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Blessed. Beloved. Saint.

Pentecost 20, Common Lectionary Year C

Luke 6: 20-31

©2019 Rev. Dr. Elisabeth R. Jones

The lectionary gave us this text for the 20th Sunday after Pentecost, but what a gift it is for today, the day we have chosen, close to the Feast of All Saints, as the Sunday when we gather to remember our own “blessed ones” our own “beloved ones” who have died in the past year. This is a time honoured Christian tradition that goes back centuries to a time when people gathered to remember the ‘unrecorded’ saints and martyrs.

I was at a meeting of pastoral care givers at the Lakeshore Hospital earlier this week, and with one other exception, all those present were Roman Catholic priests, who expressed surprise that we, a Protestant church, would be doing this today.
“I thought we had all the Saints” one of them quipped.
“I suppose it depends what you mean by Saint, doesn’t it?” was my…. measured response.

But it’s true. It does.
And this is where this Gospel becomes good news for us today,
all of us who gather with love, loss, memory, and perhaps a little confusion.

Somewhere along the great winding path of Christian tradition
we began to limit the use of the word “Saint” to the giants of the faith.
Here in Quebec we’re made more familiar with these great ancients than in the ROC – our geography is littered and lettered with them:
S. Hyacinthe, Ste. Marthe. S.Pie. S. Charles, S. Jean, S. Joachim. etc.
To be a saint with a day on the calendar,
or a street or village on the map,
you had to have done something great,
or to have been martyred for God.
All of which is beyond most of us.

BUT, the Gospel of Luke, and of Matthew,
and the Gospel as told by Paul in 1 Corinthians,
and the writer to Ephesians,
and the writer of the Wisdom of Solomon,
of Ecclesiastes…. all point in a very different direction;
they point us not to human heroics on behalf of God,
but to Godself,
and more particularly to the stubborn, persistent,
repeated regard of God which, more often than not,
is focussed most intently, most benevolently,
most gracefully and redemptively,
upon the poor, the grieving, the downtrodden,
the persecuted, the nameless, the moved and shaken, the maligned.

In these Scriptures, anyone upon whom God has looked with favour,
with mercy, with forgiveness, with blessing, with love,
is a living Saint of God…
the word “Saint” simply means
one who is beloved and blessed of God.
That’s it.

The Saints of God are sitting in these pews today.
Sneak a peek, there’s one right next to you, behind you, in front.
I hope it makes you smile!
Squirm a little, because somebody has just looked at you!
You who are sitting here today are the living saints of God!
You’re a Saint of God,
not because you’re awesome,
or heroic, or holier than thou,
but because you are beloved, and blessed by the loving regard of God.
And let no one (especially yourself) tell you otherwise!

And you have gathered, many of you, because we invited you to,
to gather today to remember your Saints.
Your beloved ones, your blessed ones
who have died in the past year.
And we’ve invited you to come if your loved one died years ago….
Because you, like God, still love them, remember them,
honour them in all their
human, holy, complexity.
And you are a consolation to those whose grief is still new,
because you are living proof that death
is not capable of ending human love.

And if that is true, then,
how much more can we count on the love of God?
To cherish us, to bless us, to sanctify us,
both the living, and those our beloved dead
who are now among God’s company of Saints in light?

In a few moments we will invite you to kindle that light
of memory, love, loss, and hope,
from the undying flame of your love.
You will kindle that light from the Christ candle,
sign here, week in and week out,
God’s undying, sanctifying love.

And as you do,
hear the echo of the Gospel;
blessed are you who mourn,
you will laugh again,
you will be comforted.

John O’ Donahue: On the Death of the Beloved.

Let us not look for you only in memory,
Where we would grow lonely without you.
You would want us to find you in presence,
Beside us when beauty brightens,
When kindness glows
And music echoes eternal tones.

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