November 1, 2019- Dia de los Muertos- (The Day of the Dead) – Remembering and Forgiving- Lead Us to Jesus -1 John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12

day of dead

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.  Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. 1 John 3:1-3 (ESV)

Seeing the crowds, he (Jesus) went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:1-12 (ESV)

Those of us who observe the church year may find the feast of All Saints to be one of the most difficult days to commemorate.  On this earth, death still has a very real sting.  The pain and longing of separation from those we love and those who have been big parts of our lives is a heavy burden to bear.

We also endure the pain of regret when loved ones go before us.  We may wonder if our loved one died in Christ.  Sometimes we carry grudges or unforgiveness toward those who hurt or wronged us before they died because we never had a chance to resolve the issues we had with that person when he or she was alive.  Sometimes our remembrance of a family member is tainted either by our regret that we were evil to them, or the pain we suffered due to their evil toward us.  The world is one big pack of sinners, after all.  We have all fallen short of the glory of God. We all desperately need the grace of God in our relationships with others.

We do not have to resolve the issues with someone in order to forgive them. They may never “forgive us back.”  We are called by Jesus to let go of our anger, resentment and unforgiveness toward others regardless of their response to us.

Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation.  There are situations in which reconciliation is impossible in this life- the death of the other party, or situations in which one’s health or life may be endangered through contact with the other party. Those who are living with physical or emotional abuse, or are enduring life with a loved one who abuses alcohol or drugs may have to separate themselves from and completely cut off contact with that person for the sake of their own life and health. In Christ we can pass on the gift of forgiveness, but we are not compelled to keep enduring abuse.

God gives us the grace to forgive those who have wronged us, as Jesus has first forgiven us- even if there is no reconciliation, or even contact with the other party.

Jesus has sweet comfort for His own when we have to encounter earthly death, unforgiveness, disappointment and separation. He is walking with us, even through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4.)

Many people read the above verses from the Gospel of Matthew and look at the Beatitudes as a “to do” list, things that we need to pull up our bootstraps and just do.  On one level, that is not necessarily a bad thing, but like the Ten Commandments teach us God’s Law, (that are also seen as a sort of “to do” list,) and show us our inability to keep them, Jesus teaches these blessings so that we may see how we are not the source of any of the blessings of the Beatitudes.

Only in Christ can we receive these attributes.

He is the one acting upon us so that we do see our own complete inadequacy and our desperate need for Him.

He is our comfort and our companion in our mourning.

He is the champion of the meek and lowly, as He came to serve, not to be served.

He is the Bread of Life who feeds us with the most sweet and holy bread of heaven- His very own Body and Blood.

He is the source of all mercy.

He is complete and total holiness and purity.

He grants us peace that is beyond all understanding.

He gives us the confidence to stand up for things that are right even when they are not  popular and may lead to our own personal harm.

He suffered the ultimate persecution and punishment (Isaiah 53:5) in our place, so that we would be blessed with salvation and life with Him forever.

The Beatitudes point us to our utter dependence on Jesus.

As we remember those who have gone before us, we thank God for those who passed along the faith to us, those who loved us, and those who we have confidence in Christ who we will see again.  We ask God for the gift of forgiveness toward those who have hurt us, not because they deserve it, but because Jesus first forgave us. We ask that Jesus brings us healing and peace for the injuries from relationships that cannot be reconciled, especially those relationships that we have had with those who have died.

We pray for the gifts of the Beatitudes because they are the attributes of Christ.

Today is remembered in Mexico as Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. Part of that tradition involves honoring one’s ancestors.  Another part of it is acknowledging that death isn’t the end.  It is a celebration of remembrance and anticipation.

We will see those who departed in Christ again in the next world, in the new heaven and earth.

According to the message of Genesis 3  we are all dead- every person living will die.  In Christ we have His promise of eternal life.  The Day of the Dead is for those who went before us, the great cloud of witnesses that the writer of Hebrews speaks of. (Hebrews 12:1-2)  We celebrate their lives.  We mourn their absence.  We think about what we may have done differently.  We pray for the grace to forgive where we need to forgive. But ultimately the lives of those witnesses serve to point us to Christ, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, the One Who is beside us and with us always, the One Who broke the curse of death so that we may live.

