All Saints, 2020 – Dealing with Struggle

Title:All Saints, 2020 – Dealing with Struggle

By The Rev. Kathy Walker is the missioner for Black ministries in the Diocese of North Carolina.

This Sunday we will commemorate The Feast of All Saints. It is a very solemn day in the life of the church as we pause to honor all of our loved ones who have entered into eternal life. The celebration of All Saints’ Day “stems from a belief that there is a powerful spiritual connection between those in heaven (the “Church triumphant”), and the living (the “Church militant”).”

The Sermon on the Mount, as the gospel reading for All Saints, provides a great refresher for the living and a perfect intersection of past, present and future. As we look back and remember the ancestors, the words of Jesus outline a guide to his contemporary disciples for what good Christian living looks like and how to gain entrance into the heavenly kingdom.

According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus had been teaching in the synagogues around Galilee and curing people. He must have been exhausted for as word was getting out about this miracle worker, more people were seeking him out to be relieved of their illnesses. Throngs of people followed him throughout the region. He was also beginning to assemble a group that would later become his apostles. This group of fishermen needed training for the new mission they had agreed to. They witnessed his mighty acts but they did not yet understand who he was.

Finally, Jesus goes up the mountain and takes a seat. The teacher gathers his new students close to him and begins to preach. He wanted them to understand the relationship between God and God’s people. Jesus offered a profound collection of thoughts about who God is. It was also an assurance that even if your current circumstance seems bleak, the future is bright with promise. God leaves no one behind and the kingdom is an equal opportunity shared space where grace is the price for entry.

This year has been extremely turbulent. There have been competing pandemics demanding our attention. We have lost too many of our friends and neighbors to a horrible ailment that we are still learning about. We are discovering what it means to stand six feet apart and keep others safe. We are marking time as we prepare for a new normal.

We have also been in a whirlwind searching for answers about a path forward towards better relationships and a deeper understanding of the other. That has not been easy as we try to navigate difficult conversations around justice and equity in a digital platform. It would seem more appropriate to have such discussions and negotiations in person but 2020 quickly taught us that an alternative arrangement was necessary. There was no time to spare. Lives are literally hanging in the balance.

As if that were not enough, days from now, the elections season will come to an end. For months we have hotly debated many issues as we wrestled with how to get a firm handle on Coronavirus. This has been an emotional time and the public square has been filled with opposing viewpoints, oftentimes offered very loudly and in unkind tones. In the midst of the turmoil in the nation, the disparities that exist within our communities have bubbled to the surface.

Jesus presents what are called the Beatitudes and we are reminded that we are all in this together. The characteristic outlined were ideal for the members of Matthew’s community and are perfect for those working to bring everyone into God’s beloved community.

Perhaps if Jesus were to present the Beatitudes in 2020, they might be slightly revised to reflect a more precise language and urgent message:
Blessed are those who are disappointed and feeling isolated, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Blessed are those who have lost loved ones to COVID and violence, “for they will be comforted.”
Blessed are those who hunger for peace, clarity and civility and thirst for equality “for they will be filled.”
Blessed are those who rush to the front line, including first responders, caregivers and teachers “for they will receive mercy.”
Blessed are those who don’t judge others indiscriminately and truly love their neighbors as themselves, “for they will see God.”
Blessed are those bravely inviting others into conversations and those calling for calm in the midst of the storm “for they will be called children of God.”
Blessed are those who are terrorized in the public square and continue calling us to beloved community, for theirs Is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are the faithful who preach the gospel to believers and non-believers alike. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Jesus is extending an invitation to take a time out, go up into the mountain and pray. The grand view from the mountain top offers a perspective that greatness is possible. We are on the precipice of change whatever the outcome of the elections is. In this moment, we have time to reflect on where we should place our energies next. Jesus urges us to concentrate on relationships for in the end, our connectivity to God will flow like an electrical current to those around us.

Our saints understood the struggles that we are embroiled in and yet they firmly believed what the Apostle Paul said in Romans 35:38-39, “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”