The Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope
transcribed by Gaile E. Zimmer
May Christ who makes saints of sinners and has transformed those whom we remember today raise us, strengthen us to transform the world. Amen.
All Saints is one of the seven principle feasts in the church here and it’s significant to us for several important reasons. First, it’s a time when we come together to remember the saints who’ve gone before us—that great cloud of witnesses who have left us a legacy, who continue to teach us through the example of their lives—and those whom we still remember and love dearly. It’s also an important Sunday because it’s one of the principal Sundays that’s appropriate for baptisms, and this morning we have four sweet babies whom we will have the privilege of welcoming and receiving as the newest Christians into this community of faith. And as the Cathedral worshiping community, this Sunday is significant for another reason. It marks the eleventh and last Sunday that we are a wandering pilgrim community in exile from our Cathedral.
It seems important to me that as we prepare to go back to the Cathedral next weekend that we take a few moments to pause and reflect on this journey that we’ve been on; what we’ve learned; what we’ve experienced; how we’ve been affected and changed; and who we are as we go back into that beloved Cathedral. A few weeks ago when I preached, I talked about Walter Brueggemann and the seasons of our lives and how there are fairly predictable cycles that we go through: a season of orientation when everything seems to be stable, and then something happens quite unexpectedly that takes us into a season of disorientation where everything is anything but stable—time of a little bit of chaos, and then, through the mercy of our Sovereign God, we move out of that pit of disorientation into new orientation, affected and changed by what has happened to us.
I think that if we reflect a bit on the past eleven weeks, we’ve been on a bit of a cycle and a journey and I have observed a few things about us in these eleven weeks. I know you have too because you’ve shared that with me. First, you are an amazing, and faithful, and resilient remnant of our Sundays in the Cathedral. Despite every obstacle, be it change of location, change of time, difficult communication, you have overcome that to be together as a community of faith. Consistently, about 400 of you have made the effort to worship together, and I can only imagine that’s because you need to be together. You want to be together. You like who you are together as a community of faith, the spiritual heart and core of our beloved Cathedral. And it’s been so important to you that a few of you have come up to me with sort of this little wistful note in your voice saying, “You know, I’m excited to go back into the Cathedral but I have to say there’s a part of me that’s going to miss being just us.” Just us, this faithful core community at the heart of our Cathedral, and that begs the question. I think that it’s a good thing that you have been changed and shaped by this time together of being just us, that it’s deepened your relationships with God and deepened your relationships with another, getting clarity and commitment to who we are as a unique community of faith at the heart of our Cathedral.
So what does that mean in seven days when we go back? Who are we changed? Who are we called to be as this Cathedral worshiping week by week, community of faith? I think part of the answer is in our Gospel lesson from today. The fifth chapter of Matthew marks what we know as Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, one of his seminal teachings in all of Scripture and it begins with some very important details. First, it has Jesus going up on the mountain which recalls for us Moses going up the mountain to receive from God the Law and the Covenant of God’s people—how to be in right relationship with God; how to be in right relationship with one another. And then Jesus sits down, which is what rabbis did when they had something very important to teach and to say. And it’s signified by the disciples then coming near to hear what Jesus was going to say. Then Jesus goes through this series of “blesseds” which we know as the beatitudes, coming from the word blessed. But they’re a little counter-cultural and counter-intuitive, don’t you think? I don’t know about you, but there are seasons in my life when I feel it somewhat appropriate to wear a hair shirt, but I don’t know that I would be blessed and happy to be persecuted, much less rejoiceful. And blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake? Some translations of the Bible say “happy are.”
Well I wouldn’t be so happy with that circumstance and so you have to ask, what’s Jesus saying here, what’s going on? I am indebted to the exegetical work of Earl Palmer who posits the idea that Jesus as being Semetic has as his framework Hebrew Scriptures and the pairings that we see in Hebrew Scriptures. And he points to one example—being the first verse of the first psalm which roughly says blessed are those who do not follow the way of the wicked, but follow the way of the Lord. The word “blessed” in that context comes from the Hebrew word asah meaning on the right road—on the right road in relationship with God. So listen with that context. Those who do not follow the way of the wicked but follow the way of the Lord are on the right road in right relationship with God.
Take that lens and look at the beatitudes—those who are poor in spirit because they can look around the world as it exists today and know that it is not as God intended, are on the right road. Those who mourn because they see the suffering that exists in the world today are on the right road. Those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, because they can see the injustice and oppression and persecution that exist in the world today and want to do something about it, are on the right road. Jesus has pointed the way to us and part of what we gather as the community of faith is following Christ on the right road. It doesn’t mean that we get perfection. Look at the beatitude, “blessed are those who thirst and hunger for righteousness.” It doesn’t say we’ve perfected it; it says we’re aware of it, and we want to do something about it.
The important thing about that road and the important thing about our journey is that Christ is at the center showing us, teaching us, what it is we are called to do. In these eleven weeks we have been filled with the love of Christ identifying us as a community of faith, a body of Christ, a unique group right at the heart of our Cathedral—a Cathedral that claims to be the spiritual home for the nation, a Cathedral up on a hill that is a beacon of light to a hurting and suffering world, opening our arms and our doors to all God would have come our way. We are filled so that we can fill others.
Former Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple said that the Church is the only society that exists for those who are not its members. We’ve been filled with the love of Christ. We come week after week and celebrate the Eucharist, filled with the love of Christ. We are filled in order to give it away. Frederick Buechner said that “To sacrifice something is to make it holy by giving it away in love.” Next week when we go back to that Cathedral, our call—our unique privilege as the body of Christ right within the heart of that Cathedral—is to give away the love of Christ to everyone who comes who is hurting, and suffering, and thirsting, and longing to know that they’re not alone; that they are beloved; that they are blessed because they have been in the presence of God in that place. So, for eleven weeks we’ve been on quite a journey. Be filled with the love of Christ, go back to that Cathedral as the heart, soul, and spirit of that place, and give that love away freely, generously, as it’s been given to you. May Christ who makes saints of sinners and has transformed those whom we remember today raise us and strengthen us to transform the world. Amen.