Tag Archives: Jesus

The Anxiety of Lent

Mark 8:31-38
And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Last week Jesus went into the wilderness as is always the case on the first Sunday in Lent, and there he met us where we have been lingering for what feels like a year. The liturgical season came around again to meet us where we have been this whole time. And with that, we entered lent as the church, remembering that we are ash, and our alleluias put away. 

Our Lenten journey continues this week with some contradictory statements from Jesus. Statements that speak to the way Lent challenges us to examine ourselves: If try to save your life, you lose it. If you want to follow Jesus, deny yourself. If you want to live, you must die first. 

These kinds of contradictions define the the way that Jesus encounters creation, encounters us.  And in the season of Lent we take the time to consider what these contradictions from Jesus mean. 

Jesus begins by teaching his disciples that the son of man must be suffer, be rejected and die before rising again after three days. And Peter doesn’t like it, and he lets Jesus know. But like an old fashioned school teacher Jesus sends Peter to the corner of the room with the dunce cap. Jesus does not take kindly to Peter’s rebuke. Jesus has no interest in Peter’s fears. Jesus is not worried about dying, Jesus is talking about life. 

Peter is busy worrying, while Jesus is telling him, and the disciples and crowds, about God. And yet usually we are still with Peter, and these days more than ever we know about worrying about drying. Our lives are full of worry and fear and other myriads of concerns, so much so it is hard to live. Our fears and our anxiety seemingly control us and the world around us. And rightly so… we continue to live in an extraordinary time. Peter gets it, what is Jesus missing?

It is hard to not to have our fear and anxieties fed by the world daily. Turn on the news for a couple minutes and there is no escaping worry. Pickup a newspaper and try to find story without the word pandemic or COVID-19. Check social media or the internet and find people angered by government actions, whether they think pandemic measures are too much or too little. 

Fear makes us feel powerless and week, unable to see any hope. Anxiety has a hold over our economy, over our politics, over our communities, over our churches… over our very bodies. Like Peter, our fears cause us to do things that don’t make sense, like scolding our teachers or speaking before we think. Our fears hold us back, keep us from acting, keep us from risking, keep us from experiencing the world around us because we cannot imagine things turning out well for us. Like Peter, our fear and our anxiety prevents us from seeing God in our midst. 

This confrontation of our fears and anxiety is one of the inevitable meetings of Lent. Our fear makes it hard, impossible even, to see what God is up to in the world, what is God is doing in our very lives, despite our fear and anxiety. 

Peter’s fear is keeping him from hearing what Jesus is doing. And if Peter could get past his fear of Jesus’ death, he might take a moment to think a little longer about the rest of Jesus’ statement. Peter is planted too deep in his anxiety… he cannot hear the part that he should be asking about. “After three days rising again?”

But even when Peter misses the point, Jesus continues to make it. Jesus is not above contradiction. In fact, Jesus knows that it is in seeming contradiction that God’s work is done. Die and after three days rise again Jesus says. Lose your life to save it Jesus says. Take up your cross, follow and you will live, Jesus says. 

Peter is so busy being afraid and anxious, that he cannot hear that with God, death will lead to something new. 

So often, Peter’s fear is our fear. So often, we just can’t shake our fear to see God’s work around us. But that doesn’t mean that God isn’t doing the work. It just means, like Peter, we are going to be really surprised when we peer into that empty tomb on Easter morning. 

It is easy for us to look at Peter and wonder why he didn’t get it, but God’s work among us is just as shocking and just as hard to imagine. Jesus tells Peter that crucifixion is coming, and Jesus tells us that there is drying is happening all around us. Of course there is the tragedy of human death, but there is also all kinds of other deaths. Death and change. Changing communities and neighbourhoods, dying relationships, dying habits and ways of being, dying and changing institutions and structures. Our past is and so much of what was an old world is just slipping through our fingers, and there is a new world knocking on our doors. 

And all this makes us anxious. 

 Yet, Jesus isn’t giving us a warning, Jesus isn’t trying to get our hearts racing or making want to just pull the covers over our head and stay in bed each morning. 

