Matthew 5:1-12 Revelation 7:9-end
All Saints’ Day
How are you?
On the whole, we tend to be good at small talk: from our greeting: ‘How are you? I am fine, thanks.’ – to the topic of casual conversation: ‘So glad it’s not raining’ – or variations on the weather, we tend to stay on the surface rather than going deeper. That doesn’t go for all cultures and societies; for example, the closer you get to the Mediterranean, the simple greeting ‘How are you?’ will evoke a much longer answer and engagement with the topic, ranging from a personal state of being to that of the second cousin twice removed.
Whenever people meet, it seems that some people are better at taking time to share the latest news, about their own families and friends or even the state of the nation, than others. And on the whole, the British are not known for taking that time. Until, that is, the moment when Covid-19 hit us early this year.
During my daily walk for exercise I noticed people would stop to have a chat rather than pass by with a hurried ‘you alright?’ – all of a sudden, when we had to keep our physical distance, time became more available for deeper conversation and sharing. It’s as if we began to try and build a kind of ‘bridge’ to narrow the divide with communication, now that we couldn’t be close to our loved ones for some time. No doubt psychologists will have more to say about that.
But today, All Saints’ Day, we’re also looking at communication at a deeper level. The sayings of ‘blessed are…those who mourn; the meek, those who hunger for justice, etc.’ in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, are not just simple truths for all time about human behaviour and the way the world is. Only too often, those who mourn are not comforted, those who hunger for justice don’t get it in this world, and the meek don’t inherit the earth. So, if it’s not an announcement about the state of things now, then what is it? When Jesus said, ‘Follow me’ to the disciples, he didn’t tell them that they were going to have a great time. What he did say, though, was that great things were going to happen; and they would begin with him. It’s gospel, good news, not good advice. The list of good news in the Beatitudes (from the Latin ‘beatus’ which means ‘blessed’) was to announce God’s new plan in his new covenant with the people. They were to be offered a way out of their ‘land of slavery’ in their present state, and into a new ‘promised land’ of the kingdom of heaven. And Jesus, God’s Son himself, would open the gates and show the way. The Beatitudes are images of how that new covenant would look.
Another image is offered in the reading from Revelation 7: ‘After this I looked, and there was a great multitude … from every nation, … standing before the throne and before the Lamb. And all the angels stood around the throne .. and worshiped God, singing, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be to our God forever and ever!’
When this great multitude is referred to, it is also said that ‘they will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’
The saints are Christians who have been identified through time as those who did special things because of their faith, sometimes in the most difficult circumstances and deep suffering. We remember them collectively today as examples and an encouragement to us. They are sometimes referred to as their stained glass pictures: people that the light shines through. They remind us of the way Jesus built a bridge between us and God, and a road that will carry us home. We don’t really know what heaven looks like, but we know it’s God’s space and that he is building a new earth that will have a place or connection with heaven. The life of heaven is to become the life of the world, where beauty and peace reign, as God has intended.
The Beatitudes invite us to live in the presence with the future in mind, even at this time, and to go deeper at all levels of being. It’s as Julian of Norwich says, when she quotes Jesus’ words to her: ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.’ Amen.