Imagine this as a commercial: “You want happiness…REAL happiness…then look no farther…then step this way for poverty, grief, hunger…all of these can and will be yours.” No one would buy what this commercial was selling would they, not in this world. Yet right after his baptism, at the very start of his ministry Jesus is doing a little truth in lending…this walk with me…it’s got some serious risk. Pursue this walk with me and you are going to be at odds with this world and it’s going to be a bumpy journey.
The world looked different to him after that and it showed.
In this so familiar passage in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus turns the world on its head, and asks us to see things in a completely new way too. He says everything we think we know about what happiness is we have to forget, and instead learn a new meaning for the word. He lays out a description of the road of discipleship…of the risk of relationship with God. He invites his listeners to move beyond obeying rules and open fully to the possibility of genuine transformation. But in order for this genuine transformation to take place, you’re going to have to get seriously vulnerable before God, before each other and before yourself.
Jesus is inviting us to redefine what it means to feel safe and he’s asking us to take an honest assessment of where we are and genuinely own our baggage, to own being human… poor in spirit, grieving, being hungry…because when you’re vulnerably honest and you really own…that’s when transformation can actually happen.
The writer Madeleine L’Engle once said, “When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability... To be alive is to be vulnerable.” And in this passage, Jesus is inviting us to really be alive.
Its hard stuff, isn’t it? But that’s why I think today, All Saint’s Day, is really important. We don’t do this journey of life alone…life isn’t confined to this physical world and this earthly body…and the people on this other side of this part of life, they get it…they know it’s hard and they’re here too. Laura read it for us earlier…” there was a great multitude that no one could count.” “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal.” And they are washed clean by God…saints who have gone before us, too many to count. And we have communion with them, we fellowship with them.
My husband died at 9:51pm on March 4th 2010 and it was the saddest day of my life. It was also the most meaningful day of my life. I remember holding him and praying that God would just help, make it easier on him, make it easier on our kids, and help me to know how and what to do. Every hymn that ever had any meaning for me or for Chris just kind of rushed in my head that evening and I remember holding him and singing them all to him. At the single most helpless moment I had ever felt those words just came and there was this real sense of being held…I remember thinking about his parents who had died years earlier, of his grandmother, of my own grandmother and all the people that had held us both in love through the years and I knew with total certainty they were holding us in that moment. I felt them there.
Later that night, as my kids slept in the lobby at Swedish, I waited in his room for the funeral home and I prayed for God to help me hold onto that feeling, of being held so tightly by that communion of saints, that Chris was now a part of. I wanted so badly to stay in that thin space between this physical life and the communion of these saints. I wanted it more than I can tell you and to this day, I still yearn for that feeling.
The Revelation says, “These are they who have come out of a great ordeal.” And they get it. Theirs is the kingdom of heaven, they are comforted, they inherit the earth, they are filled, they see God, and theirs is the kingdom of God.
And yes, we feel poor in spirit and hungry and we grieve and we work for peace and justice and at times we are persecuted but this IS the work of saints…those who have gone before us know this to be true. It doesn’t take fame and extraordinary lives to be saints…it takes leaning into these beatitudes and when you see them in each other and in yourself you are in the presence of saints because you are doing the work of saints. It takes owning your stuff and vulnerably risking being known…just deeply, honestly being known not only to God but to yourself and to one another. What this day offers us to remember is that this is not a journey we make alone…we walk this journey together brothers and sisters…with one another in this church, with one another in this world and with all those saints we bring with us today…we meet at this table…where we just lay it all down…and admit together that this life can be an ordeal sometimes and we need each other.
We are held in love and grace, far more than we can ever imagine. And these beatitudes… they are signposts that we can see demonstrated when we are walking the way of Jesus. Don’t worry about all of them, start with just one…lean into it and know that you are loved just as you are, the living saints of the one true God.
In just a minute, if you’re comfortable, you can come and light a candle or two for the saints that have gone before you. As we sing together and pray these prayers, I invite you to look around as the candles are lit and realize that each flame represents those who hold us in worship and join us at this table. And as we come to this table together, let those flames remind us that they come to the table too.
Sam Wells is an Anglican Priest from the UK, who is currently vicar at St. Martin Fields used to be at Duke University’s Chapel and I got to hear him preach a few times. He’s one of the living saints who has impacted my life. I’d like to close with something he wrote about communion. “Communion doesn’t take away pain and, in this life, it doesn’t take away sin. But it embraces you with the only power that’s stronger than both of them, and puts them in their place, until every tear is wiped away from every eye.”