Jesus is pointing us to the places where God is at work. 

Jesus is telling us what God’s work looks like. God’s activities in the world simply do not ease our fears or quell our anxieties. God’s work does not ease us into the future, or protect us from the unknown. Instead, God is doing something much more amazing than fitting into a box that our anxiety can handle. God is turning death into life. God is transforming us into disciples and evangelists. God is reconciling a broken world. God is showing us what it means to gain life. 

God is showing that us letting go of all the things that we hold on to, all the things that we fear losing – a world that we spent so much time and energy holding on to, that seems so foreign now –  God is showing us that fearing these things is not living. But rather, God’s version of life means being open to future, open to the other, open to God doing something completely unexpected in our midst. 

Jesus will have none of Peter’s fears today, nor will Jesus have any of ours. Instead, Jesus calls us to let go. Let go and God’s activities in the world will completely surprise and shock us. And still, even if we don’t let go, like Peter cannot, there is going to be an empty tomb waiting for us when we least expect it. 

Transfiguration from the Valley

GOSPEL: Mark 9:2-9
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.

The mountain stands high before us. 

Today is Transfiguration Sunday, a touchstone moment in the church year. In so many ways Transfiguration looms in the background right from Advent. But certainly from the day of Epiphany, the revealing of the Christ child to the Magi. From then on, this next revealing of the Christ is on the way. The words spoken at the the Baptism of Jesus are foreshadows of the words spoken again today: this is my Son, the beloved. 

And this mountain stands before the valley to come, the valley of Lent that will push Jesus towards that next hill, the hill of Good Friday and another revealing of the Christ. 

This Transfiguration comes to us when we are little more tense and stressed than usual. Normally this time after Epiphany and these green Sundays before Lent are some weeks to catch our breath after the excitement of Advent and Christmas while preparing for Lent, and the wilderness Journey that we are about to embark on. 

But for right now, everything seems to be about Jesus’ journey up the mountain. Like so many faithful patriarchs of the Old Testament, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses and Elijah (who show up today!) Jesus goes to a mountain to be seemingly be closer to God. And Jesus brings with him 3 of his disciples… maybe the 3 leaders. Peter, James and John. 

It should be noted at this moment that we have skipped through half the book of Mark (don’t worry we will come back his summer). For three weeks we lingered in chapter 1, only to jump right to chapter 9 of 16, the half way point. 

And Jesus is transfigured, meaning his outward appearance is changed. 

He shines like the sun. Moses and Elijah appear beside him. Jesus not only goes up the mountain to be closer to God, in Jesus God comes closer to creation, to Peter, James and John. 

Peter blurts out the first thing that comes to mind… or maybe the extremely well thought out idea he has been holding onto the whole hike up the mountain. Peter suggests that like good and faithful jews who know a holy place when they see it, that they should build a dwelling place. An alter to worship God. Just like his forebears, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who built altars on mountains. 

But maybe it isn’t Peter’s thoughts are relevant, but his feelings. Here on the mountain, he is away from the struggle and chaos. The mountain top is removed and calm, quiet and enlightening. The mountain top is a place to escape the reality of the world. The mountain top is a place to leave troubles behind. And Peter knows a world of trouble. Living under foreign occupation by the Romans, conflict with the religious authorities, experiencing unclean spirits, dealing with demanding crowds, and managing a moody and enigmatic Jesus. 

We get it, escaping the struggle and chaos is worth staying a while, worth lingering and holding on. 

Most times we hear this story, we imagine ourselves standing right beside Peter, there on the mountaintop, there witnessing the transfiguration of Jesus and having to contend with our strong desire to remain in this safe place. 

But this year feels different. Transfiguration feels far away. Escape and relief feel far away. 

This year we are not on the mountain top. We are down in the valley. We are witnessing Transfiguration from afar. 

Our perspective has been shifted, and Transfiguration isn’t an insiders journey that we get to witness up close. Instead we only hear about it from Mark, we only get to catch the wisps of light emanating from the mountain top, we only hear the whispers that Peter, James and John cannot keep to themselves once they get down from the mountain. 

