All Saints Day – 1st November
Communion, or commonality of life, is a sacred truth the secular world desperately needs to experience. As a lived reality this truth can reshape this transient world from its growing antipathy, polarised communities, and aggressive competitiveness. We all belong to one another. No one is an outsider. This truth builds hope that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, harmony and wholeness are always on offer. Everything matters, everyone matters, the distinctiveness of each individual part and person contributes to the beautiful mosaic of the whole.
After Good Friday/Easter, Christmas, and Pentecost, All Saints is the next most important festival in the Christian calendar and should be accorded the focus it deserves. It is more than tragic that the US, supposedly the Christian capital of the world, has bequeathed to us ‘Halloween’ as an All Saint substitute; a celebration of pranks, ghouls sugar fixes and conspiracy theories. Bizarre that a celebration of light should have morphed into a shadowy world of spooks.
If time is of the essence and reading the Bible is a task too difficult, the readings for All Saints Day could be enough to sustain a weary pilgrim, or a would-be pilgrim, on many a day’s journey. They are Revelation 7: 9 -17, 1 John 3: 1-3, Matthew 5: 1-12.
The book of Revelation is avoided by many, for good reason. Because of its apocryphal style it has been the source of many misguided theories about the past and the future of the world. The despicable Pentecostal US leader, Pat Robertson, has gifted us with the latest prediction, loosely connected to this book, that Trump is about to win the election on Tuesday, that war will break out against Israel, to be followed by the Rapture or the end of the world. (The first is a frightening possibility, but any connection to this Book is rank nonsense).
The book was written to and for the era in which it was lived, but because of its deep insights it is applicable to all times and ages. It is affirmation to a besieged community post the resurrection that the love and sacrifice of Jesus (referred to in the book as the Lamb), brings life in all its fullness, conquering darkness and pain. Therefore, be under no illusion – love reigns. Further, as this passage so wonderfully proclaims, in taking human form, in his dying and rising, Jesus eternally lifts humanity beyond the shackles of mortality and decay.
Christianity does not have Islam’s equivalent exultant cry in ‘Allahu Akbar’, but if it did, perhaps it would be: “The Lamb reigns”. Because of its use in terrifying tribal form, Allah Akbar, has become a cry that generates fear and division rather than love and unity. ‘The Lamb reigns’, is a cry that humility triumphs, that service and sacrifice are all powerful, that dignity has been bestowed upon humanity because God has taken our nature.
Faced with the frightening might of the Roman Empire and requirement that the Emperor be worshipped, it was a brave person who was prepared to say no: and more particularly to claim the counter intuitive – the Lamb, the crucified one reigns.
It is generally assumed that John, who wrote the Gospel bearing his name, also wrote the three epistles and the Book of Revelation. (If Covid settles enough to allow international travel to resume, put the island of Patmos, his Mediterranean island retreat, on your bucket list. A visit to his rock cave makes for a very special pilgrimage.). The passage set today from his letter should be savoured. “We are God’s children, what we will be has not yet been revealed, what we do know is that when he is revealed we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is”. Wow!!!!
Why do we find such a grand vision so hard to grasp, and to live its truth? In recent weeks, many stories confirm that Australian culture carries an under-current of racism. None of us like to admit this is the case. Racism is about a presumption of superiority and inferiority. It has long existed in relation toward Australia’s First Nations people. In the mid-20th-century it existed in relation to people of southern European descent. Recently there have been too many examples of prejudice towards those of Asian descent. John 3: 1-3 dignifies all with an identity which disallows any possibility of inferiority.
The three readings climax with the Beatitudes. This stunning passage is not simply an introduction to the Sermon on the Mount, but in a real sense a summary of the whole Gospel, of the Christian faith.
If we do believe the ‘Lamb reigns’ there are consequences, as counterintuitively outlined in this passage. “Blessed are …” is perhaps a bit too sanctimonious for everyone’s taste. If so, then read: “You are in the right place when ….” you are meek, merciful, hunger and thirst for righteousness, mourn, are poor in spirit, etc. These virtues may well have us in the right place, but they are not virtues or qualities beloved of the world’s controversial leaders, nor dare I say of the general run of Australian politicians.
For many weeks Dan Andrews and Victorians have been ‘poor in spirit’ as they have endured a painfully long shut down. Right wing media and right-wing politicians have lambasted the premier for his stance, some in a most sanctimonious manner. And yet while staying this course he has delivered not simply Victoria but the whole of Australia from what could have been a fate similar to that currently being experienced in the US and Europe. He, and Victorians, have been appropriately lauded internationally for an outstanding achievement. The rest of Australia, at its best, has mourned with them and now also rejoices with them.
When not focussed on Covid, the media has run many recent stories about corruption. Some have been stories associated with senior staff at Australian Post. The Prime Minister chose to be angry and appalled by the stories that emanated from outside his political inner circle. He has been neither angry, nor appalled, by the continuing stories of malpractice by members of parliament and most particularly by members of his own cabinet. To ‘hunger and thirst for righteousness’ applies first and foremost to actions over which we have personal responsibility - before making judgements about others. It may well be the case that gifting cartier watches is inappropriate, but buying land at ten times its value from wealthy donors is another category of corruption altogether.
If it could be assumed that all who serve us in the corridors of power are wedded to the virtues embedded in the Beatitudes, there would be no need for a federal independent corruption watchdog with teeth, but an endless parade of corrupt activity illustrates that such an assumption is unwarranted.
All Saints day is an affirmation of communion, now and into eternity. None of us travels this earthly path alone. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. Everyone and everything matters. Together we are children of the same God.
Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
And thanksgiving and honour
And power and might
Be unto our God for ever and ever