We are gathered here this morning to mark our parish feast day, to remember our connection to the Communion of Saints and pray for those who have gone before us in the faith, to celebrate the Eucharist together for the first time in eight months. And in one of the synchronicities in life, the last time we were together for Communion on March 8 it was the start of daylight savings, and today is the day we return to standard time. Our experience of being apart in so many ways has been bounded by the time changes we observe.
And we hear these very familiar words of Jesus, those we call the Beatitudes, and we draw comfort from them – a recognizable touchstone in the sea of so much that is uncertain and unfamiliar, and feelings of frustration, sadness, confusion, anger, and just plain being fed up. It is good to have a safe and familiar rock upon which to stand. And yet, if we only hear these words as solace, we will have missed the fullness of what Jesus wants to say to us.
The Beatitudes are the start of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew’s presentation of much of Jesus’ core teaching, early on in his public ministry. But they are not just philosophical statements to consider, good advice for those who might like to ponder such things.
It helps to remember that just prior to this scene, Jesus has called two pairs of brothers to give up everything and follow him. They travel throughout Galilee and attract a huge following with people coming on foot from all over, even over a hundred miles away – hungry for the healing, deliverance, and wholeness that they have heard comes to those who were in Jesus presence. Jesus is gathering around him a new community, founded on a renewal of God’s purposes for humanity, a fresh understanding and experience of God’s presence and promise.
Just like God makes a covenant with the enslaved Hebrews after Moses frees them from oppression in Egypt; and just like God renews that covenant with the people as they are about to cross the Jordan River into the promised land under Joshua’s leadership; so now Jesus is calling God’s people into a new covenant of faith and love which will ultimately be ratified in his Body and Blood, his crucifixion and resurrection.
The Sermon on the Mount and the words of the Beatitudes, in particular, become the handbook, a manifesto almost, a rule of life for life in the community of the kingdom of heaven – not just a far away, eventual destination, but God’s kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven. The word “blessed” here can just as well be translated as “wonderful news” an announcement of the life-giving things that God is doing for and through this new community.
Wonderful news for the poor in spirit! Wonderful news for the mourners! Wonderful news for the meek! Wonderful news for people who hunger and thirst for God’s justice; and for the merciful, and the pure in heart, and the peacemakers. And wonderful news for the people who are persecuted and slandered because of God’s way!
All of these are characteristics and hallmarks of living in and for Christ, and Jesus also lays out the results of this rule of life: The kingdom of heaven, the fullness of God, is yours; you’ll be comforted and given solace, but you’ll also be advocated for; and you’ll possess the truly important things in life. You will be filled up and satisfied with God’s justice; you will be on the receiving end of mercy and care; you will be able to see God at work in the world about you, as well as in your own heart. You will know your identity as God’s child and your place in God’s family. You will be living right at the heart of the kingdom of heaven, and you’ll be in very good company – that of the prophets and the saints who got into good trouble for God.
Those are the hallmarks of being a follower of Jesus, of living in God’s way, of being part of the Communion of Saints – that great cloud of faith and witnesses who surrounds us and pray with us.
I have no doubt that these past eight months may have tried and tested your faith in many different ways; and we know that we are not yet at the end of it. So it is really important, crucial actually, that we take time this morning as we are gathered to remember what we are about as Christians, to renew our commitment to following in God’s way, to live and move and have our being in the love and grace of God even as the world around us does not always recognize, or affirm, or accept the Truth and lives by a different reality of its own making.
In a few moments we will renew our baptismal vows, our baptismal covenant. And we will be fed and blessed by the Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven. That bread is enough – enough to feed us, to shape us, to give us strength for the continuing journey ahead of us. And we pray that we will become that which we receive – the Body of Christ in the world, living, serving, and loving God and all of God’s creation. Amen.
Victoria Geer McGrath
All Saints’ Church, Millington, NJ
All Saints’ Day
November 1, 2020