We are living in the valley and stuck there this year. The valley of struggle and suffering, the valley of the shadow death. The valley that Peter is so happily escaping as he tries to build a dwelling and an altar on the mountain top. We would much rather have that moment of escape that, break from the chaos, that chance to just catch our breath, to feel free, to relax and be safe, to forego our daily vigilance just for a moment. 

And yet there is no escaping our predicament, no mountaintops where we can hike above the fray… we are in a moment, a shared moment, a global moment of struggle and hardship, chaos and suffering. We are all stuck together down in the valley. 

A valley where struggle and suffering multiply struggle and suffering. Where one threat to our heath and safety requires sacrifice and struggle, where trying to fix one problem creates two more. Where one person refusing to buy-in and share the sacrifice can jeopardize us all. 

This is a valley we were unprepared for, one that is wearing us down, one is harder to bear than we ever imagined. 

And  this valley changes the way we see and hear the story of Transfiguration. This valley pulls us down from the mountain and keeps us far from that mountain top escape. 

So we long to be Peter, we wish we could foolishly think that living on the mountaintop was a good idea because we long to feel, even if just for moment, Peter’s sense of relief. 

And then almost a quickly as it started, Jesus is headed back down the mountain. 

Jesus tells these privileged three not to tell anyone about what they have seen, at least not until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead. 

At least not until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead. 

Jesus took these three up the mountain, Jesus was transfigured and met with Moses and Elijah, the voice of God speaks from the heavens, yet Jesus seems most concerned about something beyond this mountaintop experience. Peter wants to stay and linger, but Jesus is back on mission. 

Jesus is focused on the being raised from the dead. Which means Jesus also knows that he is headed towards Crucifixion. Headed towards, arrest and trial, towards conflict with the plotting religious authorities, towards more demands for healing and miracles from the crowds, more encounters with the surpernatural. 

Jesus is focused on going back down into the valley, back down into the depths of suffering and chaos, back down into the place of human need, back down to where creation is thick with finiteness and mortality… 

And Jesus is doing what he has said he has been doing since the beginning. Bringing the Kingdom of God Near. Bringing the God of all Life close again to creation that feels so far. Bringing God into the struggle and suffering that seems so far from the mountain top, so far the high minded dwelling and altars where the space between heaven and earth feels thin.

Jesus is on the way to the places that feel far from the divine, far from God’s love and mercy and grace. 

And that makes all the difference. When you are on top of the mountain like Peter, it makes sense to stay. But when you are stuck in the valley, when you feel far from the shining light of God, far from the dwellings and altars where God seems close enough to touch…

Seeing the God made flesh, the Christ come to save, the Messiah on the way…. To see Jesus coming down the mountain, coming down into the valley of the shadow of death changes everything. 

Today, we get that feeling too. We might be used to feeling like we are on the mountaintop, but, this year we need to be reminded that God is coming down the mountain to. 

Jesus is coming down into our lives, into our communities, into our chaos. Jesus meets us in the shadows of pandemic, the shadows of lockdown, of loneliness and isolation. The valleys of suffering and sin, of racism in our institutions, division in our politics, stress in our neighbour hoods

And Jesus is doing the work of the God. Confronting our mess, confronting our chaos, confronting our sin, confronting death. And in that confrontation Jesus is on the way to the new thing that God is doing among us. Bringing comfort where there is suffering, forgiveness where there is sin, and life where there is death. 

Here today, down in the valley, far from the mountain top, far from the escape of transfiguration, Jesus is coming down to us. Coming down to us in word of promise, joining us to one another through the spirit, making us alive again in the Body of Christ. 

Why Heal Anyone if You Don’t Heal Everyone, Jesus?

Mark 1:29-39
In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

Today is our last Sunday in the mini green season before we head up a mountain. This church year began way back in Advent, as we built towards the coming of Christ in the flesh of the babe in a manger. And soon we, with Ash Wednesday and Lent on the horizon, we will be building again towards the coming of Christ, this time Christ coming to a cross on Friday and out of the grave on Sunday. 

