Reflection: November 5 – All Saints Sunday

Published on Nov 8th, 2017 by Rev. David Boyd | 0

         I have mentioned in the past that I was influenced by the Eastern Orthodox branch of Christianity when I was a young man. I learned to meditate with a person who has become a dear friend; my friend came from a Ukrainian family on the Saskatchewan prairies. We read together the little spiritual classic, The Way of the Pilgrim; it is about a Russian peasant from the late 19th century who desires to live a holy life; and so, he is taught to say the prayer “Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me” as a mantra. It was a little book that had a profound impact on me and I use this prayer as my own meditation mantra.

         What I’ve appreciated about the Eastern Orthodox tradition—acknowledging that there are many problems with Orthodoxy such as patriarchy and ultra-traditionalism to name but two—is the emphasis on the fact that we are at the same time spiritual and physical beings. There is a deep emphasis on mysticism and the thin veil between the sacred and the secular. We in the West have had to work very hard at recapturing the deep mystical roots of life, or at the very least acknowledging the importance of Spirit and the wholeness of life.

         There are two phrases that come from the Orthodox theology that have remained with me. One happens during communion, just after the prayer of thanksgiving and the breaking of the bread, when the priest says, “Behold who you are; become what you see.” This is a phrase that acknowledges our humanity and physical nature, and that reminds us that we are also transformed, mystical beings, like bread and wine at communion transformed.

         The second phrase is related to this communion saying; it is the theological understanding that “Christ became human so that we might become divine.” Or in other words, God became incarnate in this world so that we might remember deep in our hearts that the divine spark is in each of us and all of life.

         These two phrases are what I think are at the heart of the Beatitudes as we’ve come to call these 12 verses in chapter 5 of Matthew’s gospel. These verses are beautiful poetry in which Jesus declares that those deemed worth-less have immeasurable worth in God’s KinDom of love. They are Jesus’ beginning of his declaration of what he believes about God’s KinDom of love and hope. Those who had been marginalized and pushed aside were given a new honour, not as inspiration for how we ought to live, but as a declarative of what is true… you are blessed! End of!

         Many commentators try to turn these few verses into some kind of exhortation for how we ought to live. We should live with compassion; we should live with love. We should be meek; we should be humble. We should advocate for justice. But I believe that this was not Jesus’ intent; all of those things are true, but the “should” gets in the way and tends toward legalism.

         What Jesus intended was to declare that we are blessed. They are declarative statements and Matthew included them in the way he did so as to give his little community courage. The Roman might had finally fallen on Jerusalem and all they had known was destroyed. The Jewish people were shattered. And Matthew’s little Christian community was groping for a way forward. Matthew boldly declared that they were blessed. You who are struggling with poverty and struggle to live humble lives, you are blessed. You who are grieving the loss of community and loved ones, you are blessed. You who are gentle, you are blessed. You who desire justice, you are blessed. You who are compassionate, you are blessed. You who strive to live whole lives, you are blessed. You who seek peace, you are blessed. You who are persecuted because you speak for what is right, you are blessed! This just about covers everyone!

         How wonderful to hear these words rather than the constant barrage of negativity that passes for entertainment or commentary. We are constantly told that our lives are incomplete unless we eat this food or buy this gadget. We hear about the bad things people do in the news. We are conditioned to hear negativity, which is why many people turn the news off or don’t watch TV or record everything on their PVRs and then skip the commercials. We get caught up in the negativity of terrorism and fear; we get lost in the potential for the destruction of our earth or our species. We let the words of Donald Trump or shock doctrine proponents get us down.

         So, how wonderful to hear these words of Jesus that speak of being blessed. How wonderful to hear that we do not need to let our brokenness get in the way of blessing. We can emphasize that we are whole beings; we can celebrate the wonder and mystery of God’s love. We can invite others into this blessed community of love and compassion where we are held and affirmed, where we can live the mystical and wondrous deep life of God. We are blessed. The sacred nature of our lives is lifted up.

         And because of these wonderful words of blessing, we choose to live more holistically. We choose to live more justly. We choose to live with humility and gentleness, to acknowledge our losses. We choose to behold who we are in our humanity and we choose to become what we hear or see or taste or feel in the sacred mysteries, for we are blessed creatures of the blessed community of God. Take that out into the community and your lives with you. Tuck that nugget into your pocket and when you hear challenging words or negative thoughts, take it out and hold it dearly in your hearts. You are blessed! Amen.

Comments are closed.