Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
All Saints’ Day/Year A ▪ November 1, 2020
God’s Living Prisms
Anglican priest and theologian, John Macquarrie, described sainthood as, “…the focusing in a human life of the divine presence.” Macquarrie’s description brings to mind the image of a light-bending prism. The prism captures the light and through its transparent material (usually glass, plastic or fluorite), serves as a vehicle by which the light, as it exits the prism, is perceived by the human eye in the fullness of wavelengths, which are perceived as colors, that comprise a beam of light. Important, also, is the material used to make a prism, including its shape and angles. It is the material that affects how effectively the light moving through it is reflected, refracted and dispersed.” The rainbow is one example of this phenomenon.
All Saints’ day is set apart to remember and commend the saints of God, who have gone before us, leading lives, and losing their lives, in service to God and God’s people. The prism is a relatable image for our All Saints’ commemoration. When a beam of light encounters the surface of a prism, the light slows down which changes the angle at which the light moves. Similarly, the incarnational experience of human life, embodies God’s divine presence long enough for it to be reflected through a multitude of human lives across human history—living prisms who are uniquely created and purposely formed to reflect, refract and disperse Christ’s light into the world by virtue of their baptism into Christ.
Like Jesus, the saints recognized by the Church, were human beings who walked amongst their fellow human beings. And, they have given us a rich legacy of lives patterned on Jesus’ outpouring of self-giving love in myriad expressions. One of the ways in which Jesus expressed his love was through teaching and equipping his disciples for the work he called them to do. In our gospel passage today, Jesus went up to the mountain to teach his newly-minted disciples about the present and future ethics of God’s heavenly kingdom through nine declarations known as the Beatitudes.
On the surface the statements addressed the various states of oppression that the Jewish people were currently experiencing under the Roman empire, for their existence was not without “poverty of spirit,” “mournfulness,” “patience under long suffering,” and “hungering and thirsting for justice.” Rarely would any of these states-of-being be classified as blessed human nature and behavior. But Jesus, masterfully paired these oppressive states-of-being with assertions that they will be reversed in the future coming kingdom of heaven. Breaking away from the future language of the verses sandwiched in between them, verses 3 and 10 mirror each other, speaking not to a future reality, but to a current reality. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven;” “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.”
The word, “blessed,” as it is commonly used today, may be a stumbling block to breaking open a deeper understanding of what is meant by Jesus’ declarations. In Greek, the word, “blessed,” can be translated as happy or fortunate. Substituting the word, FORTUNATE for the word, “blessed,” brings more depth to the profound message embedded in the beatitudes. Fortunate, as a state of being, implies that beyond one’s own efforts, success has been obtained by favorable circumstances, and points to God’s grace. By God’s grace, the kingdom of heaven already belonged to the fortunate who repented, and who already believed the good news of God in Jesus Christ.
The Beatitudes reflected the “Now-ness” of God’s heavenly kingdom already among the Jewish people through Jesus, God incarnate. The Beatitudes also assured hope for the “Not-yet-fully-realized” God’s kingdom come. Jesus’ message urged right conduct according to God’s will; and promised liberation from unjust structures of earthly kingdoms; and the reversal of unfortunate states of being. Through the beatitudes Jesus proclaimed hope!
All Saints’ Day is not solely about people of the past; it is also about recognizing the saints who walk amongst us today. The Communion of saints, of which God’s faithful are all a part, is the fellowship of those past and present souls which were, and are, willing to be used by God to manifest his eternal, self-giving love through this temporal human experience.
Christ’s Light is dispersed into the world through the saintly prisms gathered in worship today. God never ceases to move in and through God’s children, his unique human prisms, being nurtured to the full stature of Christ. It is through us, God’s living prisms, that this dark world glimpses the Light of Christ, as we bring the kingdom of heaven near to all whom we encounter.
We, who are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, are fortunate to embody Christ, and we look to God to strengthen our unique human material so that we may be willingly led, by the Holy Spirit, to courageously walk in the footsteps of Jesus, while reflecting, bending and dispersing Christ’s light through the prisms of our individual lives and the corporate life of the church.
The saints of God walk amongst us today. May God give us the eyes to see them; the ears to hear them; and the hearts to receive them. And, may God grant us the courage to serve God and God’s beloved like them.