But for now we have been lingering with the revealing of Jesus. Revealing of his mission and ministry, revealing his identity in the waters of baptism, his call to the disciples in various ways, his message for God’s people bringing the Kingdom near. 

Last week Jesus cast out an unclean spirit in the Capernaum synagogue, a spirit that revealed our own fears and anxieties of change, of the unknown, of the future. 

And all these weeks between Epiphany and the beginning of Lent, are supposed to moment to steel ourselves for the slog of Lent. Yet, this has been hard work, being forced to face reality and deal honestly with our situation. 

In this final week of lingering, there are more miracles. Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law and then the whole town comes with their problems. They want to be healed too. 

It is no wonder that Jesus is tired by the end of the night. It is no wonder that he wants to get away and be by himself. And it is no wonder that even the disciples want more out of him. 

The miracles, the people clamouring for Jesus. This is the story of today. But as Mark tells us these stories of healing, we are begged to ask a deeper question, one that is percolating under the surface. 

Mark shows us that there are many, many people searching for healing, searching for miracles. And Jesus doesn’t accommodate them all. In fact it almost seems random and doesn’t make sense. Why heal anyone if you don’t heal everyone? 

And if you have the the time to stay and heal some people, would one more day, to finish the job, be so bad? Jesus decides to pick up and move on, and for us it doesn’t really jive. 

This Gospel lesson brings another story to mind, one that may open wide the question that is floating beneath the surface, the one that we might be afraid to ask.

In the face of suffering, in the face of pain and grief. In the face of death, we bring our greatest questions to God. And we ask why some and not others? Why heal some people and why let others suffer? Why is there no obvious reason for it all?

This moment in time has certainly opened the flood gates of questions about suffering, with a sometimes near harmless, sometimes deadly virus seemingly arbitrarily choosing who gets really sick and who doesn’t, who ends up in the hospital and who just gets the sniffles. Not to mention all the other things we have going on that are out of control from job loss to climate change, from racial justice to extreme political division based conspiracy theories. 

We know both the exhaustion that Jesus seems to have with it all (and it is only still the first chapter of Mark) and the clamouring for healing and miracles of the crowds who are coming to him. 

There is a temptation when preaching about this story tell you that we are being selfish when we ask why God isn’t solving our problems. There is the temptation to say that we only want a magic Genie God who comes at our beck and call to make our lives easier. There is the temptation to say that all human life ends in death, so a little healing here and there doesn’t really make a difference. 

But that is not fair to the reality of suffering. That does not acknowledge how much suffering and our need to be healed can come to define our very existence. And nor does it explain why sometimes it doesn’t make sense why some people are healed and some are not. 

When Simon comes and tells Jesus that people are looking for him Jesus says, “Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 

For that is what I came out to do. 

We know the message. We know what Jesus has done for us. 

But at this point in the story, Jesus hasn’t done it yet. The message that Jesus is preaching is that the Kingdom of God has come near. Those are the very first words that he says in the Gospel of Mark. 

The Kingdom has come near because the King has come near. God is near because Jesus is near. And Jesus is not only on his way to proclaim the message, Jesus is the message. The message is what we proclaim as a community of faith:

Christ has died

Christ has risen

Christ will come again. 

But the message is not just knowing the story, but discovering how exactly the story has changed our lives. 

Jesus has not come to take away our suffering. In fact, even the people who Jesus healed, they still suffered afterwards. And even still, Jesus himself suffered. 

Suffering as terrible as we know it, is normal. That doesn’t make it easy, that doesn’t make it suffering good. 

But especially these days, as our suffering and discomfort, our crisis and struggle is so acute, there is a strange comfort in know that it is not outside the normal. It isn’t *our* normal, but pandemics and economic struggles and existential threats are not unusual for creation, not new in history, and not outside of God’s purview. There is nothing that we are experiencing now that is too big for God to contend with.

God’s mission in Christ, God’s purpose in the incarnation, God’s activity in the world has not changed. God stills comes to be reconciled with God’s people. God still brings mercy and forgiveness and grace into a world that needs it. God in Christ has come near to us to do something about ultimate and permanent defeat — death. 

