Each year, on the first Sunday of November we mark All Saints Sunday, remembering those who have died in the faith, particularly those who have died since the last All Saints remembrance. There are lots of traditions at various churches that often include tolling bells, reading names, or lighting candles. It is a bittersweet festival of the church, where we take time to think about people who are no longer with us and the ways they had an impact on the world, our lives, and our faith. We talk about them as part of the Cloud of Witnesses; a gathering of Jesus’ followers that transcends time and place, beyond life and death. We understand this assembly to have a sort of spiritual connection with those of us alive now.
I like the poetry in the gospel reading for this week. These verses from a sermon tell of Jesus explaining that God’s values and priorities are very different from what is typically valued and prioritized in human spheres. We seldom think that people who are poor or hungry or weeping or marginalized are “blessed” (which could also be translated: unburdened or satisfied). Yet Jesus tells them these struggles are not forever and they are God’s heirs, and will one day be filled, and will laugh. The accompanying “woes” are not to be understood as a threat that punishment lies ahead for those who are full or laughing or admired. Rather, they are calls to “watch out” because fullness and laughter and good reputation may well be fleeting, and circumstances will surely change.
As we remember those who have died and reflect on their impact on the world and us, this reading leads us to consider the way Jesus’ followers live out his call to love, forgiveness, compassion, and justice. As I remember how people of faith who are gone have touched my life, I think about the ways they lived love, showed compassion to me and others, and quietly (or loudly) worked to bring justice to our world. Most of them had ordinary yet also remarkably faithful and loving lives. They shared the love of God and helped others to experience the world God intends.
Jesus’ words of reassurance and caution in this passage reminds us that God has a very different set of priorities in mind for the world. Love for everyone, without conditions. Full inclusion and justice for those who are marginalized for all sorts of reasons. Laughter when sorrow and weeping are passed.