All Saints’ Day (C): Blessed Are You, Holy and Living One
By: The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews
At the time of writing, our Jewish siblings are celebrating the High Holidays. They’ve welcomed the New Year by lighting candles saying, “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to kindle the Yom Tov light.” They’ve given thanks that they’ve again made it to this season, “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has kept us alive and sustained us and brought us to this holiday season.”
Weekly at Shabbat they pray, “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has brought forth bread from the earth.” This may be familiar to Christians from certain traditions, “Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this bread to offer, which earth has given and human hands have made. It will become for us the bread of life.” In my tradition, Eucharistic Prayer 1 from Enriching Our Worship reads (after the Sanctus), “Blessed are you, gracious God, creator of the universe and giver of life. You formed us in your own image and called us to dwell in your infinite love.” Throughout Judaism and Christianity, humankind looks at ways of blessing God for what God has done — but the blessing is active. “Blessed are you…”
This is the language Jesus uses in the beatitudes: Blessed are you who are poor, hungry, weeping, and hated. In these conditions, the ones who are wearied by the changes and chances of life are currently being blessed. As a comfort to them, Jesus makes promises to them: you will be filled, you will have God’s reign, you will laugh, you will be rewarded in heaven. There is waiting to be done, but the blessing is active and present, like God’s commands at creation.
In this text, Luke does a few things differently than the beatitudes from Matthew that are on bookmarks and plastered on children’s Sunday school walls. Luke’s beatitudes, like much of his Gospel, are earthy. These aren’t the poor in spirit; these are the poor. These aren’t those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; these are those who are hungry. While Matthew’s beatitudes can easily read as a list of things to strive for (peacemaking, meekness, showing mercy), Luke’s speak to the reality of the human condition on the margins of society: hungry, poor, weeping, and persecuted.
Luke doesn’t stop at offering blessings for those society despises. Jesus in this passage continues his message of justice — divine, cosmic justice against agents of empire and oppression, those who puff themselves up and enable income inequality. During Jesus’ Discourse on a Plain (versus the Sermon on the Mount), Jesus offers woes. “Woe to you who are rich, hungry, and laughing! This won’t last!”
The contrast between the blessings and the woes reiterates that Jesus has come into the world to cast down the mighty from their thrones and to lift up the lowly. This has been one of Luke’s messages since Chapter 1. Not only are the afflicted comforted during this Discourse on the Plain, Jesus warns of affliction for the comfortable. When embracing any narrative about the goodness of wealth — from religious or political leaders — Jesus’ warning of woe could not be clearer: “woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.”
The Matthean Beatitudes are the history text for All Saints’ Day. The Revised Common Lectionary maintains that for Year A, and Luke’s for Year C. In Year B, the gospel text for All Saints’ Day is the raising of Lazarus. All three texts speak to God’s command over death and what is to come — from giving the earth to the meek to commanding Lazarus to come out to proclaiming that the full will be hungry later on. They also speak to the lives of the saints. Historically, All Saints’ Day commemorates those whom the Church has set aside for looking to as exemplars of the faith — those who hungered and thirsted (sometimes for righteousness sake, sometimes not) and have now, in God’s hand, gotten their fill.
All Saints’ Sunday celebrations often merge together All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. A friend likes to quip that All Saints celebrates Mary of Bethany and All Souls celebrates Great Aunt Mary, a True Christian. Although this distinction is often elided — particularly in traditions who understand sainthood coming by virtue of baptism — the Gospel texts for all three years speak of God’s salvation for God’s saints, especially those on the margins and with little control of their lives. The gospel texts for All Saints’ Day gives at least an eschatological hope to the hungry, the poor, the weeping, and the persecuted.
This may be an important them to highlight on All Saints’ Sunday because of how it serves as a hinge in the liturgical year. Although there are still three Sundays before Advent, the intervening texts’ themes are apocalyptic. At All Saints, the church starts proclaiming God’s restoration for all creation, which it will begin to actively emphasize in Advent.
The Gospel text for All Saints’ Day is one that speaks of blessings and woes, themes that will continue for the rest of the month until some in my tradition, on the first Sunday of Advent, begin their services again with blessing God: Blessed are you, holy and living One. You come to your people and set them free.
The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews (@josephpmathews) is the vicar of St. Hilda-St. Patrick Episcopal Church in Edmonds, Washington. He is an avid trivia goer and reader of both novels and non-fiction and subscribes to over 20 podcasts — which he tries to keep up on. He and his husband Brandon welcomed their first child, Christopher Brandon, on October 18, so he is currently on family leave. All Saints Sunday is his favorite Principal Feast.