Monday, October 30, 2017

First Thoughts on the Readings for All Saints Sunday 2017 (November 5th)

After observing the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the Church turns its attention to All Saints Sunday.  The Church created this festival day (set for November 1st, though often observed on the first Sunday in November) after a season of creating numerous commemorations and festivals for saints of the Church.  As the calendar rapidly filled up, the Church realized that it needed a day to recognize all of the past, present, and future saints of the Church because 365 days (or 366 days during a leap year) are not enough to dedicate a festival day to each and every saint that deserves a day of commemoration.  Therefore, November 1st (or the first Sunday of November) becomes a day for us to recognize all of the saints of the Church.

But how do we define a "saint?"  Do we default to the numerous saints honored by the Church?  Do we define saints as those who proclaimed the faith even at the cost of their lives?  Or do we expand that definition?

In the Lutheran tradition, we turn to Martin Luther's understanding of himself and every other member of the Church as both sinner and saint.  Yes, we are sinners, but as baptized children of God, we are also adopted as children of God.  And, as children and heirs of God, we are saints.  So All Saints Sunday is a recognition of every member of the Church.

We may also define two terms for this day: "Church Militant" and "Church Triumphant."  The non-formal definition of these terms is that the "Church Militant" includes all of the living members of the Church while the "Church Triumphant" includes the members of the Church who have died and are now waiting for the resurrection.  How are the two connected?  The two are connected in the body of Christ, for everyone who is baptized and has participated in Holy Communion, whether alive or dead, is united with Christ; therefore, all of the baptized are united with one another.

Now we turn to the readings for Sunday.  My thoughts are in italics after each reading.

Revelation 7:9 - 17
9After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10They cried out in a loud voice, saying, 
 “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
11And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12singing, 
 “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
 and thanksgiving and honor
 and power and might
 be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
  13Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” 14I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
15For this reason they are before the throne of God,
  and worship him day and night within his temple,
  and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
16They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
  the sun will not strike them,
  nor any scorching heat;
17for the Lamb at the center 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.”

Revelation 7 is a depiction of the “great multitude” of saints who are gathered around the throne of God during the various scenes of this vision.  These saints come “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.”  This is a picture of the “one holy catholic and apostolic Church” we profess in the Nicene Creed.  When participate in the liturgy, we join this gathering of the church triumphant in worshipping the Lord our God.  Note that this is before the arrival of the New Jerusalem on Earth.  It is a vision of hope for a persecuted community; the message is that the powerful people who persecute them will not, indeed cannot, win against the Lord.

Psalm 34:1 - 10, 22
<Of David, when he feigned madness before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away.> I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
 2 My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad.
 3 O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together.
 4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.
 5 Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed.
 6 This poor soul cried, and was heard by the LORD, and was saved from every trouble.
 7 The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.
 8 O taste and see that the LORD is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.
 9 O fear the LORD, you his holy ones, for those who fear him have no want.
 10 The young lions suffer want and hunger, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.

 22 The LORD redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

Psalm 34 reads like a song that the great multitude can sing during its worship of the Lord.  Though the note about David faking “madness” before a foreign king (note: not Abimelech but Achish in 1 Samuel 21:13; there is a priest named Ahimelech earlier in the chapter) puts the psalm in a different context.

1 John 3:1 - 3
1See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he\ is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

“See what love the Father has given us…”  How has this love been given to us?  Your answers may vary, but I would point to the cross and the sacraments.  The baptized are God’s children NOW, not just some time in the future.  While we do not know what life in the Kingdom of God at the end of the age will be like, we trust that we will be a new people, a resurrection people.

Matthew 5:1 - 12
1When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
  3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
  5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
  6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
  7“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
  8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
  9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
  10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  11“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

The Beatitudes is a wonderful passage.  Including it on All Saints Sunday assumes that the “blessed” are the saints of the Church.  But this seems to draw a line in the sand, dividing us into the “blessed” and those who are on the outside looking in.  If we are not poor, in mourning, meek, hungry/thirsty for righteousness/justice, merciful, “pure in heart,” peacemakers, persecuted, or reviled, are we a part of the Church?  What does this say to American congregations, many of which do not fall into these categories?

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