What We Shall Be

Trinitarian Congregational Church                                                          All Saints Sunday

Anthony S. Kill                                                                                        November 5, 2017

Texts: I John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12

 

“Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

 

The feast called “All Saints Day” was initiated in the early centuries of the Christian church specifically to honor the unknown saints.

Not the famous saints and martyrs like St Francis or St Benedict or St Teresa or St Mary, but those who led holy lives and even gave up their lives for their faith, whose names were never known nor long remembered.

So it is fitting that on All Saints Day, we read Jesus’ Blessing on the Little Ones, the quiet ones, the gentle ones from the Sermon on the Mount –  the seekers after justice and the pursuers of peace who are poor in spirit and pure in heart.

I think those attributes much more accurately describe the kind of saints that we know, the ones that we’ve lived with and rubbed shoulders with, the ones whose lives we will remember today by lighting candles in their memory, the ones we dearly loved and deeply miss.

The John’s and the Ed’s and the Peter’s, the Ruth’s and Mary’s and Helen’s, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

And “Blessed are those who mourn them, for they shall be comforted.”

As I think about those we are calling to mind this morning and as I look at the faces of you gathered here, I am aware of how many different ways we have been touched by death.

Some of you have had loved ones who lived to a ripe old age, then slipped peacefully off to eternal rest.

Others saw friends or relatives struggle and suffer in their last months or weeks or days.

Still others saw their loved ones snatched away in their prime, or in the blossom of youth, or in infancy or even in the womb.

I am also aware that each person faces death uniquely.

Some seem to be able to embrace death peacefully, almost serenely, at whatever time it comes.

Others fight for life and continuation of earthly existence at all costs.

They might eventually come to peace and acceptance, but they do not go gently into that goodnight.

And still others are given a hard battle at the end-time, whether they would choose it or not.

And finally, I am aware that our memories of those who have died are equally a mixed bag of remembrances.

Some of us remember sweet and wise and saintly friends or family members, folk who seemed to spread light and good cheer wherever they went; folk who never complained or gossiped meanly, folk who treated all others with kindness and respect.

But some of us remember those who have gone before us with very different (or at least with very mixed) emotions.

We remember flashing tempers, or hard heads, or sharp edges.

We remember painful family divisions or too-long held grudges.

We remember the un-lovely parts of the people we recollect this Memorial Sunday. (And sometimes the same person evokes both kinds of memories)

Such is the mix of human strength and weakness,  saintliness and sinfulness.

The philosopher Blaise Pascal once wrote, “The world does not divide between saints and sinners, but between sinners who believe themselves to be saints, and saints who know themselves to be sinners.

In any case, we bring very different experiences and very different memories with us here today.

But we also bring some common experiences that we are called to remember by the deaths that touch our lives.

One is that death is universal – we will all have to face it. Each and every one of us will die, whether it will be soon or decades down the road, whether it be sudden or lingering, whether alone or surrounded by caring friends.

No one gets out of here alive.

Yet we need not lose heart or become discouraged by that fact of mortality.

The Christian faith holds out to us a promise of a future that will still be in God, even though we may not know exactly how that will look.

As the First Letter of John says.

“Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.

“What we do know is this: when Christ is revealed, we will be like Christ, for we will see Christ as Christ is.”

I think that when we face the mysteries of life and death, there is much that “has not yet been revealed,” much that we cannot possibly understand or predict on this side of eternity.

Perhaps the most profound statement of faith that we can make is that we will not be abandoned in life or in death; we are never truly cut off or separated, and we are never alone.

Being a believer, being a person of faith in a time of sorrow, in a time of pain or fear,  or in a time of ambiguous and ambivalent feelings,

(being a believer) doesn’t need to mean that you have all the answers, or that you always feel a rock-solid confidence, convinced that everything is going to turn out OK, or that you have a clear picture of the afterlife.

You can have faith, and still feel very unsure about any of those things.

What faith does offer us in those circumstances is the perception (some might say the intuition) that we are not facing this hour alone; that we are not being buffeted about by events of blind, mindless fate.

By faith we can affirm that there is a benevolent and compassionate presence at work in our life and in our future, even when we do not know how or where that presence will make itself known, or why our life has unfolded as it has.

There is a blessing for us even in our sorrow or our spiritual poverty, a blessing for us even in our persecution or our pain.

By faith we can affirm that our lives are held in the hands of a loving God and that we and our loved ones have a future in God.

There is a greater life, a stronger life-force, that spans the chasm between our world and eternity.

And so, we can sing in hope and confidence: “O Blessed Communion, fellowship divine! We feebly struggle, they in glory shine; for all are one in thee, for all are thine. Alleluia! Alleluia!