“The Supper at Emmaus” Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (1622-23). Public Domain.
5When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
The Beatitudes “Everyone sometime has somebody close die,” writes my favorite poet, Wisława Szymborska. Between to be or not to be He’s forced to choose the latter.
We can’t admit that it’s a mundane fact, Subsumed in the course of events, In accordance with procedure:
Sooner or later on the daily docket, The evening, late night, or first dawn docket;
And explicit as an entry in an index, As a statute in a codex, As any hance date on a calendar.
But such is the right and left of nature. Such, willy-nilly, is her omen and her amen. Such are her instruments and omnipotence.
And only on occasion A small favor on her part-- She tosses our dead loved ones Into dreams.
There are some whose memory lives on well beyond their passing. By invention, military conquest, power, fame, wealth, monuments, and mausoleums are erected to only a select few in human history.
Two famous buildings, the Great Pyramid of Giza and the Taj Mahal in India, were built centuries ago as places of remembrance to important people. The second pharaoh of Egypt’s Fourth Dynasty, Khufu, commissioned the great pyramid while still alive so he could be worshiped after his death. The Taj Mahal was commissioned in the 17th century by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to memorialize his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died while giving birth to the couple’s 14th child.
We also remember those whose inventions carry their name: Samuel Colt’s Colt revolver, Rudolph Diesel’s Diesel engine, George Washington Gale Ferris’s Ferris wheel, and Hans Geiger’s Geiger Counter. But what about the rest of us, the rest of humanity? What about all those people who lived and died through the centuries that did not discover some distant land, invent some new contraption, or have the wealth to donate to an institution and receive a hall named after them?
What about the people, those who we loved and were good to us, whose only lasting memory is the one we hold, when, as Szymborska puts it, “[nature] tosses our dead loved ones into dreams.”
All Saint’s Day is a Christian feast day celebrated by Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and many Protestant churches worldwide. The day commemorates all the saints, known and unknown, and is part of a Christian season that includes Halloween, All Saint’s Day, and All Soul’s Day.
This short season calls on the faithful to remember those that have gone before them, specifically those this world might forget.
In this way, our gospel reading from the Beatitudes makes sense. Here Jesus describes an alternative reality, one in which those that are most harmed by human evils are comforted and vindicated by God. Jesus does not count the wealthy, privileged, powerful, violent, conquering, and corrupt as receiving God’s favor. Instead, God’s blessing resides with the humans who are at the end of their rope, who are grieving, and who do not have enough, not because of their difficult circumstances, but because God prefers to show up during difficult circumstances. God can also be found in those that have searched for the good in this world and been severely let down, and in the caretakers of those that are forgotten. God abides in those that set their hearts and minds on good and noble things and in those who show people how to work differences out peacefully.
These are not special people, as our world measures specialness. Likely, these folks do not have a great wonder of the world to mark their burial place, a lasting invention that bears their name, or a place in our children’s textbooks.
But we know them. Those faces from our past that show up in our good dreams because they were good people. They can be mothers and fathers, or not. Siblings and other family members sometimes. A teacher, professor, or coach or maybe a really good friend or mentor. And despite not being wealthy, or powerful, forceful, or connected, you remember them as blessed. Because they persisted. Because they were truthful. Because they were kind and sincere and filled with a loving grace. They were not perfect, but no saint is. And even after they are gone, they still give us power and strength today. Because God was with them, was present in their lives in some explicit way or otherwise.
How we are to other people matters. All Saint’s Day reminds us of that because we are asked to remember those blessed people in our lives that graced us with their good presence and have since moved on. So, remember the good ones, and consider what part of them lives on in you.
And remember, you too, are blessed by God. Reflect that. Live as a blessing to those around you. Measure success the way Jesus measured success. If you do, you will need no monument, mausoleum, or hall named after you. You will be remembered when it matters by those that matter most. Amen.