There are certain events in life that when we stop and pay attention, bring into laser-sharp focus the importance of ultimate things: baptisms, weddings, and funerals probably being the most significant. For baptisms, we do not just celebrate because babies are cute or because adult baptisms feel empowering. We celebrate by making promises to journey with the individual in their faith, and by renewing our own baptisms. Similarly, we make promises to couples getting married. There is even a prayer for already married couples in our liturgy, asking God to renew their promises to one another. Of course, funerals can do the same thing. They are not just sobering in their reminder of our own mortality, but also, they refocus us on the ultimate significance promised in Jesus Christ – eternal life. All of these events in the life of the church offer us a sobering reminder of the importance of ultimate things.
In some ways, that is what Jesus is doing in the Beatitudes – that portion of the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew’s gospel today. Prior to these verses, Jesus has been healing the sick, proclaiming the gospel, and managing swarms of crowds who are drawn to his message and healing. But in these verses, Jesus stops. He sits down, gathers the disciples, and invites them to listen. Jesus then shares the importance of ultimate things. The disciples are seeing what he sees – the suffering, the pain, the agony. Into that overwhelming need, Jesus does not teach them how to heal. He does not teach them how preach. He does not set a schedule for where they will go next or how many more they will heal. Instead he lays out a series of blessings that remind the disciples what is ultimately important. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Jesus is more than willing to heal and soothe suffering. But Jesus is also saying that our pain and our suffering mean something; our pain and suffering can and will be transformed.
We do something similar in our liturgical actions today as well. We honor not just the saints who have gone before – those who have performed miracles or lived notable lives. We honor all the “saints” – the label Saint Paul used for all Christians – the mothers, fathers, siblings, children, friends, lovers, and mentors who taught us about the ultimate things. Even though the practice looks a little different this year, every year we tie ribbons on our altar rail to remember the ultimate things of this life – the wisdom our loved ones taught us. In our socially distant worship service today, a couple will renew the wedding vows they made forty years ago because they want to remember the ultimate things of married life. Even in the midst of pandemic, protests, and political campaigns, the Church today pauses this morning and reminds us of ultimate things.
On this All Saints Day, the faithful stop, take a deep breath, pulling in the anxiety, the pain, the anger, and the suffering, and breathe out the words of Jesus, “Blessed are the poor in spirit…blessed are those who mourn…blessed are those who hunger, who are merciful, who are pure in heart, who are persecuted…blessed are the peacemakers…blessed are you.” Our invitation today is to breathe in with the all the saints who have gone before, so that when we breathe out, we are renewed with the breath of ultimate things. Keep doing the work of our Savior in this crazy time because you are blessed and will continue to be blessed. Rejoice today and be exceedingly glad – for great is your reward in heaven. Amen.