All Saints - Sunday 1st November
Today's reflection is based on Matthew 5:1-12.
Today is All Saints Day. It is a feast day of great antiquity. References to the Feast date back to the 4th Century. In normal times we would celebrate All Saints this morning and this evening we would mark the Eve of All Souls. However, as we all know only too well, these are far from normal times. Our service therefore marks both All Saints and All Souls. Matthew began our Gospel Reading by writing that, "When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain. His Disciples came to him and he taught them." According to the translation we heard this morning, Jesus told the Disciples, "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven; Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted…"
The word translated as "blessed" in our reading can also mean 'happy' or 'fortunate.' Interestingly – at least, I find it interesting – in Attic Greek, that is to say, the form predominantly used around Athens, the word was used to refer to a member of the upper classes. No doubt their lifestyle made them fortunate indeed since they had slaves to do the menial tasks for them.
It is likely that these teachings were not actually delivered by Jesus at one sitting, so to speak, and whereas Matthew refers to Jesus speaking on a mountain, in Luke's Gospel, the teaching was delivered on a plain. Matthew's Gospel account reflects the five books of the Torah or Law in the Old Testament. We are told by Matthew's Gospel that Jesus went up a mountain to deliver his teaching. Moses, on the other hand, had gone up a mountain to receive the first Torah. In Matthew's Gospel, the teaching of the Law is fulfilled in the teaching of Jesus. Matthew makes clear that whereas Moses received the Law, Jesus, takes up the position of Teacher – he sits down and gives the new Law. However, what Jesus had to say would no doubt have been something of a shock to those who were listening. Jesus says in our translation that "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." We hear these words, but do we ask ourselves what they actually mean? The word used in the passage can refer to a beggar. As we know, generally speaking, a beggar has nothing worldly. There is a great danger that as a Christian we can think that we, as it were, are already spiritually successful. I think that Jesus is perhaps saying that the people who are fortunate are those who have room within them to receive his teaching. We are fortunate if, as the American theologian Ron Miller puts it, we are "spiritually receptive". That is to say, if we have room to hear and receive into our lives the teaching of Jesus. In the same way, we are fortunate if we are gentle, for we will inherit God's earth; we are fortunate if our lives are centred upon God, because God will satisfy us. I think that Jesus is saying that such people are in marked contrast to those who have so much in this world and who expend so much energy in trying to keep it to themselves.
In our service today, we are also thinking of those whom we love yet see no more. At each celebration of the Eucharist we proclaim that we are sharing in this holy meal in company with all the company of heaven. There is unbroken continuity with those who now feast at the heavenly banquet. Today we celebrate the lives of all those who have gone before us and have tried to live with integrity. Some of them are so renowned that they are known to the entire church. Most of them are hidden in obscurity, known only to those who were in some way touched by their lives. But these are saints of God nonetheless. Today is a time to be encouraged by the example of the saints and to recall that holiness grows in the ordinary circumstances of life as well as in the extraordinary crises of human life. The saints are those who have the right attitude to life and a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Someone once said that Saints are people who make it easier for others to believe in God. We might also add that they are also those who make it easier to believe in the goodness of humanity.
With every blessing,