Recently, I returned to the church I served in Chicago. During the service, I saw something I had forgotten. On Sunday morning, the sunlight shines through the stained-glass windows and illumines the people in the pews.
Down each side aisle are stained-glass windows. One window for each apostle. Underneath them is their shield. Above them is the instrument of their death. But, through them, the church is illumined on Sunday morning. Those who sit near these saints are colored in blues and reds and golds. In a strange way, the saints in the windows help us see the saints in the pews. They color our lives in a different light.
In a sense, this is what happens on All Saints Day. We remember the saints who have gone before us and this memory illumines who we are.
The difficulty with remembering saints is we can often look at them rather than see through them. For most people, the word saint evokes images of people who have done great good in the world. They care for lepers, perform miracles, and give witness while they are beheaded or burned at the stake. Because of that, when people hear talk about saints, they tend to stand reverently at a distance and look at the windows.
Our appointed reading from Matthew’s gospel, however, changes our perspective. It invites us to look through the saints and see Jesus, the One who blesses them, who does good for them and then does good through them in the world. In the Beatitudes, we hear Jesus, with a radical word of blessing, make us saints in a different kingdom, breaking forth in the world.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Jesus says and suddenly things change. Jesus is not in the temple. He is out in the world. An indiscriminate crowd surrounds Him. Some are poor. Others are mourning. Some are struggling for righteousness. Others are fighting for peace. Yet, on this day, this mountain becomes sacred and these people hear themselves to be holy, set apart by God. Set apart for God.
The beatitudes still sound strange when spoken today. They call our attention to people we would otherwise overlook. Enchanted by the bright shiny object, we often confuse fame and fortune with blessing. We need God’s radical grace to reorient our lives. Those who mourn, who long for the Kingdom, who struggle for peace, who are persecuted in the faith – these are the ones God blesses. Not because of anything they did but because of what God in Christ does for them. Jesus takes upon Himself this world’s darkness, its sin and God’s wrath, that He might rise as the light of the world, revealing God’s grace. Shining through saints. Holy in their helplessness. Sainted in their suffering. God’s people are illumined by Jesus, the light of the world.
On All Saints Day, the beatitudes help us see Christ at work in the pews, blessing those who are gathered. Jessica with her bag of carrots and coloring books, struggling to keep her children quiet and praying that one day her husband will come with her to church. Ruth Ann, twisting her wedding ring, thinking of her late husband, and wondering when the pain will become bearable. Phillip, struggling with alcohol and depression and wondering whether he belongs here. Nothing would set these people apart in our world. No one would make stained-glass windows of them. But Jesus, in grace, calls us to see. A peacemaker, a mourner, the poor in spirit. All blessed by God.
On All Saints Day, the beatitudes remind us how God in Christ claims people, frail, humble, poor, mourning, and makes them His own. As you read through the beatitudes, what parts of your life are illumined? What people do you now remember to be blessed by God?
Sing in praise, cry out in prayer, and remember in love the work of Christ who blesses and who shines through His saints today.
All Saints Resources:
Concordia Theology- Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Matthew 5:1-12.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Matthew 5:1-12
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Charles Gieschen of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Matthew 5:1-12.
Additional Resources for Proper 26:
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Luke 19:1-10
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Luke 19:1-10.