Reading Ramblings – All Saints Day

Reading Ramblings

Date: All Saints’ Day (Observed) – November 3, 2019

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

Context: All Saints’ Day – in one form or another – replaced celebrations of individual martyrs when Roman persecution created too many martyrs to be observed separately. The observance also moved from only honoring those who were executed specifically for being Christian to remembering all those of the faith who have preceded us into glory. This is not a day of sorrow, though of course we miss those who have passed into glory. Rather, it is a day to celebrate the promises of our Lord that the grave is not the final word in our lives, and that the resurrected Son of God will gather all the faithful living and dead together for an eternal celebration.

Revelation 7:9-17 – Those gathered around the throne do not sing their own praises. They do not laud themselves for their faithfulness, for their willingness to suffer and die for the name of Christ. They do not locate their salvation in some merit of their own, as though their supreme sacrifice in faith was worthy of God bestowing salvation on them. No, salvation belongs to God the Father on the throne, and to the Lamb, the Son of God who lives though he was slain. He alone is worthy of praise, even in light of the sacrifice these faithful made. Likewise, our lives are to be lives of faith and praise of our Lord and Savior, rather than directed at congratulating ourselves or enticing others to give us praise.

Psalm 149 – Our living God is worthy of living praise, praise that echoes his works of the past but is always new, always being added on to as we experience the work of God in our lives in the present. Such praise is not simply private but a public affair – we sing the praise of God together as we share what He does for us individually. It does not seem to be a very staid or stoic praise, either! It is decidedly un-Lutheran, but reflects the exuberance of God’s people before their God. That anyone else should expect such praise and glory, any earthly king or prince is ridiculous! It will be the people of God’s privilege and duty to ensure that all such powers do submit on that final day, so that none may remain in their lofty places of personal majesty, but rather all will come together in worship and adoration of God alone. All – which includes the living as well as those who have entered into glory already.

1 John 3:1-3 – What is love? It is the love of God bestowed on an undeserving creation that clings to him in faith and trust. It is his calling of his faithful children, rather than rebels or thieves or any number of other names that might more accurately describe our sinful hearts. Instead He calls us his children and gathers us to himself that we might know his love eternally. One day, that love and our relationship to him will be obvious to everyone, even those who deny his reality and hate his faithful. They are unable to see who we are, who God the Holy Spirit makes us into through faith – sons and daughters of the Creator of the Universe! Rather, we are subject to mockery and ridicule by a world that deems itself wise. The reality of our relationship to a very real God is not yet visible to the world, but it will be one day. It is this hope we press toward, the hope of what God has already made us and will reveal in fullness not just to the world but to even us, who can’t see our identities clearly through the fog of sin and ignorance. But trusting his Word, trusting that we are his holy children, we strive to make our lives more holy, more reflective of the reality He declares to us. We await the day when, raised from the dead we stand with all the faithful through history, revealed in the glory of Jesus Christ and joining our voices in praise of who He has made us to be through his great love!

Matthew 5:1-12 – How do we set out to make our lives more holy? In a sense, they can’t be any holier, as God has declared us righteous through faith in Jesus Christ. Yet we remain sinful as well, and here is where our holiness can and should be cultivated. Yet, curiously, as Jesus characterizes those who receive the kingdom of heaven, their role is wholly passive. They are poor in spirit, yet they receive the kingdom of heaven. They do mourn, and they are comforted. They are meek, yet they inherit everything. They hunger and thirst, and they will be given what they hunger and thirst for. They are merciful to others – finally an actionable item on their/our part, and only made possible by the mercy first shown us in Jesus Christ. Pure in heart, because they are destined to see God and so have been made pure in heart through faith. Another actionable item – peacemakers. And finally they are persecuted, yet will receive the kingdom of heaven.

So in terms of this particular teaching, the only actionable things of God’s people are mercy and peacemakers. We grant mercy to others who do not deserve it because we have received God’s mercy. And we strive to make peace with one another because we have been set at peace through Christ. These are not actionable items our world thinks very highly of. Where’s the ambition? Where are the lofty goals and grand intentions?

If we desire to style ourselves as Christian superheroes, perhaps we need to rethink our goals and particularly our reasons for those goals. Mercy and peacemaking are things we are called to as part of the kingdom of heaven despite there being no personal glory in them, and perhaps precisely because there is no personal glory in them. Yet as we think back on those Christians influential in our lives but now in glory, perhaps mercy and peacemaking were aspects of them that made them so influential, even if we couldn’t pinpoint those traits at the time (or even now!).

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