love that causes us to remember our whole relationship with each other and not fixate on the moments we hurt each other. It’s this love that brings us together even when we’d rather not deal with one another when we’re not getting along. It’s this love that provokes us, nettles us, prods us to forego our pride and bridge the gap between our disagreements and differences for the sake of something far greater than ourselves.
Like any family, it’s love that holds us together. Love that is patient and kind. Love that bears all things, doesn’t insist on its own way or get arrogant or rude. Like any family, the family of God, the church family we have here at Emanuel—our family is held together by love that perseveres in joy and in sorrow, in health and in sickness, for richer, for poorer, for better, for worse. The love that holds us together is the same love poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit in our baptism—the same baptism that unites us with Jesus in his victory over death. This love is the reason we call ourselves a family united with God and one another even beyond the grave.
You see—this love that binds us together now in the present, this love is the same love that binds us together with those who have gone before us. This love is what causes us to remember the past. On this day, we remember fondly the memories made with those we were close to, but we don’t remember with mourning. We remember with joy. We remember with joy because we know that the story doesn’t end at the grave. We know that there’s a great family reunion coming when we will once again be reunited with those who have gone before us.
At that family reunion, we’ll join with all our brothers and sisters in the family of God from all time—those we knew, and those we know now, and those we never knew, don’t know, or never will know. That family reunion will comprise a great multitude that no one will be able to count, from every nation, from all races and languages, around the throne of God. That family reunion will bring past, present, and future together into one moment that has no beginning or end. At that family reunion, we will no longer need to remember because everything in all creation will be brought together to worship God day and night within his temple. At that family reunion we will feast sumptuously, and we will finally taste and see the fullness of God’s promise—nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. At that family reunion, we will feast on the love that won for us and for all creation victory over hate and all the pretenders to God’s rightful dominion.
Death will be no more. Mourning and crying and pain will be no more, and we will live together with our family, the family of God, in eternal union with God and one another—all the past, present, and future saints.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.