Revelation 7: 9-17, Matthew 5: 1-12
The tradition of All Saints Day, which we celebrate today, traces its history back to the sixth century. At that time Pope Boniface consecrated the Pantheon at Rome as a place of solemn remembrance and thanksgiving for the life and witness of so many hundreds and hundreds of Christians who were martyred there during the first three centuries of the church.
All Saints Day became a comforting tradition. Do you remember the Latin etymology for the English word “comfort”? com + fortis: com = with; fortis = fortitude or strength. All Saints Day: a day to comfort us, to strengthen us, so we can faithfully meet the challenges at hand in our own lifetime by our embracing the companionship of the saints.
There are two things a little out of the ordinary this evening. On this “First Tuesday”, which happens to be All Saints Day, we invite you to come downstairs after the service for a soup supper. And this feast of All Saints is one of the occasions when we renew our Baptismal vows. Following these reflections, we’ll stand together, renew our promises and be sprinkled with water as a reminder of our baptism into Christ, into his death and resurrection, baptized into his likeness.
We stand together in this life on a kind of threshold, a threshold between two rooms. The room before us and the room behind us are both infinities, infinities that we only vaguely comprehend. The room behind us is an infinity of nothingness, of un-being, of non-existence. We have come out of that “un-beingness” and now actually do exist. The other room, the room before us, is an infinity of being, of what we call “eternal life”. The threshold upon which we stand partakes of both rooms. Like in the narthex of this chapel, we can hear the sound of traffic from one direction and we can smell the incense from the other, and yet not be in one place or the other.
Micah 6:1-8; Psalm 15; 1 Cor. 1:18-31; Matt. 5:1-12
Today we’re presented with some of the crown jewels of scripture. “…what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” One of those passages from scripture that concentrates so much truth. And the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount: a necklace of the finest diamonds. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek, those who hunger for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart. Blessed are the peacemakers. Jewels in scripture’s crown, showing us the way of blessedness.
But why are we so struck by the beauty and power of these passages? Why do they resonate so deeply within us? Why do we choose them above others? The Bible, after all, is a big book, a book of books, a library of many types of writing, a treasure chest of many things. Histories, poetry, hymns and love songs, parables, letters, sage advice, prophecies, legislation, lamentations, curses and maledictions. Tall tales and theological treatises. And, of course, many writers, each with a cultural setting, each with biases and limitations, each advancing an agenda.