I may have told some of you this story before.
I was standing at the front of the sanctuary at the church where my grandmama’s funeral was taking place. I had been crying all through the worship service (understandably), but somehow as I stood up, and then walked forward to sing a solo, my tears parted like rain pulling back to give a brief reprieve during a long storm.
And then, as I was singing, pouring out my heart to God and in memory of my dad‘s mother; my grandmama who used to tuck me in at their house when I would stay overnight, and then as she left the room, wind up a ballerina music box that played itself out into my dreams; as I was singing there at my grandmama’s funeral a most extraordinary thing happened.
The very walls of the church turned translucent and I could see right through them to the out of doors, the hundreds of people gathered for the funeral became translucent as well, and in and amongst the people gathered, and stretching right out through and far out beyond the walls of that church sanctuary and into the distance, there was a multitude of the heavenly host. The saints, revealed for a few brief moments there at my grandmama’s funeral; gathered alongside the people of God still on this earth as we sang and wept for losing this person we loved (at least the physical part of her), yet also sang and rejoiced that she had been welcomed home. Welcomed home amongst the saints.
Lutheran Christians profess that we are all saints, made so by the blood of the everlasting covenant, procured and made eternally possible by God’s work through Christ. Being saints doesn’t make us perfect! Much to our collective chagrin, we are in fact just as much sinners today as we were yesterday and will be tomorrow, just as much sinners as before our Savior laid claim to us in Baptism and Holy Communion. We are saints and sinners, sinners and saints.
So, on this All Saints Day, as at our baptisms and our funerals, we gather not to exalt ourselves as humans, but to praise God, who in sacrificial love poured out blessings for all people, making it possible for even the least of sinners to have remarkable and saintly capacity.
This is God who loves all people, but seems to have a particular soft spot for those who are downtrodden or finding themselves in tough times. Remembering God’s soft spot for those going through times of trouble; remembering that this is our Savior who will willingly climb to the cross to die so as to give hope beyond suffering, remembering these things we can hear Jesus’ words from the Beatitudes of our gospel lesson this week and begin to understand why Jesus declares that those who mourn will be blessed. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness - this might especially call to mind our siblings of color right now and others seeking to break free of various forms of oppression - they shall be blessed. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Surely God who is magnificent in love and tender enough in mercy to make saints of sinners will accompany the persecuted and watch over them by the resurrected life of Christ.
You are blessed to be peacemakers and blessed to be merciful to those who you don’t believe deserve it!
We are blessed in the midst of our lives of suffering, and this world full of suffering will find within it blessings because of Christ who suffers willingly on our behalf so that all of this suffering might be transformed by our great good Shepherd who seeks to guide us to streams of living water and new life without end.
This is the beautiful image given to us in the Book of Revelation - that of our Shepherd leading us to streams of living water. Given to us alongside the image of the great multitude; too great for anyone to count and from every nation, all tribes and languages; a great multitude gathered around the throne of the Lamb who is also the Shepherd who is also our Savior Jesus, sitting on the hillside to tell the people gathered that God will bless us even in the midst of suffering.
It is by the power of this, our merciful heavenly Sovereign, our Savior born in the manger, crucified on the tree and who, with sacrificial grace conquered the grave; by this power we, who cannot help our sinful natures and actions, find that we are nonetheless to be counted among that great multitude described in the reading from the book of Revelation today. The multitude of the heavenly hosts washed clean by the blood of the lamb. The heavenly host that gathered to welcome home my grandmama and who gather round us even now.
Many folks are feeling a lot of fear as we head towards our national election this week. Many folks feel as though this is a pivotal moment in a long storm that is shaking the foundations of this nation to its very core. Yet we cannot let our fears cause us to cast down our faces in despondency or allow ourselves to slip into hopelessness or depression. Let us remember, instead, that Christ has a particular soft spot, a special love for those who are downtrodden, those who are struggling and suffering. Christ by the cross has placed a bold and courageous hand beneath our chins, lifting our faces up to Christ’s gaze and to the cross, where the tragedies of the world are met by the mercy of God – to remind us that though we may know the cross, by Christ we can also know new life, we are claimed for new life, we are called to march alongside all the saints of the past, present, and future; marching on for a higher purpose; marching on for the kingdom of God that has a soft spot, a special love for those who struggle the most. We are held within this special love and called to care for and watch over all the others who are struggling in this world, too.
That music box I mentioned, the one my grandmama used to wind up and leave playing itself into my dreams; that music box sits on my dresser these days. The ballerina snapped off from too much winding and despite efforts to have it fixed, she lies nestled upon a pile of cotton balls just under the lid. Yet you can still wind up the small silver-plated ball upon which she used to spin; you can still hear those sweet notes of music that calm the nerves of children as they head to sleep at night.
We are numbered among a great multitude of witnesses from every nation, tribe, and language, and by God’s grace in Christ we can learn how to be the protectors of the least and the lost, numbered among the saints as we march on for the sake of the Light, sweet notes of music to calm the nerves of all the world’s children as they head to sleep each night.