Today is called All Saints Day on the Christian calendar. It is the day that follows Halloween, which is also called All Hallow's Eve. People in the ancient world would dress in a costume on All Hallow's Eve so that the spirits that they believed inhabited the earth could not recognize them. That is one of the reasons why people dress up on Halloween besides wanting to have fun at a party or give out candy to kids who come by dressed in costumes.
On the day following Halloween, today, All Saints Day, we think about the spirits of those who have departed the earth since last year at this time and we remember them and the lives they lived. This next Sunday, will be All Saints Sunday, or in our church, since it has German roots--Totenfest or Festival of the Dead. This Sunday we will read aloud the names of those members of our church who have died since this same time last year. We have 11 names to read this year. As we say each name, we will light a candle in their memory and ring our church bell one time. Then those present will be invited to say aloud others whom they remember who have died this year. We will ring a bell in their memories also.
The Gospel lection for All Saints Day and for next Sunday will be from Luke's Gospel 6:20-31. It is the reading of Jesus giving the "Sermon on the Plain", Luke's version of the Sermon on the Mount that is found in Matthew's Gospel, only in Luke's account, Jesus is down on the plain at eye level with his audience rather than sitting on a hillside with people scattered here and there. Jesus in Luke's account emphasizes the present time status of people living rather than the Kingdom of Heaven.
"Blessed and you who are poor" (not in spirit, but really poor)...and "you who are hungry" (really hungry, stomachs growling), and "you who weep". And the reason these people are blessed is because Jesus says their situations are just temporary and soon they will find blessings and food, and laughter. But those who are already rich and well fed and laughing will have a time come when their situation will change also and they will need help. Jesus was talking to poor people who struggled just to have food on a daily basis and they needed encouragement.
Then Jesus in Luke repeats what he says in Matthew about loving your enemies and doing good even to those who mistreat you, giving your shirt away even to those who beg. Then we find the Golden Rule to sum it up..."Do to others as you would have them do to you." (Luke 6:31)
This section from Luke is appropriate for All Saints Day and for All Saints Sunday as it gives us something to think about as we remember the lives of those who meant a lot to us on earth and now reside in heaven. In many ways, those whom we honor on this special day or Sunday exhibited some of the ways of living that Jesus encouraged, giving to others as they could, treating others with respect, and even sacrificing on behalf of others. We call them Saints, not because they were perfect, but because they were striving daily to live in such a way that their lives would be pleasing to God. They attempted to live by the Golden Rule as much as they could too. So, their lives are meant to be an inspiration to us who are still living so we will live holy lives in every way we can.
The word "Saint" has had a meaning that is not actually biblical. Perfection is not something that is necessary for an earthly being to be called a Saint. The term is used in the epistles to refer to those who were members of the early church who were continuing to be faithful to the church despite encountering difficulties such as persecution and social ostracism. Paul often praised the members of the churches he had helped to establish for their faithfulness and devotion, despite things happening in their social setting. The word "saint" was used by Paul and others to refer to these people because they continued to try to live as Christians despite the hindrances they may have in their lives.
So, we are encouraged also to try to live as saints in this world, not relying upon our ability to be perfect but upon our devotion and faithfulness to the Christian message and to the church we have been called to support.
May those who come behind us find us faithful! Amen.