For All Those We’ve Loved (All Saints Sunday)

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This weekend, Churches around the world commemorate the festival of ‘All Saints.’ Today, not unlike any other day in which we gather for worship, is a stunning act of radical defiance. I don’t think we often consider how revolutionary, counter-cultural, or rebellious worship is

Mostly, Sunday mornings seem pretty tame. However, the truth is, they’re anything but tame.

We live in a world which fears, cheapens, sensationalizes, and defiles death. And in response to this, the Church invites us to do the extraordinary: linger at the grave in grief, remembrance, gratitude, and expectation.

It is true that in the midst of life, we are in death. This reality of being mortal is one we all know subconsciously, but we endeavor to stave off the inevitable as long as possible. Which makes complete sense. Life is, after all, a gift and worth living.

Death attempts to rip all that away.  

But, the Church, well, in fact – Jesus, offers us a deeper truth: in the midst of death, we are promised life. And, that hopeful promise echoes longer and rings truer than the thunder and clamor of the grave stone. That is the Easter promise we cling to in the resurrection.

But this clinging – cleaving to the promise of life – is desperately hard. There seems to be little ‘blessing’ in death; little ‘blessing’ in struggling; little ‘blessing’ in our tears and sorrow. These words of Jesus sting smartly, just as much as they offer assurance. Grief leaves us feeling like we have our faces flattened against a cold, cloudy window and what we love and long for is just beyond our reach. Leaving us wondering if the dawn will ever break and tomorrow ever come.

When we are grieving, whether it’s the loss of dream or the loss of relationship, it’s common to encounter well-meaning people who wish to comfort us by reminding us of God’s ineffable ways.
They say:
Blessed are the poor.
Blessed are the hungry.
Blessed are those who weep.
Blessed are the hated.
Because you will receive your reward. Heaven awaits…
Twisting the words of Christ to offer us cheap comfort and telling us our loss is part of a larger plan and a bigger mystery – one we cannot know from here, but that we will ‘someday’ understand.

Here’s the thing:
I have a tremendous tolerance for mystery and a great capacity to abide in the unknown. But, when it comes to suffering – in all the complex varieties in which we experience it – it’s not enough to chalk it up to mystery, to a larger plan. It’s not that I’m not interested in the bigger mystery or that heavenside I may eventually understand it all. It’s just ‘someday’ is not sufficient to get me through daily grief. ‘Someday’ is not enough to move me from one moment to the next moment.

And so, it’s crucial to recognize that when Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the hungry. Blessed are those who weep.  Blessed are the hated,” He’s not giving ethical recommendations, nor is He saying how this is how life should be. What Jesus is doing is turning us to look the one thing that has never left, the thing that does grace the days of grief, the thing that abides in in desperation and shines brighter in the darkness:

For the poor, the hungry, the weeping, the hated, the grieving… hope is the stubborn thing that compels us to look for dawn even as the night is falling.

Hope is not always comforting or comfortable. Hope asks us to open ourselves to what we do not know, to pray for inspiration in this life, to imagine what is beyond our imagining, to bear what seems unbearable. It calls us to keep breathing when beloved lives have left us, to turn toward one another when we might prefer to turn away. Hope draws our eyes and hearts towards the future, while simultaneously keeping us in the present.  

And so, today, may you know the hope we claim in Jesus is not just for someday, but for this day— here, now, in this moment. And may that hope sing loud and true within your beating heart, even when there seems little cause. And may that hope raise you from grief. And from the dead.