While life and freedom will always mean that suffering and discomfort are a part of our existence, God’s mission to creation is to redefine our existence. Not take away our pain, our suffering, our grief. Not remove death from our existence. But rather to transform it.  

On the cross, Christ takes all of our death. 

Christ does not take it away, rather Christ changes it, all of it. 

Transforms it. 

Into something new.

On the cross and then in the empty tomb, Jesus takes death and makes it something completely different. It is no longer the end of our lives. Death is now our entrance into the Kingdom of God. Suffering, pain, grief and death are near. But so is the Kingdom of God. This is the message that Jesus has come to proclaim. This why Jesus only stays for so long and why some are healed and others not. Because this healing is only temporary. But death having been transformed into resurrection. That is permanent. 

Yes, we know that suffering and death can be terrible and it can in fact come to define our very lives… but God has refined suffering, God has redefined death and God has redefined life. Yes, we come clamouring to Jesus to take away our aches and pains, to take away our grief and sorrow. But Jesus does something completely different, something that isn’t for just a few or some of us. Rather, Jesus has come into our world, joined God to all creation in order to bring us, all of us, all of creation, to New Life. 

We do not like living by faith

GOSPEL: John 1:43-51
43The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

One of the images of modern life that I often come back to is one that I heard during a radio interview with an Old Testament professor. He was describing his cancer diagnosis and how that impacted his self-perception. He said that before his meeting with his doctor that this life – the plans and dreams that he had – was loud and filled the sky. The things, ideas, and feelings going on around him  filled the airspace and the sound space of his conciousness. 

But when he left his doctor’s office after receiving his diagnosis, it was like the soundtrack to his life had been turned off. There was deafening silence. He felt small and alone. 

I can’t help but think we are all going through something similar. The soundtracks to our lives have been turned down or off. The plans and dreams that we had have been made small or erased completely. Before March of last year, our worlds were full of long term plans. From school years and retirement dates, to vacation plans and economic forecasts, to hockey season predictions and election cycle prognostications. We had plans big and small, and we were in the habit of making long-term projections and casting forward visions. 

Now, it is hard think more than public health order restriction cycle ahead. Our plans are for a few days or weeks at a time, and always with the caveat that things may change.

And nearly a year into living a life of small short terms plans, I have been reminding myself that for most of human history, people have lived this way. Living in crisis or under oppression has a way cutting plans short, of making the future hazy and uncertain. 

Last Sunday, we transitioned out of the Christmas season into the season after Epiphany. We began with the Baptism of Jesus and we will continue for next few weeks having pieces of Jesus’ ministry revealed to us, preparing us for Lent, Good Friday and Easter. 

Today, as we hear the story of Philip and Nathanael’s call to follow Jesus there is a familiar open endedness to it all. *We* might know how the story of Jesus and his disciples goes from here, but we also know that Philip and Nathanael don’t have a clue of what they are getting into. 

Philip and Nathanael’s call story is different than that of the others. Those fisherman: Peter, James and John who will leave their boats next week; they are jumping at the opportunity of a lifetime. The are leaving a life of hard labour for the opportunity of being the student of a Rabbi. 

But Nathanael and Philip, this is what they are hoping for. Philip reveals to us that he is a student searching for a teacher when he quotes the prophecy of scripture, something only a student of religion would know. Then Jesus identifies Nathanael as one too when says, “I saw you under the fig tree.” A colloquialism indicating a place of learning, as Rabbis often taught their students under the shade of a fig trees. 

Being the follower of a Rabbi in first century Israel wasn’t an invitation to a life of vagrancy that we might imagine. Rabbis were well respected members of the social structure, and learning the scriptures from a well respected teacher was a gateway into the religious system of the day, the group in power and control over Hebrew society. And being chosen by a Rabbi to follow was like winning the lottery, only the best and brightest were invited to follow. Maybe Philip and Nathanael imagined becoming Scribes or Pharisees, positions of power and privilege in the world. 

And yet, Jesus is also somewhat unknown and unconventional. He is identifiable as a Rabbi, a teacher of the faith, but he is also new to town, he just shows up and call followers. And as Jesus finds Philip and Nathanael, they find themselves following a Rabbi as they dreamed, but maybe not as certain about how this would turn out.

