Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Thursday, November 01, 2007

All Saints Day 2007



Revelation 7:9-17
7:9 After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no
one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.

7:10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying, "Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!"

7:11 And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God,

7:12 singing, "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen."

7:13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, "Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?"

7:14 I said to him, "Sir, you are the one that knows." Then he said to me, "These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

7:15 For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.

7:16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat;

7:17 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."

Psalm 34:1-10, 22
34:1 I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.

34:2 My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad.

34:3 O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together.

34:4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.

34:5 Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed.

34:6 This poor soul cried, and was heard by the LORD, and was saved from every trouble.

34:7 The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.

34:8 O taste and see that the LORD is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.

34:9 O fear the LORD, you his holy ones, for those who fear him have no want.

34:10 The young lions suffer want and hunger, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.

34:22 The LORD redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

1 John 3:1-3
3:1 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

3:2 Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.

3:3 And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

Matthew 5:1-12
5:1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.

5:2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

5:3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

5:4 "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5:5 "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

5:6 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

5:7 "Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

5:8 "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

5:9 "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

5:10 "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

5:11 "Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

5:12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

God, he told me, is spiritual, not material; not bread and wine, not flesh and blood. And when I mentioned that was largely the picture of Jesus we got from the gospel of John, he mentioned the letters of John, too, to support his point.

The gospel of John doesn't include what we call the Beatitudes. In John's gospel, for John's community, those blessings have no place. They are too open-handed, too generous, too inclusive. Which is not to say John is not inclusive, that John doesn't know the other gospels. He clearly knew the gospel of Luke. John, like all four gospels, includes the anointing of Jesus before his death; unlike the other three gospels, in John's version the woman who anoints Jesus has a name. She is Mary, and she anoints Jesus in gratitude for raising her brother Lazarus from the dead. Perhaps there is a joke there, for John, because Lazarus is the poor beggar in Jesus' parable in Luke, of the poor man who goes to Abraham, and the rich man who dies and goes to Gehenna. But John had read Luke, because Luke moves the anointing of Jesus from his head to his feet; and Mary, in John's version, bathes Jesus feet with the perfume, the scent of which fills the house. John knew enough about Luke's gospel to know the anointing recorded in Mark and Matthew, had changed in the transmission to Luke.

But John's is not an inclusive gospel; it is almost a gnostic gospel. Those who know, know; those who do not, are Nicodemus; imagining that they know, but understanding nothing. Never mind; they are saved in the end. In the end, Nicodemus is one of those who recovers the body after the crucifixion. Or maybe that is John's joke again, since the body was never Jesus in the first place; since it only appeared to be Jesus.

But in Matthew's gospel, the body is clearly Jesus, and the blessings are clearly concrete; meant to be real, not just platitudes. They are meant to comfort people who mourn now; people who are merciful now; people whose spirit is poor now, and needs encouraging; people who are pure in heart now, merciful now, trying to make peace now. For they will be called "saints." And saints are always people; never ideals; and never plaster. Ideals are not real; and plaster is not human. Saints are human. Saints are real.

The blessings are announced for now; not for some time in the sweet bye and bye. We miss that, too often, because the merciful hardly seem blessed, and the peacemakers hardly seem successful, and the merciful receive no mercy, the pure in heart seem to see nothing except what can't possibly be; and the only promise given is that our reward will be great in heaven; and heaven, despite the peacemakers and the merciful and those who are hungry right now for justice and righteousness, heaven is certainly not here, not now. So the blessings seem to be set aside, promises of a time to come.

No, say the saints. No. No. The blessings are here. The blessings are real. The blessings are pronounced, right now. They take affect here; for you. Now.

The language of this day all sounds like language of what will come, will happen, will be seen one day; but not now:

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, "Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?"

I said to him, "Sir, you are the one that knows." Then he said to me, "These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.

They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat;

for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."
We hear those words and we think: "Yes. Yes!" And we want them to be true now; but we know they are not true. We know they cannot yet be true. But the saints admonish us. The saints tell us, remind us, wave their hands before our blind eyes, shout into our deaf ears: "The time is now! The blessing is now! The great ordeal is over and the throne of the Lamb is in front of you right now! The shepherd guides you now! The springs of water wash your feet right now! God is wiping your tears away now, now, even now! Oh, won't you open your eyes and see?! Won't you open your ears and listen?!" And then they weep for us, the saints; the clouds of witness who surround us and know what we know and know what we refuse to know. They surround us and weep and try once again to get our attention, to make us listen, to make us see, to get us just to notice.

O taste and see that the LORD is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.

O fear the LORD, you his holy ones, for those who fear him have no want.

The young lions suffer want and hunger, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.

The LORD redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.
If you could but taste, then you would see! If you would but taste, then you would hear! Those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. The lives of the servants of the Lord are redeemed! And they are redeemed right now! That is what the saints tell us, and they know! They know, because they are human. They know because they are just like us. They know, because they are saints. And they surround us; and they are here, now.

Samhain is what the Irish once called this time. It was their new year, and the ancestors came back to see them for a celebration. It was when time itself was a "thin place," and the spirits could communicate with the living, and the veil between the two worlds was thin enough to allow communication. For them, the spirits were as real as flesh and blood family members. For us, perhaps even the saints don't seem quite real. The saints seem like the blessed ones, and their blessings seem to have come long after they could enjoy them in this life. But they know what we forget: that the blessings are for life, not for death. Blessings that only come as rewards in the end, are no blessings at all. Blessings that are not for this life, are only cruel promises. The saints know that God is the God of the living, not the dead; and that in God’s sight, all are alive. Which is why this time of year is still a time of celebration, not of mourning. Which is why the great ordeal has passed, and the lamb is with us now. And why the ones who seem so little, and have so little, and struggle to be merciful and make peace and keep pure hearts, are blessed right now, and not later, not as a reward for being stubborn or persistent or for simply hanging on. The struggle has passed. Blessed are we; right now. That is what the saints know.

The saints are flesh and blood and bone, as Jesus was; and they know what our struggles are, as Jesus did, and they know what our hope is; and that is what sets them apart from us. But not for long; never for long; and they don’t want to be set apart, they want to be with us, they want us to be with them. They are here, now, in this “thin time” they are as near as our next breath, and they know: the blessings on the merciful, and the mourning, and the pure in heart; on the peacemakers and the meek and the ones who are so hungry and thirsty for righteousness they are sure they can just taste, and if only they could be satisfied! They know, the saints, the wise and humble and loving saints, that we are with them, right now; and that we are blessed. Right now. And they want us to know it, too. For all the saints. God willing, we’ll see that we’re ones, too.

Because that’s what it means, to be children of God. The saints, look just like you. Have hands, and hearts, and eyes, and ears, and mouths, shaped just like yours. And that is your blessing, now, and evermore. Because you are merciful. Because you are meek. Because, whether you know it or not, your heart is pure. Because you will never stop being hungry and thirsty for righteousness. Because you know it is there, that it will come, that it will be done. Because you know, the great ordeal is no ordeal at all. Because you know, that you want everyone else to know this; and to know they are blessed.

For all the saints. And you are one, too.

Amen.

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