by Kristin Berkey-Abbott
The All Saints Sunday readings for Sunday, Nov. 2, 2014:
First Reading: Revelation 7:9-17
Psalm: Psalm 34:1-10, 22
Second Reading: 1 John 3:1-3
Gospel: Matthew 5:1-12
This Sunday we celebrate All Saints Day. Most churches focus on loved ones of the congregation who have died; some churches give special emphasis to members who have died since the last All Saints Day. Some churches will be thinking about the larger collection of saints.
The Gospel reading for today at first seems jarringly out of place. Why are we back to the Sermon on the Mount? But after reading it, we see the connections. These are the behaviors of those whom we traditionally consider saints, people like Mother Theresa. They should be the behaviors of those of us still on earth who consider ourselves to be part of that saintly pantheon.
It's even more interesting to read this Gospel in the light of worldly events. These behaviors are not the ones endorsed by most of the world. Spend a night watching television and contemplate what it says about our culture. We don't see many messages that remind us to be meek, to hunger for justice, to work for peace, to be pure in heart. No, we're supposed to dance with stars, or sing for a panel of harsh judges, or watch dramas about ghastly criminals.
The Lectionary Gospel reading uses bridesmaids and lamps to tell us about the kingdom of God. Half of the bridesmaids keep their lamps ready, while half are careless and bring no oil with them. Here we have another story that reminds us to stay alert and prepared and warns us of the consequences if we don’t.
When we read Gospels like these, many of us might think that we do these things as our admission ticket for Heaven. But some of the more interesting books of theology that I've read lately remind us that Christ didn't come to take us to Heaven. In fact, the concept of Heaven with all our loved ones waiting for us there is relatively new to Christian thought. Christ came to announce that God's plan for redeeming the world had begun. That plan involves our pre-death world, which is not just a place where we wait around until it's our turn to go to Heaven. No, this world is the one that God wants to redeem. Christ comes to invite us to be part of the redemptive plan (if you want to read a book-length treatment of this idea, make N.T.Wright's Surprised by Hope your November reading).
Jesus comes to show us what a God-drenched life would look like. I recently rediscovered this quote by Marcus Borg (from a lecture in Miami that he gave almost 10 years ago) in my notebook: "Jesus is the epiphany of God. He shows us what can be seen of God in a human life. There's much of God that can't be shown in a human life, but Jesus shows what can be seen."
Jesus also comes to give us instructions for how we can join together in the redemption of the world. Think of the Sermon on the Mount as a behavior manual. As you move through your days, view your actions and your thoughts through the lens of the Sermon on the Mount. Do your thoughts and actions support this vision of peace, justice, mercy, and comfort? If not, how can you change to be more in alignment with God's vision of redemption?
We could use this All Saints Day as a reminder that we need to jump start our efforts to act as saints in this world. If that behavior means that we also get to be saints in the next world, swell. But the good news of Jesus is that we don't have to wait until we die to experience redemption. We're already saints. We just need to remember to be about the business of sainthood, and to avoid the behaviors that distract us from our mission.