One of the most difficult things about coming in as a new pastor is realizing all the people that I did not get to meet. I hear great stories about the people who were in this congregation, how they shaped the life of this church, how they shaped your lives. Now they have gone on to their great reward and I do not get to meet them. The people who come to Hope now do not get to meet them.
But their stories are here and their work lives on, the work of Nina Morris, Robert Jester, Bernice Means, Audrey Stafford, Mae Peterson, Dave Bristol, Sarah Pennewell and Frank Wince continues in the efforts we make to become the church God calls us to be. We hear God’s call not only through the Word, but also through the people who taught us about the Word, through whom the Word was revealed to us.
However All Saints Day is not only a memorial day, a day in which we recall the beloved of God who are no longer physically in our midst. This is also a day when we are challenged to continue in the race that has been set before us, even as we believe in the great cloud of witnesses who cheer us on in our work.
And what is that work?
In the beautiful passage from Revelation we heard today, the author witnesses a multitude of people standing around the throne of God- praising and worshipping God. This multitude is in addition to the 144,000 you usually hear mentioned from Revelation. That number represents God’s promise to the children of Israel, but the multitude is even greater than that. Larger even than John, the author of Revelation, can comprehend.
This multitude has survived the persecution by the Roman empire, and others, and now embraces the task of eternal praise and worship. The goal of the book of Revelation is to remind the disciples of the early church, and us, that praise and worship is always our work, in good times and in bad. Our God is the God who is the beginning and the end, regardless of who becomes president, I mean, emperor. So a portion of our work is worshipping God and we do so with the host of heaven, some of whom are represented here by these flames.
What about when we cannot worship because of our pain or hurt? What if the circumstances of our lives, of the church or in the world leave us without a song in our hearts? Then, according to 1st John, we live in hope. Hope becomes our work.
“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” Even when we feel hopeless, God’s work holds out hope to us. We have the gift of faith so that we are able to grasp the promises of God to us through Jesus. We have hope in Jesus’ statement of the mansion in the Father’s house with many rooms. We also have hope in God’s promises of salvation for us and for those who are God’s children. It is our great privilege to have a tiny glimpse of the feast to come, here at table together, and to commune not only with one another, but also with all who have partaken of this meal before us. In that mystic and sweet communion, our hope is anchored to the day and place when we shall feast together with them. A portion of our work is continuing on in hope.
But what about the Beatitudes, that list of teachings from Matthew? Is part of our work- to mourn, to be poor in spirit, or to be persecuted? No. The Beatitudes are descriptive; they describe things that happen to us in the course of the life of faith. No one wants to mourn or to be poor in spirit. No one wants to be meek and there are very few people who are easily pure in heart. So, how are these things part of our work?
We are called to be with one another during these times. We are called to sit with mourners, to struggle with those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, to help others show mercy. We are called to bless the ones around us who are struggling and they, in turn, will bless us with their gifts when we are down. Our work is the ministering to the people all around us, in here and out there, who live in these situations. That’s what Jesus is explaining to the disciples when he takes them up the mountain, away from the crowd. That’s what Jesus is calling us to do- today and all days. Our work is blessing- like Abraham, we are blessed so that we may bless.
On All Saints’ Day, we honor the people of this church and in our lives who moved the ball forward- who advanced the cause of Christ and the life of the church. Yet it is more than that, All Saints is a chance to look at people, not only through our eyes of longing and mourning, but also through the eyes of God. When we look, even briefly, through God’s eyes- we know that those who are beloved to us are also beloved to God. And we know too, deep in our hearts, that we are also God’s beloveds.
We too are among the saints of God. We are made right with God through Christ Jesus and those who have gone to be with God do not enjoy any more special standing than we do. The only difference is that their work here is finished. Their sainthood is continual worship. Our sainthood lies in active perseverance in the life of faith. Our continued effort to do what is right, to worship, to hope and to bless, makes us saints in the eyes of God.
And God’s own perseverance makes our work possible. God continues to call to us, to pursue us, to reform us and to purify us in our hope. The God who wept for his friend Lazarus, who knew the grieving of the woman at the well and who cried out from the cross knows our efforts, knows our longings and knows our work. And, still, that God, our God, loves us. That love alone makes it possible for us to continue in our work.
The work of worship, hope and blessing flows from us, because of the path set before us- trod by the saints who have gone ahead. But the path was cleared, as Hebrews says, by the pioneer of our faith, Jesus Christ. Through Jesus, we are able to be called saints of God and it is through Jesus that we will one day be reunited with the saints of our own lives.
We worship the God whose grace makes our lives possible. We live in hope for the day when we will be reunited with the ones we love, when our questions will be answered and when the answers won’t really matter any more. We bless those around us with the gifts we have been given. On All Saints’ Day, we hold in our hearts the day when God will wipe every tear from our eyes. And, until that time, we believe that Nina, Bob, Bernice, Audrey, Mae, Dave, Sarah and Frank are cheering us on in the work we have to do.