Sunday, November 1, 2009

Lectionary 31 or All Saints Sunday
Deuteronomy 6:1-9; Psalm 119:1-8; Hebrews 9:11-14; Mark 12:28-34
Isaiah 25:6-9 or Wisdom 3:1-9; Psalm 24; Revelation 21:1-6a; John 11:32-44

Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.

In the Old Testament passage for All Saints Day we get a glimpse of a vision of the heavenly realm. This is an image that gives us hope when we lose those we love to death and the grave. “And in this mountain will Jehovah of hosts make unto all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined.” We hear this as a people set free from the oppression of sin and death, but the people in Isaiah’s day heard something different, something more urgent. Isaiah was speaking to people who had wandered away from God. They faced exile because they were unfaithful. They had no hope, no peace. They had lost sight of the God of grace. But their God was never far, for He cannot be kept in the boxes that we build. He had a gift to give, the gift of salvation. The people would one day see home again, and there they would experience the gracious generosity of God.

We will one day see home again, too. But our home won’t be a place on earth; it will be in the presence of God for eternity. We will be welcomed into a banquet feast that will never end, with the best of all that God has to offer. We will one day see what John saw in a vision so long ago, “And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven of God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.” Though this is a future hope, it is also a present promise. God gives us a glimmer of what will be even in this life. We see it as we gather with all the saints, past and present, at the table of the Lord, when we feast on His promises in the Holy Eucharist. But even as we are saints, we are still sinners in need of God’s grace.

God has promised us His extravagant goodness. Now we live as both saints and sinners in the hope for tomorrow, in the faith of today—believing that God is with us and that He calls us to share His love and mercy with others. That’s why it is appropriate on this All Saints Day to look at the scriptures prescribed for the Lectionary on this twenty-second Sunday in Pentecost. The passages call us to seek God, to receive His grace and enjoy what He has promised not only in the future but in this day.

Mark tells us about one of the scribes, a man who seems to approach Jesus differently than most of the Jewish leadership. He doesn’t come as an aggressive adversary, but he comes with a sincere desire to talk with Jesus. The Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection, were arguing with Jesus about the afterlife of a woman who had married seven brothers, all of whom died without an heir. “Whose wife will she be? Jesus answered that the new life after resurrection is different, that there is no marriage. He also reminded them that God referred to Israel’s patriarchs in the present tense to Moses, despite their being dead for generations, proving that God is the God of the living, not the dead.

The teacher of the law liked what he heard, and asked Jesus which commandment was the most important one. Jesus quoted two Old Testament passages, including a verse from our Old Testament passage for the day. “Hear, O Israel: Jehovah our God is one Jehovah: and thou shalt love Jehovah thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” Then He reached into the book of the law (Leviticus) and gave another command, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” The man answered, “Of a truth, Teacher, thou hast well said that he is one; and there is none other but he: and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbor as himself, is much more than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices.” He accepted Jesus’ authority as a teacher and expounded upon the lesson, thus showing himself an authority, also.

I like the way this Gospel passage ends, “And no man after that durst ask him any question.” This is a turning point in the ministry of Jesus. He has already been triumphantly welcomed into Jerusalem. The Jewish leaders have tried to catch him every type of foible: social, religious, political. There are no questions left to ask, but Jesus still has something to say. It seems that at least a few of the leaders were beginning to understand and believe in Jesus. But the rest knew they had to find a way to stop Him. Jesus did nothing to ease their fears. Jesus did not fear what would come because He knew that it was the way it must be. All that we have, our sainthood despite our sinfulness, would come only after He completed His work in this world. That work would be finished on the cross. Hope for the future would never be found at the end of a debate over law or in the opinions of men. It would be found only in the blood of the Savior, shed on the cross.

The writer of Hebrews makes it clear: the old ways were not good enough. The blood of goats and sheep could not do the job. Only the blood of Jesus can bring us the assurance of the promises of God. The reality of what will be came with His willingness to be obedient to what God intended for His life. Nothing we can do can change that. Even though we are sinners living in a promise as saints, we are sanctified for His service. We are made holy by His holiness, and in that holiness are freed and empowered to live as God intends for us to live: loving Him and our neighbor with our entire being.

As we celebrate this All Saints Sunday, we remember the saints that have gone before us but we are reminded that we too are saints. As we celebrate Holy Communion we receive a foretaste of the feast to come. We get a glimpse of heaven even while we are still on earth, for God is dwelling with us. In His grace, we join together with all the saints outside time and space until we will all live together as we await the New Jerusalem. And as we wait, we live the life God calls us to live, happy and blessed, praising God not only with our mouths but with our actions, steadfastly observing the Word of God, the law of Love.

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