Posts Tagged 'All Saints’ Day'

For Nov. 3, 2013: All Saints’ Day, Year C

The Reading            Daniel 7:1-3,15-18

The book of Daniel is set in the sixth century before Christ, after the Temple has been destroyed and the people taken into exile in Babylon. Here the prophet recounts a terrifying vision—the omitted verses describe four huge and powerful monsters with bad intentions toward Israel—but the explanation he gets builds hope.

The Response            Psalm 149

“For the Lord takes pleasure in his people and adorns the poor with victory.”

The Epistle            Ephesians 1:11-23

The church at Ephesus was one of the first and most successful of the churches believed to have been founded by the apostle Paul. Today’s reading explains what is in store for the saints—that is, for all of us who believe—and how the power of God working among us gives us hope.

The Gospel            Luke 6:20-31

“‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.’”

 

Further thoughts

The readings for All Saints’ Day vary from year to year in the Revised Common Lectionary, and in consequence the themes vary too. In last year’s readings, Isaiah and the writer of Revelation sang of the wondrous banquet that awaits in heaven, the psalmist offered praise, and John told of the miraculous raising of Lazarus.

For Year C, the tone is more mixed. Psalm 149 rejoices, to be sure (though the fate awaiting other nations’ rulers is told with eyebrow-raisingly cheer), and the epistle sounds the celebratory note that one expects, that is consistent with the opening and closing of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s beloved hymn “Sine Nomine” and with the rousing “When the Saints Go Marching In”.

But the other texts for All Saints’ Day this year are somber, even threatening. The prophet Daniel reports a vision of four horrifying monsters wreaking destruction on everything. The gospel tells us that an easy life now is not necessarily a mark of God’s favor for the world to come while laying out a blueprint for Christian behavior in the face of assault or disregard that is decidedly difficult to follow. What gives?

These are verses of, by, and for outsiders. Daniel prophesies during the time of exile, when the Israelites were unwilling foreign nationals of low status and could count on being scorned, misunderstood, and mistreated accordingly. The gospel famously plays on the Beatitudes—beatus in Latin is a strong way to say ‘happy’—and part of the point is to tell us in what esteem to hold those on whom the world spits… for they are we and we are they. Jesus is raised to unprecedented honor and glory, yes—but first he had to be born to an unwed mother, be a refugee, be a truth-teller whom nobody understood, be spat on and mocked (and who knows how else bored soldiers might have humiliated him?) and then be paraded through the streets en route to dying the nastiest death Rome saw fit to inflict. In short, Jesus the outsider knows the very worst that can befall us and the very worst we can be, and that by no stretch of the imagination do we belong in heaven.

By no stretch of the imagination, that is, except his.

For it is Jesus’ love alone that makes God’s saint of me, and you, and every other outsider that ever drew breath or ever will. And it is by living Jesus’ love of those on whom the world spits that we soften the hearts that can’t listen yet—including, more often than not, our own.

For Nov. 4, 2012: All Saints’ Day, Year B

The Reading            Isaiah 25:6-9

Today’s reading from the book of Isaiah is familiar from Easter, when we recall God’s people rejoicing in their liberation from exile. It is equally appropriate for our commemoration of All Saints, when we who yet live remember those we love who have died and weep with those who mourn.

 

The Response            Psalm 24

 

The Epistle            Revelation 21:1-6a

Isaiah’s theme of God coming to earth to liberate us mortals from death and sorrow is picked up in the astonishing book of Revelation: a holy new Jerusalem comes down from heaven, in which God the First and Last will come to live among us mortals and to wipe away all the tears and disgraces and griefs of the faithful.

The Gospel            John 11:32-44

 

Further thoughts

All Saints’ Day is a feast day of the Church. That it should be is clear from the Old Testament and Epistle readings. God Almighty comes in glory to throw a bash that features all the best of what Earth has provided, only more so: the sort of food in which one savors the range and richness of both familiar both the very best of the familiar and the very most attractive of the exotic (and who knew lutefisk could taste good?); the sort of drink on which, whatever one’s consump­tion, one grows merry but not unseemly; the sort of company with whom one can talk past three in the morning, no one is too old or too young, and Great-aunt Hortense’s old bitter jokes about Great-great-Uncle Leo are finally suffused with love and frankly hilarious because the old goat’s right there and laughing harder than anyone else; and the Honoree in Chief with the pierced palms, who is also the Host in one’s choice of senses, fills one with the desire simultaneously to prostrate oneself before him and to curl up in his lap like a cosseted kitten… This is, in short, the party to end all parties, the very Alpha and Omega of homecomings and home-beings.

There is a catch—no, not that this party is too good to be true, because my version can’t be true enough to be good enough. The catch is what has to have happened to get us all there. One must have been the product of a coupling that may as well have been spurred by violence as by love; one must have lost Mom and Dad or been lost to them, or sometimes both; if born, one has been disappointed by others, been a disappointment to others, lost and been lost by others, and been a mighty source of grief to oneself, in ways that range across the catalogue of human sloth, lust, envy, wrath, gluttony, avarice, and pride; and sooner or later one must have undergone the bizarre blend of terror and indignity that is  death—for to be human is to die.

Jesus is human. At the tomb of Lazarus he weeps, which looks like what we mortals do, but the description of him as deeply disturbed has puzzled me. Then the wife of a pastor I know told me that Andy begins his funeral sermons with the exclamation, “I hate death!” I think Andy speaks God’s mind here: death is not merely awful but deeply, irremediably wrong. Yet Jesus by choice endures and even swallows up death to get us into the banquet.

To be human is indeed to die and to weep. We Christians have faith that our tears will be dried in the Kingdom, and meanwhile we dab at our own tears with the faith that we clutch like a handkerchief. What if we bore our love into the world as a handkerchief here and now for the tears of all the souls around us?


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