Blessed We Are

Message for All Saints Sunday, Year A (11/5/2023)

Revelation 7:9-17

Matthew 5:1-12


“Who are these…?” That’s the question the heavenly figure asks John, the visionary author of the Book of Revelation, in our first reading today. Who are these multitudes from every time and place who sing with joy in God’s presence in the fullness of time? Who are the saints? “Sir,” John replies, “you are the one that knows.” Good answer! Far be it from John, a lowly human being, to assume he knows who belongs in the celestial crowd, sheltered and nourished for all eternity by the love of God.

He could hazard a guess, I suppose, as we’re all inclined to do. We might be tempted to think we can recognize the saints when we see them. Saints are those whose faithfulness and generosity and capacity for love are above reproach. Look closely enough, and you can pretty well distinguish the saints from the sinners, can’t you?

Or, can you? It’s a slippery business. All you have to do is attend a funeral to discover how hard it is to tell the whole truth of a person’s life. Have you noticed that everyone is a saint when it comes time to say goodbye? Of course, we want to remember a deceased person’s best qualities, but we sometimes do so at the expense of honesty. You’re not likely to hear anyone get up in the pulpit and say, “I’m sorry Aunt Betty is gone, but she was one cranky lady, wasn’t she? May she rest in peace.” Nevertheless, we ought to be free to remember the departed as they really were.

The truth is that we are all sinner-saints, beautiful and flawed all at once. And, if our place in God’s presence in the end somehow depends on our deserving, then the complexity of our lives, our faults and failures and doubts– these are all liabilities. But, listen to the song of the saints in heaven. They don’t sing, “Great Is My Faithfulness!” They don’t sing, “Amazing Me, How Sweet the Sound!” No, they sing, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Salvation belongs to our God.

That is the message of All Saints Sunday in a nutshell. Sainthood is not about who we are for God, but who God is for us. That is to say, we are saints by virtue of our inclusion in the great multitude of those whom God gathers into God’s embrace, even in spite of ourselves. Bishop Paula Schmitt gets at this truth on her Facebook page with a quote from Martin Luther: “God doesn’t love us because of our worth; we are of worth because God loves us.”[1] In other words, membership in the communion of saints is received, not achieved. Like Holy Baptism. Like Holy Communion. Like grace in all its forms.

And, wouldn’t it be nice if sainthood came with a few guarantees? God loves me, so I’ll get what I want out of life. God loves me, so I won’t endure undue suffering. God loves me, so I’ll always know how best to love my neighbor. But, simple experience teaches us that’s not the case.

Sainthood isn’t a key to unlocking the good life. In fact, sainthood is sometimes an indicator of hardship and suffering. Who are these multitudes standing before the throne of God? Who are the saints? The heavenly figure says, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal.” When the church first celebrated All Saints Day, this festival honored the martyrs, those whose testimony to the love of God in Christ cost them their lives. Yet, even we who are not persecuted for the faith are nevertheless subject to the full spectrum of the human experience. We may know joy and fulfillment, yes, but we are not immune to sorrow and pain. Indeed, when we look upon the world through the eyes of Jesus, how can we not weep as he did?

As saints of God, we acknowledge both that the world is not as it should be, and that present circumstances will not persist forever. “Blessed are those who mourn,” Jesus insists, “for they will be comforted.” Why? Because salvation belongs to our God. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the Earth.” Why? Because salvation belongs to our God. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” Why? Because salvation belongs to our God.

“Sometimes,” writes Kate Bowler, “the only thing that’s possible is to bless life’s every present moment– even, and especially, the hard ones. Blessings in those moments fall like a summer rain over the driest times and places in our lives. And though a blessing seems counterintuitive in moments of grief and sorrow, that’s when you need to be reminded of the presence of God most– the God whose kingdom is available to all of us.”[2]

Friends, this All Saints Sunday, receive this blessing, also crafted by Kate Bowler, and rest in the hope that you, too, will come out of the great ordeal with a song of praise to sing:

[Excerpt from Good Enough, pp.125-6]

Blessed are we. The saints.

[1] Posted 10/29/2023.

[2] Good Enough, 124.

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