 

November 1, 2018- For All the Saints, Together in Christ- 1 John 3:1-3, Revelation 7:9-17, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

 

saintsSee what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.  And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. 1 John 3:1-3 (ESV)

The celebration of All Saints’ Day traditionally is a somber holiday in which we remember the saints (meaning all who lived and died in Christ) who have gone before us. On Ash Wednesday we are made aware of our mortality as we remember that we are dust and will return to dust. (Genesis 3:19)  On Good Friday we are reminded of our mortality again as we remember Jesus sacrificing Himself, taking the punishment of a cruel death and paying the penalty we deserve for our sins in our place.  As Jesus breathed His last and gave up His Spirit, the curtain of the Holy of Holies in the Temple where the Presence of God lived was torn open as salvation and redemption was bought and paid for all, once and for all.

The celebration of All Saints’ should make us aware of our own temporary existence and mortality but this remembrance should also point us to the joy that those who have gone before us are already living in. We are in Christ now, but we are still living with one foot in the “not yet,” in hope of the promise to come.  While we are on this earth we will always grieve those who we loved, but we can take comfort in knowing that they have stepped over into the Kingdom of God in all its fullness.  We can take confidence and radiant hope in the knowledge that death is not the end for those who are in Christ.

While the Book of Revelation is apocryphal literature and it uses great imagery and allegory, it also gives us a vision of the new world to come in which we will be with our fellow saints again, but with an important distinction. We will be made holy and whole and clean, without sickness, sin or death, in the presence of God forever. The simul Justus et peccator (saint and sinner at the same time, as we are now) will finally be made a pure saint.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

 “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.

They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Revelation 7:9-17 (ESV)

Even though our hearts hurt when we think of those who have gone before us in Christ, we thank God for their witness and for the legacy they have given us. Death is not the end and we are not in the same position of despair as people who do not know of hope in Christ. As the apostle Paul teaches:

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.  Therefore encourage one another with these words.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (ESV)

It’s easy to be discouraged in this life. The older we get, we are more touched by the deaths of our loved ones and it is easy to get mired in grief and longing for them. There is no shame in grief. Yet we have confidence that those who have lived and died in Christ are already in the joy of eternal life with Him. We thank God for their witness and example, and we take great hope and joy in knowing that death is not the end. We will be with Jesus and we will be together again.

November 1, 2017- For All the Saints, The Great Cloud of Witnesses- Hebrews 12 1:2 and Revelation 21:4

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Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.  Hebrews 12 1:2 (NRSV)

Today we celebrate the great cloud of witnesses- those who have gone before us- those have done so much to form our faith and lead us to life in Christ. The saints who have gone before us are cherished gifts to the saints here on earth who are still running the race and dealing with the trials of life.  Because of them we have learned how to live lives that (however imperfectly) honor and glorify God.

All Saints’ Day is one of the more difficult observances of the church year. We honor and thank God for those who are departed, but we mourn them also. Knowing that the ones we love are no longer bodily present with us makes us even more aware that we live with one foot in the earthly kingdom and one foot in the heavenly kingdom. We long to hear our departed loved ones’ voices and to be gifted with their presence. Remembering them makes us painfully aware of their absence, even if we know in our hearts that their absence is not permanent, but only a temporary sojourn.

Of course our faith is not just in our hope of eternal life with Jesus and with those who we love who have gone before us. Our faith is also for now- for our relationships with others, for our celebrations and trials, for our vocation and purpose while we are here.

Perseverance is the key to holding on to Jesus and not letting go of His promise to us. The Holy Spirit is always available for us, interceding and stepping in the gap for us, because we are weak. We lose heart.  We get depressed, and on days like today, more often than not, we mourn.  We sin and we fail, but we also remember that today is a new day and that all things are possible for he or she who trusts in Christ.

There is nothing wrong with remembering and thanking God for our loved ones who are no longer with us. It is good for us to consider their example as well as to remember that they are living in the fullness of the heavenly kingdom.  The “not yet” waiting is over for them, and Jesus and heaven are their only now. Their joy is complete.  Our joy is divided, at least for now.

We are still running the race they have already finished. There is abundant life for us now, but our life and our joy is made complete beyond the end of the race.

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4 (NRSV)