Reading Ramblings – November 3, 2013 (All Saints Day Observed)

Reading
Ramblings

Date: November 3, 2013 –
Twenty Fourth Sunday after Pentecost; All Saints Day (Observed)

Texts: Revelation 72-8)9-17;
Psalm 149; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12

Context: The early Church
venerated the deaths of martyrs with observances on the day they
died. However, after several centuries of persecution, it became
necessary to appoint a common day when those who had died for the
faith were remembered. We have evidence of such practice as early as
the late 4th century. Over time, All Saints Day has been
extended (perhaps in Protestant observances) beyond just canonized
saints and is frequently used as a day to remember all those who have
preceded us into glory, and more specifically those who have done so
in the last twelve months.

Revelation 72-8)9-17: The
emphasis here is on completeness. The numbers detailed in verses 4-8
should not be taken literally, but rather as numbers of completion,
factors of 12 and 10 centering around the twelve tribes of Israel
which are used to personify all of God’s people. The point is that
everyone who is supposed to be here in this celebration is present –
no one has been forgotten or overlooked. We needn’t worry whether
our loved ones who died in the faith will be remembered by God or not
– they are. The latter verses of this chapter emphasize the
presence and power of God exercised now directly and perfectly over
his people. Sin is no longer an issue for them, nor are the effects
of sin. They do not suffer physically from any form of discomfort,
any lack, any fear. The people of God have been restored to perfect
union and happiness with their God, as Adam and Eve knew prior to
eating the forbidden fruit.

Psalm 149: The people of God
have much to celebrate and give thanks for, many reasons to praise
our God! The psalmist specifies one in verse 4 – the Lord delights
in his people, and provides salvation to the humble. How is it that
the people of God could do anything other than to rejoice and give
thannks to the author of their salvation? Verses 6-9 may seen out of
place here – suddenly the image is not one of praise and
thanksgiving but of violence. Praise of God is joined to the defeat
of God’s enemies. Those receiving judgment in these verses are
understood to be all those who reject the dominion of God and his
desire to delight in them and to save them. Those who reject God in
favor of their own efforts or ambitions remain enemies of God, bound
in their sin and unworthy to remain in the presence of God and his
people.

Some may find these sentiments
unpleasant, but we need to remember that sin will be punished. Evil
will be bound and exiled forever. Those who have perpetrated harm
on others and themselves without accepting responsibility and turning
in repentance to God deserve punishment, as surely as an unrepentant
murderer deserves the full penalty of the law. We must be careful
not to let the punishment of evil be seen as evil in itself!

1 John 3:1-3: What joy we have
in the fact that God loves us! Not only loves us, but has sacrificed
his Son to call us his children once again, to offer us grace and
forgiveness and amnesty for our sins. This is not something that
only becomes a reality after death – it is real and true now.
Though we can only see our sinfulness, we are also saints. We do not
experience and see that reality yet, but that reality will one day be
our entire reality. As such, we seek to live God-pleasing lives
today in anticipation of living such lives in eternity. We have been
purified from our sins through Jesus Christ’s death &
resurrection, so it is only fitting that we begin living as purified
people now. Imperfectly, to be certain – but taking our
sanctification through the Holy Spirit seriously.

Matthew 5:1-12: The first of
several discourses that Matthew records of Jesus, the Sermon on the
Mount is undoubtedly the most famous of Jesus’ teachings. His
statements are a combination of future-oriented and present-oriented
assertions regarding the condition of God’s people. Those who have
been reconciled to God enjoy benefits and states of being that are
not entirely perceptible to those around them, and which may not be
fully recognized even by God’s faithful in this lifetime. Yet,
reality remains reality despite our inability to perceive it fully or
properly.

Those reconciled to God receive the
kingdom of heaven (vs. 3, 10 & 12). Those who are reconciled to
God the Father already, by virtue of that reconciliation, are
citizens in the kingdom of heaven. They don’t enjoy the full
benefits of that citizenship just yet, until their dual-citizenship
status in sinful human nature has been renounced and revoked fully.
In the meantime, they live with the promises of what they may receive
partially now but will receive fully and completely in the day of the
Lord – comfort, dominion, righteousness, mercy, being in the
presence of God and being acknowledged by God as his sons (and
daughters).

The saints may not look like much by
the world’s standards. They may be mocked, insulted, persecuted,
imprisoned, even tortured and killed for their faith. Yet they are
in reality already victors through Jesus Christ. The world may seek
to rid itself of them, but there is no mass grave, no unmarked tomb,
no unnoticed death that God shall not make right. Those who die in
faith will receive in full what they must accept by faith here and
now – that they are the Lord’s and the Lord will look after his
own.

*  *  *  *  *

As we consider All Saints Day, we
should bear in mind a few things. Christians do not believe that the
ghosts of the dead wander the earth. They do not haunt us or cling
to us in over-attachment. To the best of our knowledge they do not
return to give us insight or other messages from beyond. Rather,
those who die in the faith are now in heaven, as surely as the thief
on the cross was promised to be that day in glory (Luke 23:43).
Their spirits are at peace in the presence of God, awaiting the
return of Jesus and the Day of the Lord, when they will receive their
perfected physical bodies.

As such, we do not pray to or for the
dead – there is no need. And we should be careful about how we
talk about them, avoiding expressions that ascribe divine functions
to them. The dead do not watch over us as guardian angels. They are
not with us in some actual sense, beyond our memories of them. We do
not look for them in nature or the stars or anywhere other than the
kingdom of God.

Those who die in faith do not become
angels. We are created as human beings and we trust that this is
what we will remain. Angels are a different type of creature – we
share the attribute of being created by God, but we are not
interchangeable.

We remember the dead on All Saints Day
in thanksgiving to God for placing these people in our lives as role
models, mentors, missionaries. We remember them to give thanks to
God for his care for us through them, and as inspiration and
encouragement to each of us to live in such a way as to be inspiring
and helpful to others in their Christian walk.   

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