Walt Weitzel died on Thursday night. Just a couple of months ago he was out front painting the yellow strip along the front curb when a police officer pulled over and told him he couldn’t do that, that private citizens could not restrict public parking with yellow curbs. Walt told the officer to arrest him. On your way out take a look at the nice bright yellow curb in front of the church, and thank Walt. I visited Walt about seven hours before he died. He was in pain, but not without hope. His desire was for the happiness of his family, for the Blessed Sacrament, and for heaven. He told me he was looking forward to seeing Jesus face to face, to seeing Carl Fritz, to joining the great cloud of witnesses that is the communion of saints. He was looking forward to seeing us all again.
And that’s what we need to know about the Feast of All Saints, that though this body be destroyed, yet I shall see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not as a stranger. And not only will we see God, but we will see each other, all of Christ’s own, none of us will be strangers. As unreasonable as this sounds, this is a reasonable and holy hope: that all who put their trust in Jesus Christ will actually stand at His right hand and be presented to the Father not as a stranger, but as sons and daughters.
Thankfully God didn’t reveal to us that there is this wonderful communion of saints without telling us how to become saints. First He gave us His Son, and then His Son gave us the Sermon on the Mount. That sermon began with what we just heard in the Gospel reading, the list of attributes and blessings we call the Beatitudes. The word beatitude comes from the Latin beatus, which means blessed, and each of Jesus’ beatitudes begin with the word blessed: Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, and so on down the list. We have gotten a little used to the Beatitudes over the years, our children learn them in Church Schools and Vacation Bible Schools (or at least they used to), and so we don’t think of them as particularly shocking anymore, but they are in fact pretty shocking. In many ways, some of the Beatitudes don’t actually make any sense to our worldly ears. Blessed are those who mourn doesn’t sound right, does it? Blessed are those who are persecuted sounds downright insulting. So it seems we need to take a look at how Jesus wills us to be saints.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said that our God is a God who has a special bias toward the poor, the downtrodden, that the Kingdom of God comes first to those who struggle to live, who have nothing external to stand in the way of the Kingdom coming to them. Surely there are examples of God coming to rich people, think Job or Abraham or Jacob, but perhaps they were poor in spirit, they believed and trusted God, and that belief and trust was counted unto them as righteousness. God never came to anyone the way He came to Mary; blessed was she and blessed still, for the Lord regarded the lowliness of that handmaiden.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” No one wants to mourn, no one feels particularly blessed while in mourning, and promises of comfort seem shallow in the depths of misery. But Jesus knew what comfort He was promising, He revealed to Blessed John that 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.” When God wipes away your tears, well, enough said.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Comedian Eddie Izzard describes a scenario in his show Circle, in which the meek conclude that it’s about time they actually did inherit the earth, and proceed to do so in an organized, armed revolution. J. Paul Getty famously said “The meek shall inherit the earth, but not the mineral rights.” Being meek doesn’t mean being a push-over, it means being humble, being selfless, pursuing modesty, giving the glory to God. In a dog-eat-dog world, excuse the cliché, being meek might not get you the earth, but the One who owns the earth, He gets to decide who inherits what.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” An easy one to understand, not as shocking of a reversal as the others, but difficult to accomplish. Do any of us hunger for righteousness, do we pursue it like a drowning man pursues air, do we desire it like a deer the waterbrooks? If the answer is probably not, then join the group, but then ask God to help you desire Him and His righteousness, and you will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, and we do well to let Him have it. King David told us in the Psalms that the Lord desires mercy even more than sacrifice, and so this promise of Jesus is to be expected. But again, easier said than done. Justice is easy, revenge is easier still, mercy and forgiveness can be hard. But if it is mercy we seek, than we ourselves must show mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” The purest heart we know of is Mary’s, and in her Assumption this promise of Jesus was fulfilled for her and proved to us. How do we become pure in heart? Look to the Blessed Virgin, use her as the example of pure, un-defiled behavior, and we will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” This verse was famously misprinted in the second edition of the Geneva Bible as blessed are the placemakers. That typographic error in the Geneva Bible was parodied in Monty Python’s Life of Brian when the crowd listening to the sermon mishears it as blessed are the cheesemakers (“I think he meant dairy products in general, actually.”). Amazingly, making peace is somehow more difficult than making war, but war is not really the opposite of peace. Dis-ease is the opposite of peace. When we are at dis-ease, when we surround ourselves with conflict, we cannot be called children of God, we can’t even be recognized as children of God. Only love brings peace.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Last Thursday was the feast of Bishop James Hannington and his companions, the martyrs of Uganda. Hannington was among many killed by King Mwanga for being a Christian, and the violence there didn’t stop: Archbishop Janani Luwum was murdered almost a hundred years after Hannington by another brutal dictator, this time Idi Amin. Hannington’s last words were “Go tell your master that I have purchased the road to Uganda with my blood.” Blessed are they, for not only are they in the Kingdom of Heaven, but the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs, thrones are provided for them.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” In other words, if you claim to know Jesus, someone is going to hate you for it. Expect it but don’t bring it upon yourself, know it’s coming and count yourself blessed.
This All Saints Day we sing the praises of famous men, those saints that have come before and show us that the promises of Christ are not empty, that a life lived for God is a life filled with adventure and hope and joy even at the worst of times. May all of us be counted as saints, and be made worthy of those promises of Christ.