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Matthew 5: 1-12
For All the Saints

November 1st is the official day in the church when we remember all the saints of the church.  Because November 1st only falls on a Sunday every 6 years, its celebration is usually moved to the following Sunday, allowing us to celebrate it yearly.  This year I’ve opted to move it to the Sunday before November 1st as it seemed so very appropriate on this day of celebration and thanks to Allan and our layreaders who so graciously subbed in for me in August and September, and indeed thank all you saints sitting here, who work so hard for God’s kingdom in our little corner of the world. 


This All Saints tradition is one Anglicans inherited from our roots in the ancient Church. Originally kept on the on the first Sunday after Pentecost, the Eastern Christian Church still celebrates All Saints Day then.  In the mid 8th century Pope Gregory III dedicated a chapel to ‘All the Saints’ in St. Peter’s Basilica on November 1st.  So the date for the Western Christian Church’s celebration was changed to November 1st after that.  Many of our Anglican traditions have come from our shared history with the Roman Church, including this one. The day before All Saints Day came to be known as All Hallows Eve—all hallows, meaning holy ones, as in holy saints, which over time came to be known as Hallowe’en.


So, who are Saints?  Saints are Christians who in various ways, often against great odds, showed an extraordinary love for Christ. The Holy Spirit acted in their lives so that they chose to bring aid to the needy, justice to the oppressed, hope to the sorrowful, and the divine word of forgiveness to sinners. For the sake of Christ they were servants to the people of their day; and the service they rendered in the past makes them examples to the rest of the people of God throughout history.[1]


Ok, so that explains the historical saints, what I sometimes call the capital ‘S’ Saints.  However in the Anglican tradition, we have a more inclusive concept of the saints of the church, which I think may be fair to say comes from good ole St. Paul. He is the biblical author with the most references to the saints of the church, 23 times just in the letters that scholars are sure that he wrote. I do think it’s reasonable to say that Paul has moulded our Anglican understanding of who the saints of the church truly are.


In his opening greeting of his first letter to the people of the Corinthian church, Paul says: “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”


“To those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints”. To be sanctified-- that means those who are called to be holy, Paul sees them as the saints of the church. And who may those people be? Since the time before Christ, since the time of the Exodus, those who believed in the one Holy Almighty Creator God, were called to be a nation apart, God called them to be a holy people -- the people of Israel. Exodus 19:6: ‘you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation’, the Lord said to Moses. From this ancient calling is the formation of our faith too, our beliefs began here. From this ancient line of people came Jesus, God as man, come to earth remind people and show God’s people of their calling as God’s holy people, to be their Saviour. So then, who are the saints of the church?  Well, we are too, the members of Christ Church.  We have been sanctified—we have been called to be holy, through our baptisms into the body of Christ’s Church.


It is good to remind ourselves each year on this celebration day of our Christian calling to be a holy people.  We remember and celebrate the ‘official saints’, but it is also a reminder of our call to be God’s Holy People.  We remember the past saints of our churches, those who have gone before us.  We remember the legacy they have left us -- and realize that we are a part of the legacy for the saints yet to come. When the time comes, we will join those gone before us, those who are at now peace with the Lord. This reassurance that we return to God is an ancient belief, going back to the time before Jesus, as our Canticle today, a scripture from the Book of Wisdom describes.  “The souls of the righteous are in the hands of God (but) in the eyes of the unwise, they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster.” (Wisdom3.2)  However, those who are wise know “they are at peace”. (Wisdom 3.3)  The author, a Greek Jew writing in the century before Jesus’ birth, is pretty clear that he feels that those without faith are the unwise or foolish ones. People who are unwise, who lack faith are not able to appreciate or anticipate what death brings; they see only finality and despair. They miss the peace, the hope and love of a life lived in the hope, joy and love of God.  The imagery of souls shining brightly like sparks through the stubble of grain field is a beautiful one, and I think of this verse when I look at the lights of the remembrance candles we lit. 


Today’s gospel reading, what we’ve come to call The Beatitudes, comes from early in Matthew’s gospel, the beginning of a long series of Jesus’ teachings, from what is known as The Sermon on the Mount.  Matthew has Jesus teaching from the mountain, no doubt drawing a parallel to Moses, who too ascended the mountain before he began his teaching of the people.[2] 


One of the resources I researched stated that Matthew put these Beatitudes as we now call them together in a poetic collection, and that they are most likely a compilation of a number of Jesus’ sayings.  The Beatitudes as recorded in Luke’s Sermon on the Plains have some similarities in ideas and language, but he did not compose them like Matthew did.  But this similarity between Matthew and Luke reinforces that they both drew from the same source material to write their gospels.

