In The Episcopal Church, All Saints’ Day is a major feast, and is one that we are allowed to translate to the next Sunday. So most parishes will be celebrating All Saints’ Sunday this week. The lectionary readings are:
(And for a true confession, I usually find myself far more moved by the readings for All Souls’ Day, called in the BCP Commemoration of all Faithful Departed. Those readings are:
- Wisdom 3:1-9 or Isaiah 25:6-9
- Psalm 130 or Psalm 116:10-17
- 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 or 1 Corinthians 15:50-58
- John 5:24-27.
But I’m going to write about Sunday’s readings, since that’s why I started writing these lectionary posts… even if it has been about a month since I wrote one. [blush])
So. All Saints’ Day. I don’t envy clergy who have to find something new to preach every year on our major feasts. I know that current events color these holiday sermons, as well as those who come to church for the special feasts but may be a little less regular in their attendance through the more boring Sundays of the year.
I have to admit that I was a little surprised at the thread of violence I notice in these readings. It’s not terribly overt – well, not in all of them – but I’d been trying to notice when I fall into patterns of using words of violence in my speech and writing this year, and trying to choose other ways to get across the same ideas. So these were rather more noticeable to me now.
From the Ecclesiasticus reading, there is the line about making a name for yourself by your valour. It isn’t stated overtly, but I think that this would be understood at the time it was written as valour in battle. The Psalm this week is perhaps the most obvious, with the double-edged sword, with vengeance and punishment and binding and locking the rulers of the nations. The Revelation story here mentions the angels who have the power to harm the earth, and of course the same image of being washed in the blood of the Lamb. The Beatitudes are mostly sweet and peaceful – though definitely threatening to the typical world order – but they talk about being reviled and persecuted… in the same way they persecuted the prophets before you. Well, guess what: most of those prophets ended up dead. Killed. Murdered. Not pleasantly. And this is supposed to make us feel blessed. Yeah. Blessed.
It is amazing how many of the saints are martyrs. There are lots of really bloody saint stories out there. Just take a look at the list here, or some of the retellings here. I remember reading in St. Teresa of Avila‘s autobiography how she yearned to be martyred, even to the point of running away from home with her brother to seek martyrdom at the hands of the Moors… at age seven. Blessed are you when people persecute you.
I’ll admit this freely: I don’t particularly want to be persecuted. I don’t like it when people spread lies about me – or even when people think things about me that aren’t true. I don’t want to be martyred, and I don’t want to be known for my deeds of valour, and I don’t really want to wield God’s sword and lock up President Bush in iron shackles. And sometimes, it really hurts that we live in a world where people are still persecuted, still martyred. Where people are still achieving deeds of glory and valour in battle. Where men and women are still locked up in iron shackles.
It hurts me sometimes to live in a world where people can be looked down on, harassed, persecuted, tortured, even killed for the way they were born – the way they were created by God – whether this is male or female, with skin of a certain pigment, gay or straight.
This world sometimes just sucks.
The good news is, this world isn’t all there is. God’s kingdom exists. God’s kingdom is real. And while sometimes it is hard to see God’s kingdom in the midst of the suckiness here, we are given hope. The blessings in the Beautitudes – we will be given comfort, we will see God, we will be filled, we will be children of God, we will be shown mercy. We will be given the kingdom of Heaven. And Revelation tells us that God will show us the springs of the water of life, and will wipe every tear from our eyes. The earthly water of pain – our tears – will be replaced with God’s water of life, of health, of wholeness, of love.
All Saints’ Day reminds us of those who have gone before us, those who are now dancing in God’s kingdom. We have this day to shore up our hope, when we are hurting or sorrowful or angry about this world, so that we can look to our ancestors to whom God has apportioned great glory and majesty. And yes, I know that our loved ones are dancing in God’s presence. To use one of Jesus’s favourite rhetorical techniques: if simply partaking of the Eucharist makes me want to dance, then how much more is one inspired to dance by seeing God, by being in God’s presence, by being shown the springs of the water of life, by drinking deeply of them and having one’s last tears wiped away? How much more does one need to dance in praise of God than by finally knowing – knowing to the deepest fiber of one’s being – how completely and scandalously and recklessly one is loved by God? How much more does one want to dance in thanksgiving when one has been totally assured that every sin and mistake and error has been washed clean, and one is now pure and free and holy?
God’s kingdom is one of light and peace and love and joy. We may live in strife and violence and hardship and pain. We may live in a world where there are torture and war and disease. We may have AIDS and malaria and even chickenpox and ingrown toenails. But we know there is something better.
We know what God has in store for us.
We know who is waiting for us there.
And though we may fear dying, though we may grieve at the loss of those we love, we know that we will all be with God.
Blessed children of God.
Drinking from the springs of the water of life.
Dancing, in the kingdom of Heaven.
Thanks be to God!