Sometimes the Revised Common Lectionary, leaves me scratching my head! Take, for instance, today’s gospel lesson which contains a series of blessings and woes followed by the toughest commandment Jesus ever gave us: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
What does this text have to do with All Saints’ Sunday? Why aren’t we hearing something like: “I am the resurrection and the life, those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” [Jn 11:25] Or how about “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” [Jn 14:1-4]
These texts are obvious choices to for All Saints Day. They are the kind of reassurance we need to hear as we remember the blessed dead. So why pick Luke’s version of the Beatitudes as the anchor text for this All Saints’ Sunday? It doesn’t seem like a great choice to me. But what do I know? I’m not an expert in these matters. There is not a “Doctor” in front of my name. I’m simply a parish pastor who is stuck with Luke 6 as the gospel lesson on one of my favorite Sundays of the Church year. Oy veh! What’s a preacher to do?
Well, the obvious choice is to go for it. There HAS to be a reason why they chose this particular text for this particular Sunday. Therefore, I’m going to embody the spirit of Jacob who wrestled with the angel until he received a blessing from God. I’m not going to let go of this text until we receive a blessing this morning; or at least figure out what Luke 6 has to do with All Saints Sunday!
Let’s start with the “blessings” section of Luke 6 because, honestly, it doesn’t seem like this is a great list of blessings. Listen to them and see if you don’t agree. “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Really? Where is the blessing in being poor? I like Matthew’s version better. He says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” I’m still not convinced that’s a great choice either. But it’s an improvement, don’t you think?
“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.” Where is the blessing in being hungry? Matthew says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” That’s a slight improvement but I’m still not convinced this is a great choice either.
Finally the list rounds out with “Blessed are you who weep” and “Blessed are you when people hate you, exclude you, revile you and defame you.” Well, happy All Saints Sunday to everyone! Go in peace and serve in the name of Christ! Where is the blessedness in Luke’s version of Jesus’ Beatitudes? I just don’t see it. What could Jesus possibly mean by these words?
Well, to let you in on a little secret, it’s important to know what the word “blessed” means. The New Testament was written in Greek. The Greek word used here for “blessed” is MAKARIOS. It can be translated as “fortunate, well off, and happy.” These are the kind of words we think of when we hear the word “blessed.” We think of it as a good thing; something that is happening in our lives that makes us want to tell our neighbors and friends about it.
Where things get interesting is in Aramaic which is the primary language Jesus spoke. The Aramaic word for “blessed” is TUBWAYHUN. It can also be translated as “happy and aligned, tuned to the source, healthy and healed.” What I hear in the Aramaic is that the poor, the hungry, the mourners and the persecuted are blessed because God walks closely with them in their poverty, their hunger, their tears and their abuse.
Think about it for a minute. When we are well off and well fed, when we have enough food for today and cash in our pockets to buy food tomorrow, we get the false impression that we did this all by ourselves. We pat ourselves on the back for hard work and a job well done. And God…[said sarcastically] “Oh, yeah, thanks, I guess. I really did it all by myself. But you’re God and you need to be praised. So, uh, thank you.”
Flip the script for a minute and think about what it’s like to not know where your next meal is coming from; to not know how you’re going to pay last month’s bills let alone this month’s bills. Think about what it’s like to be consumed with grief as we mourn the death of loved ones. Think about what it’s like to be hated, bullied and excluded. Perhaps, the “blessedness” in these dire circumstances is that we are forced to walk closely with God. We don’t have a choice. We know we can’t make it on our own. We know we need help from our higher power.
And so we cry out to God in words similar to Psalm 40. We ask God to “incline and hear our cry,” to “draw us up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog,” to “set our feet upon a rock, and make our footsteps firm,” to “put a new song in our mouths, a song of praise to our God.”
THIS is where the gospel lesson intersects All Saints Sunday. It’s a day to remind us of our deep and profound connection to Jesus. As well off and well fed people, it’s a connection we sometimes take for granted. But on this day, our connection to Christ is impossible to ignore. Death is literally staring us in the face as we look at the pictures of departed friends and loved ones. But in mourning their loss, we also hear their words of faith that echo through eternity. They fought the good fight. They ran the race with perseverance. Their wisdom continues to have a profound effect on our lives each and every day.
They remind us that life is a gift given to us by God. It’s meant to be savored and treasured, not squandered and frittered away. These blessed saints call us to walk in solidarity with the hungry, the thirsty, the mourners and the abused, because the truth of the matter is we can loose our wealth and our resources. We can loose our health and loved ones. We can lose our dignity and our reputation. The one thing we cannot lose is our relationship with God. We are “blessed” when we realize that only God matters. Everything else is merely “smoke and spitting into the wind,” as the book of Ecclesiastes puts it. [Ecc 1:14, The Message] We know what happens when we spit into the wind. It’s not a pretty picture! So, perhaps, the developers of the Revised Common Lectionary knew what they were doing when they paired Luke 6 with All Saints Sunday.
Their wisdom is further underscored when we look at our first lesson from the book of Daniel. Now, I must confess that Daniel is not one of my favorite books in the Bible. Most people know the story of Daniel in the Lion’s den. Some may be familiar with Shadrach, Meshach, Abednigo in the fiery furnace. But the rest of Daniel is weird territory. It’s apocalyptic, scary, and hard to decipher.
In today’s reading, Daniel is haunted by a vision of the four winds from heaven stirring up the great sea; and four great beasts emerging from the ocean deep like Godzillas on their way to destroy Tokyo. These beasts represent the nations of the world that seem determined to destroy one another and destroy themselves. Daniel sees these dark powers and he is terrified. He is scared out of his wits.
But then as the vision continues he sees someone else in verse 13, which is not a part of our lectionary reading for some strange reason. He sees “one like a human being,” the “son of man” coming with the cloud of heaven. Daniel’s conclusion about this confrontation of powers is found in verse 14, which is also omitted.
He says, “To the son of man was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.”
If this text is not about Jesus I don’t know what is! I know some scholars will say we cannot make that connection but I’m making it now. In the midst of earthly powers that cause Daniel to be afraid, he is filled with a doxology of faith and hope. He proclaims the everlasting kingdom of God which shall not pass away. Everything else in this world will be reduced to cosmic dust but Jesus’ kingship shall never be destroyed. Can I get an Amen on that?
Daniel ends his doxology by saying “The holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever.” Ding, ding, ding! We have a winner! That’s All Saints Day in a nutshell! And on this holy day, we gather together for many reasons. We gather to remember loved ones who are no longer with us. We gather to remember their wisdom and to be inspired by their faith. We gather to hear the baptismal waters flow and be fed at the Table. We gather together to remind ourselves of our deep, profound and abiding connection to Jesus. But, most importantly, we gather together to proclaim that Christ’s kingdom is an everlasting kingdom that shall not pass away. It is eternal. No power on earth can destroy it.
Friends in Christ, there are many things in life that cause us to be fearful. Like a nightmare from Daniel’s dreams, these dark powers leave us shivering in our boots, scared out of our wits. But, thanks be to God, we know there is another power at work in our world! This power cannot be defeated! Jesus destroyed death itself and invites us to trust that those who believe in him will not perish but will have eternal life.
This is the hope we have as people of faith. This is the core message of All Saints Sunday. My prayer for today is that we will allow our spirits to rest in Jesus; that we will have the confidence that death is not the end but is only the beginning. Let us place our lives in Christ’s hands today and always, and trust that he will never NEVER let us go. AMEN
Copyright ©2016 by David Eck