Rev'd Philip Heak
1: Today is All saints day. It is a day of remembering those who have died. Specifically, our loved and departed but all of the unnamed saints of God’s church universal. Customarily we remember those who have died in the last year It gives us a moment to grieve those we have lost but also to move to thanksgiving for their life and, even more, for their place now among the saints gathered in the nearer presence of God.
This morning I’m going to reflect on death and loss. I’m not doing this to depress you, but I hope that you may find healing and peace in the teaching of Jesus.
2: Death is one sort of loss, and thankfully, for most people it is something that we have to deal with on an occasional basis. However, this year so many have had losses. The pandemic has caused untold losses. Death yes. But other losses … jobs, social contact, physical contact.
Loss that deserves notice and demands comfort comes from many places, not only death. Loss comes in leave-takings, as we depart for a new job and home and leave beloved friends and colleagues behind.
Loss is experienced when we are advised not to visit friends and family to protect them from Covid-19.
Loss comes as you slowly lose a loved one to Alzheimer’s. It comes in the loss of employment or dignity. It comes from struggles with illness both of body and mind.
It comes from disappointment at home or work or school, of dreams deferred or hopes dashed. Such loss comes at us from so many sources.
3: Into this world of loss Jesus speaks the beatitudes.
Sometimes we are encouraged to view the beatitudes as rule of life. to be a Christian I must be meek, pure in heart peaceloving, and so on. There is a lot of merit in that. The beatitudes can be interpreted as a guide to which we can aspire, but in all honesty fail at miserably most if not all of the time.
In context the Beatitudes in Matthew’s gospel are part of the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the mount is not especially directed towards our moral conduct but rather Jesus is preaching about the Kingdom of God and our part in it. Somehow, the words of the beatitudes encompass not just how we should direct our lives, but give a glimpse of what the Kingdom of God is.
If we were to ask what is the Kingdom of God according to the beatitudes – we would find the answer that it is a kingdom of blessing.
Yes. The Kingdom of God is a kingdom of blessing but the blessings of the beatitudes are quite peculiar …….
Jesus blesses all kinds of people, but especially the kinds of people who aren’t normally blessed – the poor in spirit, the meek, those who mourn, the hungry and thirsty, the peacemakers and the persecuted.
The world typically gives these folk little regard, just as few notice many of our silent losses and grief, and yet Jesus calls them blessed.
He doesn’t say, “one day you will be blessed,” but “blessed are…,” even now, even here. Why? Because blessing isn’t like the flu shot or a much hoped for coronavirus vaccine.
Blessing doesn’t immunize you from pain or loss, and it’s not a guarantee of safe passage through this life unscathed.
Blessing is not a fix-it all. Rather, it’s a sense of fullness, of contentment, of joy that is like, but also transcends, ordinary happiness.
And like love and hope and so many other things, it can’t simply be mustered into existence but is responsive, springing forth in response to the love and promises of another, namely Jesus Christ.
If I want to be warm I have to stand near heat. If I want to be wet, I must be near water. If I want to be blessed I must respond to Jesus.
The blessings of Jesus are not in places of strength, but in areas of vulnerability – amid our grief, alongside those who exercise mercy and work for righteousness, and in so many other activities that the world considers not just meek but weak.
I wonder if humanity has ever felt more vulnerable than it does at present. How many of us are searching for some sort of blessing? I think that an understanding of the beatitudes in terms of a blessing on our vulnerabilities is of great help in hard and troubled times.
Mother Teresa was one person, who in her life’s work was acutely aware of this. She famously wrote of the kiss of Jesus in her book “No greater love:
“Suffering will never be completely absent from our lives. So don’t be afraid of suffering. Your suffering is a great means of love, if you make use of it, especially if you offer it for peace in the world.
Suffering in and of itself is useless, but suffering that is shared with the passion of Christ is a wonderful gift and a sign of love. Christ’s suffering proved to be a gift, the greatest gift of love, because through his suffering our sins were atoned for.
Suffering, pains sorrow, humiliation, feelings of loneliness, are nothing but the kiss of Jesus, a sign that you have come so close that He can kiss you.”
Given where we are just now, and noting that so many are grieving untold losses – of loved ones, of isolation, of livelihood, of hope, of confidence about the future – perhaps we can anchor ourselves in the fact that Jesus says that we are blessed in our vulnerabilities, blessed in our pain, blessed in our losses.
It’s not a dishonest blessing that promises to fix everything, or immunise us against pain or loss, but it is a blessing of the one who became one of us to save us, that through his suffering, resurrection and ascension we are made children of God.
To conclude I’d invite you to be still for a moment.
I have an unlit candle on the Holy table. As you wait, ponder what it is to celebrate All Saints Day.
Remember your loved ones who have died.
Think of the other losses in your life.
Remember that it is Jesus who blesses you.
Perhaps you feel like this candle, vulnerable, lacking light.
But watch as the candle comes to life and we hear again the words of Jesus blessing to all those who are broken.
“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.”