Revelation 7: 9-17; Psalm 34: 1-10, 22; 1 John 3: 1-3; Matthew 5:1-12
All Saints Day, which we observe as All Saints Sunday, is a festival in the church year we greet with mixed blessings. Some of us are happy to recall the memories of our long-dead loved ones. In the years since their passing they may have become even better persons in our memories than they were in our actual lives. We miss them, but we are able to let them be with God now.
Others of us come to worship this day with grief still fresh in our hearts, aching for our loved ones to come and hold us once more, to tell us one more time how much they love us. It is hard for us to imagine them with God, since we still so much want them to be here with us.
Because we come this day with different perspectives, it may be helpful or hurtful to hear Jesus’ words to us. “Blessed are those who mourn.”
When my younger brother Rob died, many folks said kind things. “I’m so sorry,” was the most common, I think, though I don’t remember. The one comment I heard and remember was from a good friend, who hugged me and said, “That’s really crappy!”
I don’t remember anyone saying, “You are so blessed.” I’m not sure how I would have reacted, but I’m sure I would have been surprised by their comment.
Still, these are Jesus’ words, addressed to large crowds on the hill above the Sea of Galilee that day. These words of blessing for those who grieve are included in a list with blessings promised for many situations.
Are you seeking God and not able to find God? You are blessed, for the kingdom/reign of heaven is here for you.
Do you feel like no one cares about you and other people like you? You are blessed because one day you will rule the world.
Do you fight for justice for those who are oppressed? You are blessed because justice will one day abound.
Are you a peacemaker, despite the evidence that your efforts are in vain? You are blessed, because you deserve to be called God’s children.
Some Bible translations use the word ‘happy’ where we have the word ‘blessed.’ ‘Happy’ makes us think we will be filled with joy in these situations, and seems to me to be the wrong word. ‘Blessed’ is closer in meaning since it promises God’s presence and action.
But according to a couple of resources I read this week, the original Greek word has the sense of ‘congratulations.’ Can we imagine Jesus walking among the crowd shouting, “Mazel Tov!” to the folks there? Literally, mazel tov means good luck, but it usually has the sense of, “Lucky you!” We often think of the phrase as a drinking toast. Everyone raise your glasses high for the newlyweds, for the graduate, for the job bonus. “Mazel tov!”
Applying it here, in the beatitudes, I think of the phrase, “Here’s to you!” In each of the situations Jesus mentions, there is a recognition that life is not as easy as we’d like it. Life then and life now is always filled with challenges. We don’t always have enough of what we need, people get sick and die, like Henny Youngman we don’t get ‘no respect’. Our efforts to peaceful resolution of conflicts are met with lines drawn in the sand, far inside the compromise zone.
We can add some modern situations to Jesus’ list. We are losing our health, and our memories are not what they used to be. We retire and lose the sense of who we are because we have too much time on our hands and not enough to do to fill our lives. We are battling our addictions and not always winning the fight. Our family relationships are not what we hoped for. Our children struggle to learn in the modern school system.
To all of these situations and more we can name, Jesus says, “Mazel tov!” “Here’s to you!” “You are blessed.”
You are blessed because there is a promise attached to the situation you are in today. In the kingdom/reign of God, there is good news. You will be comforted in your grief. You will be rewarded for your efforts as a peacemaker by having a place in God’s realm. You will see God face to face. With the help of Jesus the Healer you will conquer your disease and your addictions. You will have purpose in life as a sharer of the Good News of the empty tomb. Your children may struggle to fit in, but they are God’s children just the same and fit just fine in God’s realm.
As we remember today those who have died, we have Jesus’ promise that there is more to life than what is offered in this world. After Jesus died, he was buried, just as we bury our loved ones today. Three days later, the disciples went to the tomb, and behold, it was empty. Jesus – God – has the power over death, and, therefore, death is not the last word in our lives or in the lives of our loved ones.
We are blessed in this life to have people to love: parents, spouses and partners, children, siblings, friends and neighbors. Even when they die, they are still a blessing to us because their memories warm our hearts and revive our spirits. Our family members and friends comfort us with their hugs, with their words, with their casseroles, with their phone calls and text messages.
The good news behind the struggles of this life is that there is more than what we see and know here. God knows our struggles and weeps with us. God sent the Son to prove that there is life beyond the grave; there is love beyond the grave; and we can all lay claim to it.
When we are struggling, we can look for the blessing, we can look for Jesus saying to us, “Mazel tov! Here’s to you, for you will get through this because I will be with you.”
When we notice others are struggling, we can intentionally be the blessing for them. We can intentionally be Jesus’ mouth, Jesus’ arms and hands, Jesus’ heart. So, I can say to you, “Mazel tov! Here’s to you, for you get to be a blessing to a suffering person, and let them find Jesus’ heart through your presence with them.”
Please pray with me. God of many blessings, shine your light into our dark corners, so we may see your blessings. And send us out, to be your light for those who need to be blessed. Amen