In fact, as the three talk it becomes clear that these two followers in search of a teacher haven’t a clue of what they are getting into. 

Likewise, we find ourselves in a similar moment. After 10 months of living small lives, we too are at a moment where we might not be too sure of what we are getting into. Our futures are uncertain, vague and hazy. 

It is a feeling we don’t like. In fact, if this year has revealed something about us, it is that we DO NOT like living by faith. 

We have been asked to trust our leaders, trust politicians, public health officials, scientists and business leaders. We have been asked or forced to cancel our plans, pull our life plans and habits back, and trust that everything will be okay. 

And it is clear that many of us do not like this at all. People have complained, protested and resisted. But even those of us who have kept the rules are probably growing quite weary of it all. 

And then you would think that as people of faith, as church folk, we would be used to the idea of trusting and living by faith that God will see us through, even when we don’t know where we are going, whether it is safe and how we are going to get there. You would think that as all of society is asked to live by faith, that people of faith could show a good example… but many of our siblings in faith have been quite the opposite. 

We too simply do not like having to trust. We want to know where we are going, we want to protect ourselves, we want to hold the map. We want to be in control of the process, to be the ones making the decisions. 

And so in 2021, and maybe more than ever before, this story of Jesus calling disciples, asking them to trust without knowing where they are going and where this is all headed… this story is uncomfortable for us. Uncomfortable for us a a society, for us a individuals and especially uncomfortable for as faith communities… especially as faith communities living with loads of uncertainty long before the words pandemic, Coronavirus, PPE and social distancing were ever introduced into our daily vocabulary.

But Jesus knows that the solution to Philip’s and Nathanael’s desire to control their future isn’t more control, more knowledge or more power. 

Jesus cuts through their anxiety and uncertainty to provide the thing that they truly need. 

The moments go by so quickly the are easy to miss. 

Jesus finds Philip. 

Jesus sees Nathanael. 

Before Philip could figure out his own way. Before Nathanael could ask his questions. Before they wonder and worry about what is coming next and where following this unconventional Rabbi would lead them.

Jesus does the knowing and the finding. 

Jesus figures out God’s way to these two disciples. Jesus makes the journey to them, knowing who they are and knowing where they need to go. 

And for all Philip and Nathanael’s desire to know their future, to know their path, to control how they will get where they are going… it is being found and being known that breaks through their hesitancy. 

When Jesus finds Philips and invites him to follow, Philip cannot help but excitedly go and tell Nathanael. 

When Jesus reveals that he has known Nathanael, who he is, his hopes and dreams, his fears and wonderings, all by simply seeing him under the fig tree…. Nathanael confesses that Jesus is God’s son. 

Because the solution to their anxiety and fear about the future… the solution to our anxiety and fear about our future is not control or knowledge. 

The solution is being found by the one who holds the future in their hands. 

The solution is being known by the one who will walk with us wherever we end up, wherever we go. 

For you see, being found and being known is exactly what God has been doing with us since the beginning. Just as God declared Jesus a beloved child last week, God declares the same with us. 

Our fears for the future are met by the God who finds us and knows us. The God who brings us into community, into God’s very body, into the community of the faithful.

As we sit in this post-Christmas New Years 2021 moment, with so many of the promises of something better in 2021 being dashed already, with fear for what comes next, with a weariness of living by faith…

God continues to do what has always done. 

Jesus finds us in the waters of baptism.

Jesus finds us in the word and prayers and hymns that proclaim God’s love for us. 

Jesus finds us no matter where we are, no matter where we worship, no matter how alone we feel. 

Jesus knows us in our siblings in faith. 

Jesus knows us intimately and fully, and declares that we are God’s children, we are God’s beloved.

Jesus knows us our story and brings us into God’s story. 

Jesus shows us that God knows our way even when it is unclear to us.

Jesus reminds us of the God who knows our past, our present and our future. 

And Jesus join us in the uncertainty that we are living through, and declares that no matter what comes that God’s plan for us is new life. 

