All Saints Day
Well, as I mentioned at the top of the service, today we are celebrating All Saints Day. It's a day for us to honor and to celebrate all of our loved ones who have died, and to remember that their light is still with us. All Saints Day therefore is not a day of mourning and sadness. It's a day of celebration.
I loved our words of integration and guidance today, which Greg Sherman read for us, especially the part about the beautiful votive candles, illuminating a cemetery at night on All Saints Day, and how it felt so festive and alive. It reminds me of the celebration of Dia de los Muertos, The Day of the Dead, which our Mexican friends celebrate at this time. Beautiful altars are set up in Mexican homes with photos and memorabilia of loved ones who have died. Their favorite music is played in the home, and their favorite foods are prepared. It's not a time of sadness, but a time of celebration. It's a time for us to remember and recognize that our loved ones may have died, but that their light and spirit is still with us and within us.
In the six and a half years that I've been your pastor now, I have officiated more than 20 memorial services here in the church. And I have had the very sacred privilege of being at the bedside of church members as they have taken their last breaths. It is always such a beautiful and sacred moment, for our faith tells us that death is not the end of the story, that there is resurrection and new life. That is what we are celebrating today.
Now the Gospel reading from today's lectionary for All Saints Day is one in which Jesus gives us a series of blessings known as the Beatitudes. Our friend, Father, Richard Rohr tells us that the Beatitudes are the greatest wisdom teachings of Jesus. The word ‘beatitude’ comes from the Latin word ‘beatus,’ which means 'happy' or 'fortunate.' And that's very confusing for us. Because in the Beatitudes, Jesus is talking about the poor, and the hungry, those who are persecuted and sorrowful, definitely not people we think of as being happy or fortunate.
But with the Beatitudes, Jesus is taking things and flipping them on their head. He's turning the world upside down, if you will. You see, in Jesus's day, it was believed that your lot in life signified God's favor upon you. So if you were a person of wealth and power and prestige, it was believed that God's favor rested upon you. Conversely, if you were a person who was poor, and hungry, and persecuted, it was believed that God was punishing you -- that either you were one of your ancestors was a great sinner, and therefore you are not in God's favor. But with the Beatitudes, Jesus is declaring that this long-held belief system is wrong. These were very daring words. In fact, they were very dangerous words to the people of power and prestige.
So you can understand why they wanted to silence Jesus. But Jesus' instructions for us in the Beatitudes are very clear. He wanted us to care for the poor, and the sick, and the hungry. He wanted us to welcome the stranger, and to always stand not on the side of the power-full, but on the power-less, with the least of these.
So if you believe that Jesus today would be about building walls, about refusing the stranger, keeping out refugees and immigrants, if you believe that he would be advocating for policies that hurt the sick, and the disenfranchised, but which benefit the wealthy and the powerful, then you don't know Jesus. Recently, Pope Francis said, "A person who thinks only about building walls wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian." This is not in the Gospel. We need to build up a society in light of the Beatitudes, walking towards the kingdom, with the least among us.
As I've told you before Jesus spoke Aramaic, and Aramaic scholars today tell us that the word blessed that Jesus used in the Beatitudes is really more in line with the word ‘congratulations.’ Jesus in the Beatitudes was saying, "Congratulations, you poor, congratulations, all you who are hungry and persecuted." Now why would Jesus be congratulating them? Well, Jesus was letting them know that in His Kingdom, they would be first, that the least of these would be the most important.
Now, what do the Beatitudes mean, for us today? Well, I think it's very important for us to look at the Beatitudes, especially as we are approaching election day this week. Who are we in the Beatitudes? Are we more like the wealthy, who care more about maintaining the status quo, and our own privilege and positions? Or are we concerned about the least of these in our midst? Are we casting our votes on our own self interests? Or do we care more about the interests of the least of these? You may not be physically hungry, but you may be hungry for justice. You may not be financially poor. Right now you may be poor in spirit, meaning disheartened. You may be one of the sorrowful, who is so sorrowful and dismayed about the state of our nation right now.
Well, Jesus would say, "Congratulations, rejoice and be glad." The whole point Jesus was making in the Beatitudes is, if you're sorrowful, if you're disheartened about the status quo, about the state of the world, then congratulations, that's a good thing. Because you are awakening, you are being motivated to work for justice, and to be the change that you wish to see in the world.
And so my friends, on this All Saints Day, as we remember those holy men and women who came before us, the peacemakers, those who were pure in heart, let us remember that they were the people who put the Beatitudes into action. May they inspire us and motivate us to do the same for all of us are called to be saints and to create a just world for all
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
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