I had a book mark given to me as a child with the beatitudes written on it and I used to keep in my bible. It was a pretty thing, laminated cloth, white background with burgundy lettering in a fancy script.  It had a hole punched in the top of it and a corded string with tassel on the end of the string looped through the hole.  Each time I used that book mark, I’d read the beatitudes in the King James language, not at all sure what they meant, but they did sound lovely and poetic when you read them, and I knew they were special in some way, but I didn’t really understand what they meant. 

My “Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church” defines the Beatitudes as “Christ’s promises of coming blessings… (and are) qualities of Christian perfection”.[3]  Perfection in 9 statements, saint-like behaviour you could say! 


So next I went to the internet and found an explanation on the Church of England website that made sense to me.

The Beatitudes sum up Jesus' teaching about what it means to live as a child of God’s kingdom. … Some of these sayings are difficult to understand, and some are uncomfortable for us today as they would have been to Jesus' first hearers.

Looking at how Jesus lives them out himself is the best way of understanding what they mean. So, for instance, if you are not sure what Jesus means by ‘blessed are those who mourn’, look at the examples in Jesus’ own life and ministry where he cries out with sadness and anguish to God. This will help us see that mourning is not just about bereavement, but a whole attitude of lamentation and crying out to God when we see and experience the injustices and sorrows of the world.

Some of us may find that we are naturally people who thirst for justice, or who are merciful to others. But likewise we may also conclude that being pure in heart or meek do not come naturally to us. Whatever our natural tendencies, though, all of the beatitudes are for all of us, and they need to be understood as a whole.

The Beatitudes are complex. They are hard to live out. But they are also very beautiful. They describe what it means to live by a set of standards, callings and attitudes that go way beyond the observation of rules or the keeping of the law. This is what life looks like when you are truly Christ-like. [4]

Some are more difficult to comprehend than others.  My study bible tells me that that Blessed means happy or satisfied, and some versions or translations of the Beatitudes actually use the word Happy instead of Blessed.  I’ve never quite understood why it’s more blessed or why we should be happy to be poor in spirit, grieving or hungry or persecuted.   It’s almost as though living in misery is a better state of life, and that’s what’s always bothered me about these biblical couplets, if this is what it takes to achieve perfection I’m afraid that I may never make it, never mind aspiring to be a saint!

But I think it helps to remember why Matthew might have written them the way he did.  Remember, he’s writing for his community of Christians who are a tiny minority of the population, a people bucking the Roman and Jewish systems, who’s leader was a rebel, crucified by the state, and they are being persecuted for it. So he’s introducing these verses as a reassurance, something to hang on to for those living in that difficult time period, for those who were truly aspiring to live Jesus’ ways, aspiring to bring about God’s kingdom of heaven.  Even in our darkest moments—whether you’re mourning, persecuted for something you believe, or didn’t do, or hungering for food or justice, we are not alone, God is with us, blessing us with love, support and care. 

We can make these conclusions because of the last 2 verses of our Gospel reading.  Jesus is addressing the disciples directly, warning them, that they will be ill treated, persecuted, be falsely accused because they are following him.  Jesus tells them he knows they will suffer, but to be glad, to rejoice in it because their struggles, their suffering for Jesus will be rewarded, they will be with God.  What a message of grace for the disciples in those times, and for people of today who find ourselves challenged trying to lives faithful lives. We can be reassured, God is with us as we struggle, ours is the kingdom of heaven.      

Just what does that mean anyway, the kingdom of heaven?  One of the sources I read says this is a very Hebrew way of saying not that one will go to heaven as we’ve come to think of heaven as a place, but rather the idea that one will be present with God. To be in the kingdom is to be with God, God within us, God’s presence will be with us—especially so in our struggles and difficulties in our lives, as we try so hard to live our lives according to Christ’s teachings.         

God’s grace and mercy are upon God’s holy ones, God’s chosen ones, in life and we know this continues even after death.  Because for Christians, we have the example of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection upon which to pattern our lives.  We know death is not the final answer, for death brings a new—and different life, a life with Christ--for All the Saints of God’s Church.  Amen  


[1] Stephen Reynolds, For All the Saints. (ABC Publishing: Toronto ON 2007) 328

[2] The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Third Edition.  P 13, New Testament

[3] The Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church E.A. Livingstone, editor. (Oxford, New York:  Oxford University Press 1987)  55

[4],the%20Sermon%20on%20the%20Mount. Accessed October 24.23