On this second Sunday after Epiphany, when it is clear that all of our hopes, dreams and plans for the future will not come to pass as we imagined. 

Jesus finds us and Jesus knows us. 

And Jesus invites us again into God’s future. A future that might be hazy and uncertain and unclear to us, but a future that belongs to God. And even when we tired of living by faith, Jesus reminds that God continues to have faith in us. 

Amen

COCO and the God who Remembers All The Saints

Matthew 5:1-12
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
(Read the whole passage)

Reformation Day, Halloween, All Saints. These are the signposts of the end. They are way stations on our journey towards the end of the Church year. Soon it will be Advent again, and soon we will be singing of the coming birth of Christ. All Saints Sunday is one of those yearly celebrations that remind us of the cyclical nature of the church, of how we tell and retell the story of God in Christ.

All Saints Sunday also speaks to a different kind of end and different kind of waiting. It is a reminder of the big ending, of Christ coming again to gather up all the faithful, to make all creation new. All Saints is also a very specific reminder and opportunity to remember loved ones who have died. Those who have been drowned and brought to new life in the waters of baptism, and those who have taken their last breaths here on earth. And in a way, we are waiting on this day too. Waiting for that moment when all the saints will be together, in Christ, robed in white before the Lamb. We wait with hope and anticipation of God’s fulfillment of the resurrection promise.

The opportunity of All Saints is also the problem. To remember loved ones, is to revisit our grief and our suffering. It is to remember that we are lonelier without them, and that no matter how long their lives were, they left us too soon. 

This year All Saints is intensely local and personal and intimate as we remember those who have died in our community, those whom we have been unable to gather to remember and mourn and celebrate as we normally would. 

All Saints is also intensely global as we grieve and mourn those who have died here in our province: 62 people, 42 just in October. And 10,000 across Canada. And almost 1.2 million people around the world who have died during this global pandemic. And among the dead are our most vulnerable: the elderly, the poor, minorities and those on the margins.

Yet no matter whether All Saints Sunday comes on a year when we can be grateful there are only a few to remember or whether it comes when there is too much remembering to bear… our task is the same. To pray and to remember. To give thanks for saints and to entrust them again into God’s care. To trust and hope in the promise of God given to all the saints. 

And as we take up this task, we hear two stories about crowds. The first crowd is a crowd gathered around Jesus to hear the sermon on the mount. 

A sermon that forces us to deal with the tensions of grief and hope. Jesus proclaims blessing for things that really aren’t blessing. Things that we might assume we should strive for in order to be holy… poverty of spirit, meekness, righteousness, to be merciful, to be persecuted. Yet Jesus is not reciting a formula on how to be blessed or prescribing new life style choices. Rather, Jesus is making a radical statement, an outrageous reversal of how we understand the world. Jesus is describing a God, whose world is upside down from ours. Jesus tells us that God sees the poor, the suffering, the hungry, the thirsty, the mourning and the persecuted…. God see us… and declares that we are blessed.

The second crowd is the great multitude gathered before the throne of God at the end of time. A great crowd robed in white, clothed in Christ, and worshipping the lamb of God. A great crowd joined to the heavenly worship of the Kingdom of God. The great multitude of the saints who have gone before us in faith, who remind us just how big this body of Christ is, to which we belong in faith. 

Two crowds, one living and one dead. Yet forever connected to one another in the Body of Christ. 

(Pause)

For the past few years, our family has had the tradition of watching an All Saints movie together. Pixar’s movie Coco. Coco tells the story of Miguel. A young boy in Mexico who loves music but whose family has banned music for generations since his great-grandfather left his wife and daughter to pursue a career music. This point of  family conflict comes into tension right around Dia de Meurtos, the day of the dead or All Saints. 

In search of information about his grand-father, Miguel goes to the tomb of Mexico’s favourite singer, where he is magically transported to the world the dead, which is bridged to the mortal world on Dia de Meurtos. 

Along the way Miguel encounters Hector, a kind, musical grifter, who helps him.

The hinge point of the story comes because the people living in the land of the dead only continue to exist when they still remembered by the living, and Hector is in danger of being forgotten and fading away in what is called the last death. Hector’s daughter, his last living relative that knows him, is forgetting in her old age. 

