Sunday, November 7, 2010

Homily for the Feast of All Saints (observed)


In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

It is said that familiarity breeds contempt. Perhaps, when it comes to well known and beloved Bible passages, it can be said that familiarity breeds a sort of “been there, done that, bought the t-shirt” kind of contempt, a contempt that causes us to neglect revisiting the text and wrestling with it, so as to “suck the marrow” out of it, assuming that we know it well enough and understand it well enough so that there is no need to study it again.

It seems that the opening words of Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter five, the Beatitudes, are like that. “Blessed are the poor in spirit…. Blessed are those who mourn…. Blessed are the meek…, etc., etc.” You know those words well. Perhaps you believe that you understand them well enough? Well, maybe you do, and, maybe you don’t.

The common and popular understanding of Jesus’ teaching in the Beatitudes goes something like this: If you want to be blessed, then be meek, mild, poor, and merciful, etc., and you will be. In other words, the Beatitudes are a guide to living the Christian life or a sort of moral checklist by which you can chart your progress towards achieving blessedness. Though it may be common and popular, however, this understanding of Jesus’ teaching is dead wrong. This understanding makes the Beatitudes to be all Law and, it makes Jesus out to be a new Law-giver. But, worse yet, it makes your blessedness a work that you do. And, so we come full circle, and, we can understand why this understanding is so common and so popular. For, you like to think you can contribute to your sanctification. You like to think that you are making progress in becoming more and more blessed. Well, you’re not alone. In fact, you are in good company, for, the Pharisees thought this way too, especially, when they compared themselves to others whom they judged to be less sanctified and less blessed than themselves. It’s only human; sinful and damned, to be sure, but, human.

But, blessedness is not something that you progress toward or that you achieve by your works, rather blessedness is a state of being in which you find yourself wholly apart from your works, merit, or worthiness. Blessedness is not something that you achieve, it is something that you receive and thus you are, blessed. And, the first step in receiving such blessedness is to recognize that you are not it, and that you do not have it, in and of yourself, and that you cannot gain it by your merits, and that you do not deserve it, because you are a sinner. So, if you are to be blessed, then you must receive blessedness as a gift; you must be made to be, declared to be blessed by the one and the only one who is blessed, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, your Savior. Thus, it is, that the people whom Jesus addresses as blessed are not the “haves” of this world, but they are the “have-nots,” they are the crowds, the hoi polloi, both Jews and gentiles. “Blessed are the poor in spirit .... Blessed are those who mourn…. Blessed are the meek … Blessed are those who hunger and thirst … Blessed are the merciful … Blessed are the pure in heart … Blessed are the persecuted… etc.” The great crowds came from all over, from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan, even from the land of Syria, and they brought to Jesus their sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and He healed them.

Jesus’ blessing brings comfort and fulfillment at once now and not yet. In the now of this life, those who are emptied of self-righteousness and are impoverished of spirit are filled with the righteousness and the Spirit of Christ. Their hunger and their thirst are sated and quenched by His life-giving Word, body, and blood. In their mourning they are comforted in the Peace that is Christ Jesus and His victory over sin, death, and the devil. In persecution and reviling they do not strike back in anger or revenge, but, they remain steadfast in faith in the Christ who has suffered for them, the Christ who suffers with them now, and the Christ who is their unconquerable strength in weakness. That is now, in this life, this side of heaven.

What we see in the Revelation, however, is the other side of the coin, the not yet for us, but, the reality now in heaven for the Saints in Christ. Once again Jesus, the Lamb of God, stands in the midst of a great crowd of people, a multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands. “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” asks the Elder. “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” It is said that this great crowd, this multitude that no one can count, no longer hunger, no longer thirst, and no longer mourn. They are in the kingdom of heaven and they see God with their own eyes. “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” They are the remnant of Israel and countless gentiles from the east and the west, the north and the south. They are the blessed of the Lord, made clean in the blood of the Lamb, gathered together around the throne of God and the Lamb in ceaseless worship now, for them, and not yet for us.

All who have died in the Lord, they are part of that blessed throng, they have come out of the great tribulation that is this life and have entered into Life Himself. They are your mothers and your fathers, your sisters and your brothers, your sons and your daughters, all who have died in the Lord. But, they are not dead, in fact they are more alive than you! They enjoy in full, now, what you only know in part, but that doesn’t make it any less real and true for you who live in the not yet. Indeed, you blessed of the Lord in the now also live in the not yet; it as though you have one foot in the grave and the other in heaven. But you are destined for heaven, when, with both feet, you will stand with that blessed throng, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, before the throne of God and the Lamb in ceaseless worship. That is a guarantee, backed by the blood of Jesus, sealed in baptismal waters. And, until that day when you come out of this great tribulation into heaven, heaven comes down to you as you kneel before this altar, the throne of the Lamb of God, who is truly present, and you behold with your own eyes, hear with your own ears, handle with your own hands, and taste with your own tongues, and you receive, as foretaste of the feast to come, blessedness Himself in holy communion with your flesh and blood.

For, you are His saints, made holy in His blood, and you are His blessed, now and not yet, destined for life with Him, in Him, and through Him for all eternity. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. […] Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” Your Lord Jesus guarantees, “And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure,” and that is blessedness. And all the Saints of the Church of Christ in heaven and earth cry out, “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly, come.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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