REVELATION 7:2-4, 9-14 1. JOHN 3:1-3 MATTHEW 5:1
Over the past few weeks the Sunday gospels have led me to scrutinize the present state of our nation in the light of the Jesus message. Each week I grappled with the passage on two levels. How does the passage speak to the present situation of our Nation? And then, what could the passage offer as a healing remedy.
I was wondering what this Sunday’s passage was going to offer when I realized that we weren’t going to celebrate the 31st Sunday in Ordinary time. Instead we’re celebrating the Feast of All Saints. My God! Two days before our presidential election two and a half billion Christians throughout the world will be reading a scripture about the universal judgment! Let’s take a look at all three readings for this feast day.
The first reading is taken from the Book of Revelation. The great day of judgment is about to begin. The visionary, John, relates that the earth’s inhabitants, from the most powerful king to the lowliest slave, have gone into hiding in dread of that day. Four angels are poised to mete out the judgment when another angel arises from the East. He commands them not to begin until he has put the seal of the living God on the foreheads of the servants of God. (Think back to the scene in the exodus story when the angel of death is about to strike down all the first-born
males in Egypt. Moses seals the lintels of the Jewish homes with the blood of the Passover lamb to protect them from the judgment to come.)
The scene expands. John moves into a description of those gathered around the throne of God. It’s a vision of the great and wonderful day when the reign of God begins. There are 144,000 from each of the 12 tribes of Israel and an uncountable multitude “from every nation, race, people and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands…These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress: they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
The poetic beauty of this passage touches me each time I read it. The world, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, has gathered at the foot of God’s throne. They’ve been liberated from the enslaving grasp of the world. This is a vision of the new earth. The reign of God has begun. Its people stand redeemed and sealed with the glory of God’s love.
The second reading from the First Letter of John continues this theme. John declares that God’s love has made each of us children of the one God. He explains that the world, which does not know God, doesn’t recognize that we’re
brothers and sisters, the redeemed offspring of God.
The last scripture is the very well-known Beatitudes. Before I say anything about them I want to re-translate the word “blessed.” The meaning of the nine phrases becomes clearer if we translate “blessed” as “How happy!”
Each Beatitude is presented as a couplet. “How happy are…for they will… The first part announces a human reality or longing. How happy are those who are mourning. How happy are the meek. How happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. How happy are the merciful, and so on. The second part of each Beatitude tells us why we would be so happy.
“For theirs is the Kingdom of heaven…for they will be comforted…for they will inherit the earth. The first line of the couplet is spoken from earth. The second line is spoken from within the light of the kingdom of God.
In each of the Beatitudes earth is linked with heaven. Just as the scene from the Book of Revelation acknowledges “the time of great distress,” our battle against the negative energy of the world, so the Beatitudes acknowledges the longing of the human spirit for a world redeemed of selfishness and ego.
On the Feast of All Saints we celebrate our place in the kingdom of God. But we aren’t just thinking about the future when we will have passed over from this world to the world beyond the veil. Our longing for that redeemed and healed world is the beginning of its manifestation in our day and time. Day by day the children of God confront the distress and darkness of our egocentric world. We’re armed with the powerful vision of the new heaven and the new earth and supported by God’s unconditional love.
This feast day is reminding us not to settle for the world we’ve always known. There’s a new, redeemed world waiting to be born. As long as we feel powerless against the world the way it is today with its injustice, inequality, suffering and violence we strengthen that old energy. Jesus’ message in the Beatitudes is that if we look through the eyes of our souls, we’ll see past the old world of selflessness to the new world energized by love and compassion, caring and selflessness. Today we’re being invited to join forces with the Lamb in redeeming and healing the world.
Two days before our general election the Spirit has put these scriptures before us. The Beatitudes are the M.O. of the Christian. We carry within us the seed of the Kingdom of God. No matter how our elections go we must not forget that. A new world is in our vision – how happy are we.