Eventually Miguel, with Hector’s help, manages to reconcile with his family in both the land of the dead and the living world – with a few plot twists along the way. 

Coco is ultimately a story about the power of memory and love of family – important lessons at any time. But Coco is strongly connected to a thread that ties the movie and its story to the root of faith that Christians claim on All Saints. 

Memory. 

Being Remembered. 

Miguel’s family encouraged him to learn the stories of his ancestors, to keep vigil for them at the family ‘Ofrenda’ or offering – an altar with photos of loved ones used for Dia de Meurtos.

And we gather today with candles and photos to remember our loved ones. 

The root of All Saints in found in memory. 

And while we remember today, it is not our memory that is the most important. 

All Saints is ultimately about God’s memory. 

About God re-membering the two great crowds that we hear about day. 

The crowd listening to Jesus’ sermon on the mount and the crowd gathered before the throne at the end of time. 

Two crowds, one from the living world and one from the land of the dead. 

Made one Christ. One Body in Christ. 

A living crowd whose upside down blessings, whose world is up-ended and signal the coming Kingdom of God. 

And crowd at the end time, a crowd of the gathered faithful, crow of the poor and rich, the joyful and mourning, the hungry and the full, the merciful and merciless. 

Sinners AND Saints. 

Brought finally the throne of that same Kingdom of God that Jesus witnessed to. 

A crowd born in the memory of God. 

God who remembers us from before creation was spoken into being.

God who remembers us from before we were in our mother’s womb. 

God who remembers us throughout our lives, in our poverty, in our mourning, in our meekness, our hunger and thirst, in our need of mercy. 

God who re-members us by making us members of the body of Christ  

God whose memory puts us back to together, builds us up and assures us that we are known. 

God who re-members us, to the great multitude robed in white, unforgotten at the end of time, gathered before the throne, worshipping the lamb. 

All Saints is a promise that we are not forgotten, but that the God of life remembers us. 

And so as we gather to remember the saints, as we are joined here on this signpost day pointing to the end of the year, we are reminded that whether we remember or whether we forget, we are known.

That whether it is is year to remember just a few who have died, or like this year to remember and pray for too many – God always remembers us. 

That God remembers all the saints to the New Life that is found in Christ, to New Life promised to each one of us in the waters of baptism and New life that wraps us in the white and pure robes of Christ. 

New Life for those in the world of the living and those Brough to new life in the land of dead. 

Today, God Remembers us all – as saints belonging to the body of Christ. 

Amen. 

[James Baldwin, who was an African American writer and civil rights activist wrote, in his book Go Tell it on the Mountain powerful words that paint us a picture of what God’s promise of New life will look like: 

Then John saw the river, and the multitude was there. And a sweetness filled John as he heard the sound of singing: the singing was for him. . . . No power could hold this army back, no water disperse them, no fire consume them. They wandered in the valley forever; and they smote the rock, forever; and the waters sprang, perpetually, in the perpetual desert. They cried unto the Lord forever, they were cast down forever, and lifted up their eyes forever. No, the fire could not hurt them, and yes, the lions’ jaws were stopped; the serpent was not their master, the grave was not their resting-place, the earth was not their home. Job bore them witness, and Abraham was their father, Moses had elected to suffer with them rather than glory in sin for a season. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had gone before them into the fire, their grief had been sung by David, and Jeremiah had wept for them. Ezekiel had prophesied upon them, these scattered bones, these slain, and, in the fullness to time, the prophet, John, had come out of the wilderness, crying that the promise was for them. They were encompassed with a very cloud of witnesses: Judas, who had betrayed the Lord; Thomas, who had doubted Him; Peter, who had trembled at the crowing of a cock; Stephen, who had been stoned; Paul, who had been bound; the blind man crying in the dusty road, the dead man rising from the grave. And they looked unto Jesus, the author and the finisher of their faith, running with patience the race He had set before them; they endured the cross, and they despised the shame, and waited to join Him, one day, in glory, at the right hand of the Father.]