All Saints Sunday; Year A (November 2, 2014)

Lessons:Revelation 7:9-17 Psalm 34:1-10, 22 1 John 3:1-3 Saint Matthew 5:1-12

Prayer of the Day: Almighty God, you have knit your people together in one communion in the mystical body of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Grant us grace to follow your blessed saints in lives of faith and commitment, and to know the inexpressible joys you have prepared for those who love you, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Lesson:

5:1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. “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. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

St. Matthew 5:1-12, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Blessed Are They

In the congregation where I grew up, All Saints Sunday was a time to read the names of those who had died in the previous twelve months, while a solemn bell tolled in the background. My grandmother’s name was read when I was twelve years old — I still can feel the agony of waiting for her name (she died on New Year’s Day, but the names were read alphabetically), and the pain of hearing her included in the list of those who were gone. To this day, I have a visceral reaction to that litany. It seemed then, and it seems now, more a “litany of woe” than a “litany of celebration.”

These days, at Saint Peter Lutheran Church, when All Saints Sunday rolls around each year we pray for those who have died in the past year. But we like to think of them as having “completed their baptismal journey” (a phrase attributed to Martin Luther — remembering not only that they are gone, but also that they have been welcomed into the fullness of God). During that prayer, we also remember those who in the past year have been born, those who have been baptized, and those young people who have become adult members of our church. Often we light a candle as their names are read. There was some comfort for me in 1999 when the congregation prayed both for my father who had died that year and for my youngest son who had been born.

[Saint Peter members who are receiving this in an e-mail message: you can respond to this note, and add any names you would like to have included in our prayers this coming Sunday.]

The shift to including the faithful who are living among us on All Saints Sunday is intentional. The classic definition of a saint is twofold, referring to (1) those particularly faithful ones whose witness has inspired us (including those who have died), and (2) those who have been washed clean by the righteousness of Christ (including even us!).

That is why we turn our attention to the Beatitudes this week. In these opening sentences of the Lord’s “Sermon on the Mount” we read a description of what it means to be among the blessed. However, the list of those whom Jesus describes as blessed is a surprising one: the poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who are meek, those who hunger and thirst, those who are persecuted… It reminds us that the state of being blessed does not refer to a life in which the balance of good and bad tips towards the good. It has more to do with an experience of God that allows one to transcend the circumstances of the moment, no matter what they are.

So in times of sorrow or times of joy, in times of plenty or in times of want, in times of companionship or in times of loneliness, in times of sickness or in times of good health… to live with the understanding that one is blessed transforms the way a believer experiences life; it is to live in a uniquely faithful manner.

I am grateful for those who have modeled this for me, and who are now gone. I am also grateful for those who share this sense of being blessed with me today. I’ll celebrate them both this coming Sunday, and invite you to do so as well.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How does Jesus describe what it means to be blessed?
  2. What surprises are there in these opening verses of the “Sermon on the Mount?”
  3. How is he trying to stretch our understanding of faithfulness?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. When have I felt blessed in my life?
  2. How does this contrast with the world’s sense of who is (and isn’t) fortunate?
  3. Would it change my outlook on life to focus more on how God has blessed me?