Sermon text: Matthew 5: 1-12
Europe has no shortage of beautiful churches and cathedrals that you can visit—these gorgeous buildings older than our country, where people have been worshipping God for centuries. In these grand spaces your eyes are typically drawn up, up at the stained glass, up to the ornate woodwork, up to the pillars and the vaulted ceilings and the domes. These places are breathtaking, absolutely stunning. After a few minutes of looking up, and bumping into people, your neck gets stiff and at some point you will inevitably look down and then you realize that you’re standing on the grave of some saint. It’s a very startling discovery, the idea that you’re standing on top of a dead person. Being inside you have the notion that you’d be safe from that sort of thing, after all, you are not standing in the cemetery. But not in Europe. No, in Europe you find lots of dead people planted in the floor. Usually some lord or lady. The first time this happened to me I tried to be respectful, to step off the grave…only to find that I had now stepped onto the grave of someone else.
Once you get over the shock of burying people inside and under the church floor there’s a certain grim but poetic beauty that can be pondered. In the words of the famous hymn “The Church’s One Foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord.” But by burying these men and women into the church’s foundation we see the metaphor of another truth: The church, and our faith, rests on the witness of those who have come before us. Their labors have built up the church to what we experience today.
This weekend we celebrate All Saints, which can best be thought of as Memorial Day for the church. This weekend we remember those who have died this past year; the twelve members of Zion who have crossed over from the Church Militant to the Church Triumphant.
We remember their witness, the way their lives of faith impacted our community, and how they spread the gospel through their own unique gifts of the Holy Spirit. Of course, it is also natural for us to increase the scope of this day to incorporate all the people who have been instrumental in our lives who had died before us.
This year we also observe this festival with the knowledge that many more chimes will ring in church around the globe due to the coronavirus’ ongoing destruction. 230,000 deaths in the United States. 1.18 million around the world. The church universal is experiencing All Saints in a dramatically different way due to this virus.
As we celebrate this festival we recognize the important tenet of our faith that God’s promises are given to both the living and the dead.
In many ways it is easier for us to look back on the life of a person we’ve known to see the ways in which they’ve embodied God, how they were Christ for us. In death we take a moment to see how that person was holy and set aside by God—that they were a blessing in our lives. Once again, that is an important dynamic of this All Saints Day.
However, All Saints also comes with a reflective challenge for those who still draw breath and occupy the Church Militant. And so I ask you this question: Can you look at your life and claim blessedness?
Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for Jesus’ sake. In the Beatitudes this is Jesus’ list of who finds favor and protection with God. These are the ones who actively labor for Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God. From the rest of Matthew’s Gospel we also know that blessed are sinners who are forgiven, the rejected who are received, the broken who are healed, the unclean who are cleansed, and those who are salt and light. In short, blessed are those who are incomplete on their own, but are completed by God.
In death we have watched our siblings in Christ continue on into the promise and blessing of God. We have watched as they trusted God as they moved into the next part of their journey. We have benefitted as they radiated their blessing into our lives. By their witness they have fortified the foundation of the church. They are now built into the floors like the graves in the European cathedrals.
Can we live by those promises as they died by them? Do we have eyes to see God’s blessedness, not just in death, but in life? Will you hunger for justice, strive for mercy, and make peace? Will you see that you are blessed to be a blessing? Will you live as though the promises are complete?
For we are all saints. We are all set apart by God. We are all blessed. God has made an indelible mark in our lives. Now may we have the courage to let our actions reflect the promise. May we help to labor and lay the foundations of God’s Kingdom, strengthen the church, and build a legacy of faithful service. AMEN