Within 48 hours I watched as the CBC went from the public broadcaster we all take for granted to the most revered broadcaster for their coverage of the shooting on Parliament Hill to being boycotted for firing their most popular host. My how quickly we rise…and fall.
This Sunday many churches will be marking All Saints’. You may have begun an All Saints’ sermon before, or heard a sermon that begins with asking everyone who is a saint to raise their hand. It never gets old, really. You watch as maybe one or two raise their hands, then some others may follow, perhaps when they have seen who has raised their hands and they think, “Well, if she’s a saint, I must be!”.* Then, as a preacher, you get to declare the good news. You are all saints!
With the daily rise and fall of personalities, I wonder if sainthood is something any of us truly want to claim for ourselves. Does any one of us want to be the holder of such a lofty title, from which it is so easy…and so far…to fall? Many of us in leadership roles especially, including clergy, may cringe a little when we hear, “You are the best CEO/priest/teacher/manager/doctor/nurse/etc. we have ever had.” Along with being grateful and feeling extremely humbled by the compliment, we cringe because we know that we are fallible, and we fear that, when our frail humanity becomes apparent, the fall will now be from a much higher plane.
It would be unfair of me to place the burden of imposing sainthood on others. We are quite capable of claiming the title for ourselves as well. We can be so convinced that we are doing exactly what we are called to do, how we are called to be, or at least trying our best, that no person or circumstance can bring us down.
The readings for this year provide a nice balance for reflecting on the nature of sainthood. The first three readings are very clearly focussed on God; the Lamb, the LORD, the Father. In our psalm, “the LORD” appears in every line except one. In our first reading from Revelation, we see “the saints”, those robed in white after surviving the great ordeal, not being raised up, but looking up to the Lamb on the throne. The Lamb is glorified because of his crucifixion and death. The place of the saints is not on the throne, but pointing to the Lamb, singing and glorifying God. In the first letter of John, again, the writer reminds us that the love that we have for God and for one another is not formed out of our own goodness or efforts, but comes directly from the love that God has for us. In other words, we are saints inasmuch as we are aware of God’s presence in our lives and how much our lives point towards God, and not ourselves.
The gospel reading is the Beatitudes from Matthew, which is a good and often used tool of examining one’s own soul. This Sunday they invite us to turn inward after having focussed on pointing the way to God. Have I been meek? Have I thirsted for righteousness? Have I been merciful and pure in heart? What have I mourned? A sermon on these qualities as part of the Christian life can hardly ever go wrong. This year I am recognizing that, in these “Blesseds”, Jesus may not be asking Christians to be all these things at all times or at any one time. He is calling those who are these things, of which we are all at least one, blessed. And we are each given a promise, hopefully a promise that makes our hearts glad. A sermon may offer some time for the congregation to reflect silently on the reading asking, “Which blessing is for me today?” and “What is Jesus promising to me?”
If you conflate All Souls and All Saints’ as a day to remember those who have died in the past year, you may invite loved ones to reflect on these questions in relation to their loved one. Does Jesus’s promise give them hope?
How will you be marking this day? What “Blesseds” do you have to share this Sunday?
*I have to thank my bishop, the Rt. Rev. Peter Fenty, for making this particular observation at our area clergy conference this past week.