All Saints Sunday

Beatitudes

The Beatitudes that we just read form such a poetic and wonderful introduction to Jesus Sermon on the Mount which is the Gospel reading for this All Saints Sunday. Beatitude means blessing.

These blessings form a list of qualities, virtues, and actions that frame a Christian life – we’re encouraged to adopt them and live them in our own lives. Poor in spirit, mournful at the plight of the world, meek, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, makers of peace, willing to suffer for the sake of doing right and seeking equity for all.

Imagine what it might be like to see the Beatitudes practiced and lived. What might a Beatitudinal community look like?

We’ve seen glimpses. There was the convent of sisters led by Mother Teresa ministering to the severest illnesses among the poorest of the poor in India. There was the Beloved Community of Martin Luther King, Jr. whose non-violent movement led to the collapse of Jim Crow.

Beatitudinal Community

Throughout 1988 and 1989, every Monday night people gathered in St. Nicholas’ Church in Leipzig, Germany, to pray for peace and freedom. Leipzig was in The German Democratic Republic, what we in the west called East Germany. These folk lived behind the wall that divided Berlin and the two Germanies. The prayers for peace began to attract larger numbers of people. State authorities set up roadblocks, arrested participants, and tried to cancel the peace prayers altogether. But the crowds kept coming and growing to the point that the two-thousand seats in the church were insufficient.

On October 9, 1989, some 1,000 Communist Party members along with Stasi (state police) were ordered to go to St. Nicholas Church in an attempt to take the majority of seats before the peace pray-ers arrived in early evening. 600 of them were in the church nave by 2 pm. What many haven’t considered is that these folk were exposed to the word, to the Gospel. At each gathering the Beatitudes were read.

One of the clergy from St. Nicholas has written:

I always appreciated that the Stasi members heard the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount every Monday. Where else would they hear these? So these people heard Jesus Christ’s Gospel, which they didn’t know, in a church they couldn’t do anything with. They heard from Jesus, “Blessed are the poor!” Blessed are the meek!” “Blessed are the persecuted!”

The prayers for peace that particular night ended with the bishop’s blessing and the urgent call for non-violence. More than 2,000 people leaving the church were welcomed by tens of thousands waiting outside with candles in their hands – an un-forgettable moment. Two hands are necessary to carry a candle and to protect it from extinguishing so that you cannot carry stones or clubs at the same time. The miracle occurred. Jesus’ spirit of non-violence seized the masses and became a material, peaceful power.

Within a month, this movement caused the party and the ideological dictatorship to collapse, on November 9, 1989.

Horst Sindermann, who was a member of the Central Committee of East Germany, said before his death: “We had planned everything. We were prepared for everything. But not for candles and prayers.”[1]

People who had never heard the Gospel, standing outside of the Christian community, heard the words of Jesus and watched as they were practiced in deed. And they were blessed. The world was blessed.

The passage we heard from the Revelation to John speaks of a vision of heaven:

“After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.”

I like to think that the Communist Party members and the Stasi are among those multitudes that were too great to number. Looking at the Beatitudinal community, from the outside, they found themselves transformed.

I Am Baptized

The part of Germany near and around Leipzig was the area where Martin Luther lived and worked and witnessed almost 500 years earlier. Luther, leader of the Protestant Reformation, was strongly opposed and resisted by many religious and secular authorities of his day. When Luther was feeling alone and oppressed, consumed by self-doubt, he would remind himself, “I am baptized!” It was a way of affirming that he was not alone – he was a child of God, and he was surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses: the saints of God.

The Church of Domine Quo Vadis | Christ Episcopal Church Dayton Ohio

The Church of Domine Quo Vadis

Domine Quo Vadis

There is a story[2] that comes to us from the early days of the church. Just outside the wall of Rome along the Appian Way sits a tiny church. It would be easy to miss altogether.

The story goes that St. Peter came to Rome when Nero was Emperor. A great fire broke out and burned much of the city. Nero blamed the Christians and used the fire as an excuse to round up and persecute them.

Warned that his life was in grave danger, Peter fled the city via the Appian Way to get to safety.  He got just beyond the wall to the spot where the little church stands.

In Latin, the church is named “Domine Quo Vadis.”  In English, it’s “The Church of ‘Lord, Where are You Going?’.”

According to the apocryphal Acts of Peter, it was here that he encountered the risen Christ.  He saw Jesus walking in the opposite direction going back toward the city.  Peter, astonished, asked Jesus, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus responded, “I am going back to Rome to be crucified again.”

Peter believed that the divine life of Christ actually lived within him and within all believers.  Earlier, he had recorded this in the New Testament:

Christ has given us . . .  his precious and very great promises, so that through them you. . .  may become participants of the divine nature,[3]

Because of this, he knew that Jesus was telling him to go back to Rome where, as a participant in the divine nature of Christ, he would be crucified.   Peter would not be alone on that cross.  Jesus was with him – living through him – crucified again.  So Peter obeyed.  He returned, was arrested, and crucified upside down on a cross.

Let us pray: “Domine Quo Vadis?”  Lord, where are we going?  How is the Spirit calling us to participate in the divine nature?  Where does Christ want to take us? How can we be his hands and feet in our time?

Baptisms on All Saints Sunday

Today, as we observe the Feast of All the Saints, we are baptizing five children.

All Saints’ Sunday is a family reunion. Barbara Brown Taylor[4] says that all of these saints are our relatives. And the reason we have baptisms today is that we want the new saints to meet the old ones. We don’t want them to miss knowing and connecting with their ancestors.

We are family | Christ Episcopal Church Dayton Ohio

We are family

(To the children and their families) We welcome you to this family! Remember that you are baptized! Live the beatitudes! Be a blessing! Be blessed! And let us all ask, “Domine Quo vadis?” “Lord, where are you going?” And then follow.

I have a suggestion about one way you can do that. You may have seen the red wagons we have just outside the doors to this worship space. We use them to collect food for adults and children who don’t have enough to eat. At the offering time we pull those wagons into the church, offer the food to God, who then has us take the food to God’s hungry people. Every week when you come to church, you can help by bringing a can of beans or a package of pasta or some other healthy food to share. Children are a very important part of this family along with St. Peter and all the other saints. Can you do that?

Wonderful!

Let the candidates for Holy Baptism now be presented.

[1] The Rev. C. Fuhrer, St. Nicholas At Leipzig.

[2] From a blog posted on October 25, 2014: http://aprillovefordham.com/2014/10/25/a-participant-in-the-divine-nature-of-christ-who-me/ and accessed by me on Oct. 26, at 8 pm.

[3] 2Pe 1:2-4

[4] Barbara Brown Taylor, Home By Another Way.