2022-11-06 All Saints' (Observed)
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen!
Back in the day, our Concordia University choir was touring around Canada before our trip to Germany. We were all over Ontario and Quebec. We had a concert gig lined up in Montreal and the church had offered to feed the choir before the concert with that most Lutheran of food procurement venues: the veritable potluck dinner! Supper was at six and the choir was famished and salivating at the thought of a French potluck dinner! 5:30pm rolled around and no one was there. 5:45pm and there were still no hot dishes on the table. 5:55pm behold! Nobody was there! “Was this some kind of deplorable French trick?!” I thought to myself! I was starting to grumble, wondering if there was a Subway or some other restaurant near by! But then, right at the last possible moment, the church members started flooding in to the fellowship hall. Myriads of myriads of people from all over the world came in with potluck food from their native countries. There was Indian food, Filipino food, French food, German food, Polish food, you name it, all marked with these little flags to represent the nation from which the hot dish originated! Immediately, I was relieved! We were going to eat after all! And, it was like a fast-forward view of our heavenly home from our Revelation reading today: “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands” (Rev. 7:9) - but instead of palm branches in their hands, it was potluck dinner! A very spiritual experience indeed!
Today we commemorate All Saints’ Day in our Church Year. As I mentioned last Sunday, this is why Luther nailed the 95 theses to the castle church door in Wittenberg when he did. All Hallows Eve twas the night before All Saints Day. And everyone was going to church and they would see his writing posted publicly on the door. And as Lutheran Christians, we have always valued All Saints’ Day because it brings to mind the many of our brothers and sisters in the faith who have gone on before us. We remember them and their often beautiful examples of faithfulness and virtue that they showed to God and to others. And additionally, All Saints’ falls in the neighbourhood of our Canadian Remembrance Day. We remember the sacrifice of 100,000 Canadian lives to pay for our freedoms that we take for granted and pay for them in blood. And the meaning of such a sacrifice rests in the heart of every Canadian. So also, the saints of God. We remember them in our midst and give thanks to God for all the good that He permitted them to do.
I know it’s not very popular to bring up the Russians right now, but the Russian language has a very interesting take on the word Saint. Their word for it goes a little bit farther than our English understanding. We understand a Saint as a “Holy Person” with God as the source of the Holiness. All Baptized Christians are rightly to be called saints, as God has made us Holy by His washing away of our sins. But there have been certain outstanding men and women who have dedicated their whole lives to their Christian faith and they stand out above the rest as first among equals. In the eyes of the world, they look absolutely crazy: giving their money to the church or people in need instead of spending it frivolously on themselves; getting up early to attend church services or praying when they could be sleeping in; going out of their way to help others, even when it means sacrificing their own comfort – even when it means giving their own earthly lives for the sake of the Gospel. The Russian word for saint, Yurodivy means Holy Fool.
Foolish is exactly what the real, Saintly Christian life looks like on this side of heaven. Jesus preaches about it at length in His sermon on the mount that we always read each and every All Saints Day. Fools for Christ go against the grain of society, often challenging culturally accepted trends and behaviour. As usual, this often gets such fools into a lot of hot water and trouble … just look at what happened to Jesus! The ways of the Saint are often not the ways of the world.
When you marinate in the words of Christ in His sermon on the mount, you begin to see why. Most of what He preaches goes against the grain of the world. “Blessed are the poor, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who hunger and thirst, blessed are the merciful, the pure, the peacemakers, the persecuted.” At first you think, what the heck? Is Jesus proclaiming some kind of crazy joke?! None of those things seem very appealing or blessed by worldly standards! But then, you realize that He is proclaiming the life led by Holy Fools. The world sees crazy people, we see fools for Christ. The world sees a religious nutcase, we see the Saints of God. The ways of the Saint are definitely not the ways of the world.
Jesus says “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Blessed means ‘heavenly’, a spiritual exaltation rather than earthly happiness and prosperity. We don’t think of being poor as a blessing. Rather, if money is the world’s curse, then we ask God to smite us with it – and may we never recover! But when you are poor, your worldly stuff doesn’t get in the way of life. Your possessions don’t become your God. Amassing material goods doesn’t become the purpose of life on earth. When we are poor, we are dependent. When we are poor in spirit, then we are dependent on God … for everything. This is indeed a blessing, but just not in earthly ways of thinking about it. We realize that the life of the Saint is blessed precisely because it is … poor. It depends upon the grace and mercy of God our Holy Trinity for every need of body and soul; for the needs of everyday things, for the needs of eternal things. Yet hardly anyone thinks this way, it is a radical way of thinking in the upside down Kingdom of God.
Once, a little girl went to visit an enormous cathedral with her aunt. It was just after school in the late afternoon at the time of the visit and as such, the sun had begun to set and golden light was streaming into the cathedral through it’s beautiful stained glass windows - each of which featured several Saints of the church. The girl pointed to one and asked “who’s that, Auntie?” Her aunt replied “St. Peter.” She pointed again and asked “who’s that?” Again, her aunt answered “St. John.” Finally, she pointed again and her aunt said “St. James.” Then, with a sigh of contentment and satisfaction, the little girl said “Well, now I know what a saint is! A saint is someone the light shines through!”
The little girl was right! The heavenly light of God’s Kingdom and our Lord’s Beatitudes shine through His people. It gives us a glimpse of our heavenly home that awaits the faithful. It gives us encouragement as we make our way through the world, knowing that the Saints have gone before us and that we ourselves are joined to that “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1) that surrounds us. We remember the saints who remembered the great sacrifice of Christ our Lord who makes us Holy by His cross and resurrection. That holiness is what produces saints, those whom the light of God shines through. “Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Heb 13:7). Amen!