All the readings today have points of connection for All Saints, for all beloved and broken, that we are.
Isaiah envisions the holy mountain of God’s salvation, where there will be a feast of rich food and good wine as God destroys the shroud that is cast over all people, the sheet that is spread over the nations, and swallows up death forever.
Is this shroud the weight many of us feel of personal energy spent, little reserve left, weary and wondering, worrying for ourselves and others, for the now twenty months and counting of a pandemic, and the losses and challenges, anxieties and fears, that continue or are complicated and amplified by this extraordinary time. The personal burdens some people, some of you are carrying are extraordinary, and must feel like a shroud over you, wondering if it will ever be lifted.
And here is the prophet’s vision, God will destroy the shroud, will swallow up death forever and wipe away the tears from all faces, and feed you, feed us, feed all a feast of rich food and good wine on God’s holy mountain. This is what God says!
I pray that people carrying great burdens and fears, concerned and tired, those who weep, hear and see this promised hope of God for them, for you, for all! And that we see and taste it here, in the rich food of God’s grace in bread and wine at this holy table. The holy mountain of God’s salvation is near, is here! And it extends to each of our tables, to everywhere food is shared, and hungering people are fed, and tears are wiped away. Like through the Shelbourne Community Kitchen, for example. Or Street Hope with wagons of food and warm drink pulled by volunteers each evening along Pandora Street and given out to those who are hungering and thirsting. And so also at Our Place, the Rainbow Kitchen, or by our own congregation at Mt. Tolmie, and other feeding organizations and efforts from local to global. These are signs of God’s holy mountain of salvation brought near, and the shroud being lifted in compassion, and death swallowed up, even for moments, in tears wiped away.
And so again in the prophet’s revelation of a new heaven and a new earth, the holy city, the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, where the home of God is among mortals, God dwelling with humanity, and all are God’s people. God will wipe every tear from their eyes, death will be no more, mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away. See, I am making all things new, says God!
As the Conference on Climate Change continues in Glasgow, pledges and promises have been made by nations and alliances and organizations and debated and rightly questioned and challenged by others. As the earth and heavens are threatened, it is a new heaven and earth that we must imagine and act for together. A completely transformed way of being on the earth for the health of the planet and its climate and everything and all humanity that dwells and is dependent upon it for life, especially for the sake of those who come after us. It is global and overwhelming in scale, larger than any of us, and it is daily and individual in how we act for the earth and the heavens and all creation. Do we see this revelation as not only a next life hope, but a here and now promise of God’s Spirit dwelling with and working to transform us and this world into a new heavens and earth? Do we see signs of God making things new, making us new in acting together for the wellbeing of all creation? For these words are trustworthy and true, says God.
This, God’s dwelling among us in all our mortality, is intimately revealed in the story of Jesus raising Lazarus. In Mary’s and other’s complaints that if Jesus, who could heal a blind person, had been there, Lazarus would not have died. In their weeping, and Jesus troubled and moved, weeping with them. Tears and more tears, tears of love and grief shared. And Jesus greatly disturbed, calls for the stone to be moved, and calls to God for God’s glory to be revealed, and calls in a loud voice, Lazarus come out! And unbelievably, the dead man comes out, bound in grave clothes, and Jesus says, unbind him and let him go! This is what God’s dwelling among mortals means! This is what wiping away tears, including God’s with us, means! This is salvation on God’s holy mountain, the shroud lifted, death swallowed up, means! The promise, in this life and the next, in Jesus calling life out of death, means!
Some of you may have read the article I wrote for the Victoria Times Colonist Faith Forum that was printed yesterday and posted on the Spiritual Speaking blog. In it, I recounted what I spoke of with the children, that on All Saints Day, as in years past, we remember those who died in our community over the past year and many others who are beloved to us and honour them by lighting a candle for each one. And the tears…
I wrote: “It is moving to see the over 100 candles burning in the worship space and each person they represent, and what they mean to us, and how they remain with us. And by faith, all they mean to God, blessed and broken, and their remaining with God forever.
The term ‘saints,’ may evoke images of extraordinary people who have lived exceptionally ‘good’ lives for us to emulate. But we understand saints to be before us and among us. And as Martin Luther said and demonstrated, we remember them as simultaneously just/justified – as saints, and sinners.
This is a central theological/spiritual paradox for Lutheran Christians. It identifies being made in right relationship with God and one another and all creation entirely by God’s gracious acting through Jesus – saints, and simultaneously being broken people in a broken world, failing and falling from all God intended us to be in relationship to one another, all creation and God – sinners.”
I wrote that I think “the words ‘saint and sinner’ can be fraught with difficult experiences and meanings, especially for those who have been and are oppressed by Christianity. For Indigenous peoples, being treated as sinners by the church, including by those it held up as saints, is a traumatic legacy for which we must confess our sin, be held accountable, and seek right relationships as all God’s people together.
And so I wonder if the words, ‘beloved and broken’ better speak this important truth. And as more than just theological talk, if they inform how we see one another and better live together as beloved and broken people, in this beloved and broken world.
What would change in us and among us, if first we saw one another, all people, in all our diversity, as I trust God sees us, as beloved? This is especially challenging when someone holds views so different from my own. And it is not about minimizing or ignoring anything that is hateful or harmful, or my not being held accountable for this brokenness in me with my neighbour. But, in increasingly polarized times when people are either right or wrong, in or out, good or evil, saint or sinner, often changing in the instant of a social media post, doesn’t seeing everyone as beloved, challenge my responsibility to interact, to empathize, to see and wipe away tears, to realize what might be possible together, as beloved all! And! broken all! Including part of broken systems and structures, that oppress some and privilege others. And broken in myself and living in a creation that is increasingly broken by our human actions and failure to see and treat this planet and its climate as beloved.
Beloved and broken, as human beings, individually and collectively, as part of creation. Is this the truth of who we are? And in seeing that truth in one another, a new beginning, for every person, for humanity collectively, for this beloved planet that is our only home?”
Isn’t this a way of living salvation in Jesus now? The shroud lifted, wiping away tears and seeing every person, the person coming to the Kitchen or on Pandora Street, the caregiver for a family broken by tragic disease and failing health, every person, and all creation as beloved, as we trust we are, and all to be fed and nourished on God’s holy earth. Is this seeing by the Spirit the new heaven and earth Jesus realized for humanity and all creation, by dwelling among us, weeping, and wiping away tears with us, and through his own life and death and resurrection, by God’s grace, making death no more, mourning and crying and pain, no more, making all things new, beginning now, making possible our participating now, and forever, for all the saints, beloved and broken, now!
“I see you beloved of God. As I hope you see me, beloved and broken, and that - as a place of gracious new beginning together,” now. “Blessed All Beloved and Broken Day.” It is so, in all our relations. Amen.