Reading Ramblings – All Saints Day

Reading Ramblings

Date: All Saints Day (observed), November 5, 2017

Texts: Revelation 7:9-17; Psalm 149; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12

Context: Since the earliest days of the Church, remembering those who were killed for the faith was an important thing. Most people would describe facing execution for refusing to back down on your profession of faith in Jesus Christ as the greatest act of faith. After several generations, however, the list was too long to remember each individual Christian on their individual execution date, and it was also desired to remember the faithful who had not been executed for the faith but died naturally, waiting for their Savior’s return. All Saints Day is the official version of this, the date settling – after some shifting around – on November 1 with observance on the first Sunday in November. Halloween gets it’s name from this – All Hallows Eve, the night before All Saints Day. The readings selected for today emphasize the hope we have in Christ for the resurrection of the dead and life together eternally.

Revelation 7:9-17 – The great family snapshot in eternity! The great family reunion of all those in Christ who have ever and do and will ever live, together at last around the throne of God and giving thanks and praise! Which means St. John in his vision is seeing himself somewhere in that innumerable throng. And it means that he is seeing you and I – ever person past and present who persevered in their faith through whatever issues came their way. This is the great hope of the Church, the great hope of humanity, the great hope of Creation itself. God restoring all things through the incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension, and promised return of his Son. It is this vision, this promise that enables us to persevere through all things joyful and sorrowful, to endure whatever hardships are necessary, and to support one another in prayer as well as in material assistance. We do so in the hope that this life is prelude to something so much greater and more beautiful that it shines it’s light backwards to illuminate our day to day experiences with a heavenly glow more powerful and warm than the brightest sunny summer day.

Psalm 149 – The saints of God in praise to God here in the psalm as well as St. John’s vision – God remains faithful and consistent in his revelation of himself and his inspiration of his Word to us. This praise is appropriate to those who are young and spry enough to dance and sing and make merry, but also to those who are on their beds, those unable at the moment to dance and sing but who can still lift to God on their lips his praise for his promises to them, that He has and does and will adorn the humble with salvation. Is judgment an errant theme in this psalm? Is it out of place in some way? Hardly! For judgment is appropriate to any who would not simply reject but struggle and fight and claw against the good blessings of God, who would seek to keep others from this hope and joy. To the evil at work in our world and unfortunately those who are lost and caught in it, judgment is appropriate. Defeat is necessary. Evil must and will be judged and exiled, and all those who refuse to separate themselves from it must follow. To be faithful and resolute in this, not allowing the definitions of mercy and compassion to somehow be twisted to evil’s end – this is what God’s people are called to now and always, and always in praise of and worship of and to the glory of our God who has created and redeemed us.

1 John 3:1-3 – God is good! This seems like an almost unnecessary thing to say, but it is crucial in a world which insists on calling God evil and tyrannical and unjust. It is not God who is evil and tyrannical and unjust, it is evil and sin in this world and even in our own hearts and minds. The love of God is that He wills to call us his children and to enable us to be his children. Those who fight against us in our faith do so because they have fundamentally missed or rejected the primal goodness of God the Father. They war with us because we are God’s children and this is a source of confusion and fear to them, lost as they are in the evil of false belief. They recognize us as God’s children in a limited sense, but mistake our continued sinful state as evidence that we aren’t really God’s children and that our hope is misplaced and ultimately evil. But one day the reality of our adoption as God’s sons and daughters will be clear to everyone – including ourselves. What we can’t see now, what Satan tempts us to doubt about ourselves now will one day be clear as day, unarguable, realer than any concept of reality we have now. It is towards this hope and assurance that those who place their faith in Christ live each day according to the good He has revealed and fulfilled. It is in that hope and assurance that we live by God’s directives rather than the whims of our heart or the demands of a corrupt culture and society. We cling to his promises that begin our transformation here and now, and will complete it in the day of Christ’s return.

Matthew 5:1-12 – The Christian hope runs contrary to earthly experience in many ways. We want our lives to be smooth, comfortable, easy, happy. There’s nothing wrong with such a desire, but we must retain a clear perspective in both good times and bad. It’s easy when things are going wrong to think that there must not be a God (else how could He allow our suffering?), or to presume that God is somehow angry with us (and is punishing us). It is easy to equate our suffering here and now with a negation of our hope in Christ.

Unlike other philosophies and religions, Biblical Christianity does not promise us the transformation of this world by our efforts or under our terms. Our hope in Christ certainly inspires us to work for a better world, to care for those in need, to stand with those who suffer or are taken advantage of. But we do so because of what and who is coming, not what we are creating now. What we are creating now may be an improvement but, because of the sin inherent in ourselves and every other person and creation itself, that improvement will itself be marred and subject to undoing and misuse. It will be imperfect in reach and scope. And those we help will still someday, even under the best of circumstances, die.

The Christian labors to transform this world in anticipation of the final, ultimate, and perfect transformation promised only and completely in the return of Jesus Christ. It is only in Christ that all things will be renewed and finally and completely transformed, freed from the grip of sin that blinds and hinders even the best of our aspirations. Our hope is not that we can eliminate poverty or sorrow or hunger or war. We can’t. We can make brief and imperfect improvements – and we should! To do otherwise, to turn a blind eye would be tantamount to a rejection of the hope we have in Christ! But we should never mistake our efforts – and our related successes or failures – with the sure hope we have that Christ alone can and will create and renew all things.

We proclaim this truth in the midst of suffering and sorrow and hunger and war. When all earthly indicators seem to point in the opposite direction we continue to proclaim the abundance and joy and peace promised in Jesus Christ. We acknowledge the suffering in the world for what it is (rather than pretending it doesn’t really exist or that we don’t have to deal with it as we are led and empowered to by God the Holy Spirit), and we stand with those who suffer and speak words of true hope to them. Hope that cannot be taken away by the cruelty or insensitivity of human beings. We truly are blessed. Here and now, in joy and in sorrow, in plenty and in want, because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ which makes true repentance, true forgiveness, and therefore true change possible. Here and now and eternally. To God alone be the glory!

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