By the Rev. Darren Miner
All Saints’ Day is a “principal feast” in the calendar of the Episcopal Church. It is one of the seven feast days when I bring out the incense—much to the dismay of a couple of you! Rightly, it should be celebrated on November 1st. But the prayer book allows churches that cannot adequately keep the feast on November 1st to celebrate it on the following Sunday. And so, here we are, gathered together to remember all God’s holy people: the official saints found in the volume Lesser Feasts and Fasts and the unofficial parish saints for whom we have prayed during the last 12 months.
Now, some parishes prefer to remember the unofficial saints on November 2nd, All Souls’ Day, in a “separate but equal” celebration. But I am firmly against making any such distinction. Pastorally, it may make sense, but theologically, not so much! So on this day, we celebrate the blessed Virgin Mary, St. John the Baptist, St. Peter, and St. Paul, as well as our own St. David A., St. Barbara J., and St. Margaret W.
St. David faithfully attended this parish for almost two decades, until he was too weak to come to us anymore. When we attempted to come to him, his family blocked our pastoral visits. St. David suffered for his faith. St. Barbara used to hand out little paper boxes with hopeful messages in them. I still have one somewhere. And she trained her little dog to dance for the children at the Chinese summer school. St. Margaret, whom we knew for only a short time, served the sick for many years, and in retirement sang for the love of music and for the greater glory of God. I have no doubt that St. Margaret is singing God’s praises even as I speak.
But the point of today’s celebration is not only to remember the holy people of God who have preceded us in death, but also to remember our own calling to a life of holiness. And so on this day, we renew our baptismal covenant, promising to love God and our neighbor. And to this same end, we hear today’s Gospel reading from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which deals precisely with issues of holy living.
This particular excerpt even has its own name: The Beatitudes, which means the Blessings. Jesus begins his famous sermon by assuring the poor, the grieving, the hungry, and the oppressed that they are blessed. Actually, the word translated “blessed” means something more like “happy on account of one’s good fortune.” What on earth does Jesus mean by declaring that those who suffer are actually fortunate? Well, they are fortunate because God loves them, knows their pain, and will reward them accordingly. Liberation theologians speak of God’s “preferential option for the poor.” The phrase is a bit confusing, but the concept is quite simple: God loves all his children, but God’s primary concern is always for the “losers” of this world, for the underdogs who cannot fend for themselves.
As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to side with the losers of this world as well. We are meant to help the poor, whether they be poor in money or poor in spirit. We are meant to comfort those who are in mourning. We are meant to protect the meek and the vulnerable. We are meant to feed the hungry and to give drink to the thirsty, whether they hunger and thirst for earthly food and drink or for righteousness. We are meant to side with the merciful, and to be merciful ourselves. There are undoubtedly evil people in this world who don’t deserve to live, such as the terrorist who murdered eight people in New York City just last week. But as disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to show mercy even to him. We are called to be pure in heart, to refrain from judging others and always to give others the benefit of the doubt. Lastly, we are called to be peacemakers, active peacemakers, in this parish and in the world. There is no such thing in the Christian vocabulary as a “preemptive strike.” There isn’t room for the concept of “massive retaliation.” We must forgo all such thinking if we wish to live a holy life as disciples of Jesus Christ.
But, there is a cost to discipleship. If we live such a holy life, we will suffer for it, one way or another. For some people will, no doubt, take advantage of our meekness. Others will take advantage of our generosity. Some may ridicule and belittle us, mocking our “naïveté.” If this should happen, “rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Now, what our heavenly reward will look like is something of a mystery. As St. John writes, “What we will be has not yet been revealed.” But he then goes on to promise that “we will be like [God], for we will see him as he is.” Such a promise beggars the imagination! The Revelation to John attempts to describe the situation, using imagery that obscures as much as it reveals. But one thing is made clear: many will be saved from every people and nation. “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….” There, “God will wipe away every tear.” And there, in the company of the blessed Virgin Mary, St. John the Baptist, St. Peter, and St. Paul, we will be reunited with departed friends and family, and with this parish’s most recent saints in triumph: St. David, St. Barbara, and St. Margaret.
On this great feast day, in the blessed company of all the saints in paradise and of the choirs of angels who welcomed them, let us pray to our most holy God: “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
© 2017 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.