Gospel: Luke 6:20-31
In echoes of the prophet Isaiah and Mary’s song of praise, Jesus reveals surprising things about who enjoys blessing and who endures woe. He invites his disciples to shower radical love, blessing, forgiveness, generosity, and trust even on enemies and outsiders.
20Then [Jesus] looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21“Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
22“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
24“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
25“Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
26“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
27“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
On November 3rd, 2016 I was writing a funeral sermon for Rosina Holsing, a beloved matriarch of Peace Lutheran in Greenock. Her funeral was to take place on November 7th. I had promised her, at the age of 86, that I would be there to bury her, exactly as she wished – she had her funeral service all planned out. However, I was approximately 97 weeks pregnant with Vivian, and the likelihood that I would preside at her funeral was slim to none.
Vivian came into this word the very next day, yelling insistently, eyes wide open, and ready to take on the world. We went home on All Saints Sunday. The short funeral message I wrote was passed along to a colleague who was covering for me, who fulfilled Rosina’s wishes to the letter and went above and beyond. He read my eulogy for Rosina ahead of his own homily.
I wrote that she was my best critic and cheerleader, and that her independence and pride was tested by the limitations of age and illness, but she showed me and taught me how to be humbled and ask for help from others, however difficult it may be.
Little did I know the new life that had come into the world was about to be my new best critic, best cheerleader – and that she would also teach me about independence, pride, and how to ask for help.
Pastors have a front row seat to this cycle of life and death of the saints. Exciting Births and final rest. It is a privilege and an honor that we do not take lightly. We pray for our congregations, for their grief and struggle when they lose beloved saints, and in thanksgiving when new life emerges. St. Paul writes to the Ephesians, “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.”
We have had a season of loss here at Christ Lutheran. The names read today, those members who have died in the past 12 months were all homebound members in the end – some for years. Some had moved away to be with family in their old age. Some were in the final stages of dementia or other illness. You may know some names and not others. Save the ones who had moved elsewhere – I visited with them regularly, talked with their family, heard their stories and preached the gospel at their funeral. We take the time to name them today, because each are members of the body of Christ.
All Saints Day was originally set aside to commemorate all those martyrs from the early persecutions whose names were never recorded and thus whose memory was in constant peril of being lost. Over time, this celebration was extended to remember all who have lived and died in the faith and now rest eternally and triumphantly from their labors. We continue this aspect of the celebration when we name those persons of our individual parishes who have died in the last year and live now in the glory of God. The pictures in our windows remind us that we are literally surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, joining us in communion.
Saints are not just those who have been canonized – not just those who have died and left behind some great legacy – but when we say in our creed that we believe in the communion of saints, that includes YOU!
We celebrate All Saints not by contrasting the saints over there — those who have died and gone on to glory before us — with the would-be saints still over here. Rather we recognize and give thanks for the communion of the saints and celebrate our union with those for whom Christ died in every time and every place, a union secured by Christ’s death once and for all, established by our common baptism, nurtured by our life together, and brought to fulfillment in the age to come. To call something holy – is saying that it is set apart for divine use, for God’s glory. In baptism, we are set apart, for God’s use in this world.
In our baptism we are empowered to let our light shine. We acknowledge God’s claim on us as holy people – not better people, but people with a purpose and an identity. Especially when we gather at the Lord’s table – we know the communion of these saints. It is in the Eucharist that the community of God’s people is fully manifest, in the simple act of sharing a meal God comes to be among us. This holy meal is a foretaste of that great and promised feast to come, where death and pain will be no more, and where we shall be among all the saints.
When we participate together, we pray together, we lift our hearts together and open our hands together as we form this invisible circle. These bonds both connect us and strengthen us for the times when we truly need each other, especially in the wake of grief and loss
When I sing at communion, I know my voice is not alone. My small, often unsure, and coughing, is bolstered by the whole choir of saints who sing around the throne. I’m not sure if we’re their back-up singers or they are ours. The hope we carry with us is that someday we’ll all sing together – but until then, we meet here, at this foretaste of the feast to come and sing our song.
O blest communion, fellowship divine.
We feebly struggle – they in glory shine.
Yet, all are one in thee for all are thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia. – For All The Saints
Pastor Erin Evans