The four weeks that lie ahead of us are often called the Kingdom Season. It is not really a separate ‘season', like Epiphany or Lent, but it feels like one and is often treated as one.
A favourite image of the Church is of a pilgrim people and throughout the Church year we travel with Jesus in the readings, sermons and prayers. We witness the birth of Christ, we listen to his teaching, we are there at his crucifixion, and we celebrate his resurrection.
Everything we've worked for throughout the year is now coming to its conclusion in the Kingdom Season. This is when we come to understand what this has meant in the lives of Christian men and women throughout the ages.
November starts with All Saints' and All Souls' Days, but during the next three weeks 23 Christian monarchs, priests, teachers of the faith, or mystics are remembered by name - and the church remains thankful for their witness with a myriad of others both named and unnamed in the lectionary and in our own lives. The final Sunday of the season celebrates Christ as King. God's work is completed and we wait for the New Kingdom to be revealed in all its fullness.
It is this sense of thankfulness that runs, often unseen, throughout these weeks as the Christian year draws to its conclusion and as we long for the completion of the work of God in Christ and in each of us. That sense of thankfulness will be a special focus for our thoughts and in sermons over the next three weeks. So today I am thankful for the people of God - and I encourage you to be too.
Jesus says blessed are those people who find life unfulfilling, who grieve the loss of a loved one, who are unassuming and don’t push themselves forward, who strive for that which is right, who do not retaliate, who are good from the inside out, who bring sections of the community together, who are kicked around by others especially for what they believe - they find the favour of God. They will be happy in the end.
This sense of blessedness, of happiness is not the reward for enduring awfulness now. Blessedness says Jesus does not describe a divine future but a present reality, life in the now, but therefore what sort of a world do they describe? Certainly not our own.
“Blessed are the meek”, says Jesus, but in our world the meek don’t get the land, they get left holding the worthless beans. “Blessed are those who mourn”, says Jesus, but in our world mourning may be tolerated for a while, but soon we will ask you to pull yourself together and move on. “Blessed are the pure in heart”, says Jesus, but in our world such people are dismissed as hopelessly naïve.
Even in an age of austerity our national creed is one of optimism (not mourning), confidence (not poverty of spirit), and abundance (not hunger or thirst of any kind), and it is in service of such things that we invoke and assume the blessing of God. And so we live by other beatitudes:
Blessed are the well-educated, for they will get the good jobs.
Blessed are the well-connected, for their aspirations will not go unnoticed.
Blessed are you when you know what you want, and go after it with everything you’ve got, for God helps those who help themselves.
If we are honest, we must admit that the world Jesus asserts as fact, is not the world we have made for ourselves.
In the Beatitudes, Jesus cannot very well insist that we become poor in spirit if we aren’t, but He can show us how to look upon such people with new eyes, and so gain entrance to a new world. In that sense on this All Saints Sunday, the Beatitudes testify that it matters deeply whom we call “saint.”
Today friends I am thankful for the ordinary pilgrim people of God down the ages who have tried to live out and live by these blessings. They may not have done it perfectly, in fact I rejoice in the fact that in most cases they haven’t. I take heart that most of them are under-educated, lack connections and who never had much but are content with the lot that God gives them. In that ordinariness I see the holiness of Christ because they have tried to follow Him and it’s that for which I am thankful, for in and through many of them, I have found and continue to find a deeper faith.
I am thankful for Flo Allen a now long dead unremarkable Lancashire lady who lacked status & influence and yet whose simple passion for Jesus helped literally thousands of local children explore faith for themselves. I am thankful for Canon Ben Eaton a gregarious international American who grew up in the Lebanon, studied theology in Puerto Rico, and served the church in the slums of Equador,in Barcelona and Paris who shared with me an all who encountered him the extravagant generosity and hospitality of Christ in the Eucharist. I am deeply grateful for Gertie Gascoigne now in glory with her Lord, a now almost certainly forgotten lady of faith who as I shared Communion at home with her, with the consecrated elements balanced precariously on a on a tea stained planter, and in those moments I saw and met Christ for myself.
For these and for you I am thankful. There isn’t a tricky point to make here save that when God made human beings in His image, He meant that always, and when He promised to come amongst us in Christ I believe that He did and did not mean once only but always.
What this means on this All Saints Sunday is that today I am thankful for all the Holy Ones of God, whenever and wherever they may be found - including you - because in you I see and hear Christ, I learn from Him with and through you and I am encouraged and supported and challenged by Him through you. On this All Saints Sunday I encourage you to ponder for a moment on who continues to support and encourage you in your journey of faith, to be thankful to God for them, and maybe if you can - tell them and tell them why.