So the Christian language, or “Christian-ese” as many people call it, is a confusing one, because it seems to be full of contradictions and opposite meanings that we have learned and are used to our English speaking world. Only in the Christian language do we get confusing phrases like “washed by the blood of the Lamb” or “the first will be last” or “washed by the blood of the Lamb”. Yeah, I couldn’t think of a third one but seriously, washed by blood? I’ll stay dirty, thanks.
These confusing terms might make sense to those who were raised in the church or spent a lot of time listening to preachers or are actually preachers themselves, but for the average non-church-going person, they make no sense. And without proper context, they can be a real turn off, like just imagine what people think when we tell them that we eat the body of blood of Jesus every week. While that might be an extreme example and most people would hear something like that and just know that it is figurative because of the sheer absurdity of it, but there are other words that we have in scripture that are much more subtle in how their “Christian” meanings are different from their actual English meanings that we are used to.
Three of those words come up today: hope, blessed, and saint. At first glance, we might think we know exactly what they mean. Of course, they aren’t uncommon words or anything. Hope is wishful thinking, to be blessed means you’re lucky, and a saint is a really really really good person. Those definitions are correct and we are used to them, and so we would naturally apply those definitions to the terms we hear in scripture. But that isn’t always the correct way of reading it. And I know, you would think that they would just use the correct word in our bible translations, but hey, all languages have their limitations.
Hope is a common word we use in our Christianese, found in our second reading today. We hear it in our liturgy, I use it in my sermons, we talk about it all the time in our regular everyday conversations. “I hope so-and-so feels better” or “I hope it doesn’t snow today” or “I hope it snows today” or “I hope this sermon doesn’t last forever” and so forth. Like I said, we see hope as a wish, a desire, something that we would like to happen. But the one thing that is common in our hopes is that they are usually things we cannot control. We can’t control how people feel physically, emotionally, or otherwise. They will feel what they do and we can be there with them through it and hope they feel better, but we cannot control it. We can’t control the weather, so if it snows or not, it will just happen regardless of how inconvenient it might be for us. We can shovel, salt, buy snow tires, but we can’t control it. We cannot control how long this sermon goes, we can listen or fight to stay awake, but we can’t control it. Well, I can, and let me tell you, you better get comfortable in your seats.
But then we hear the very Christianese term “in the sure and certain hope”… uh hwat? I mean, is the very nature of hope uncertainty? Isn’t that why we even have to hope at all? Because we don’t know the outcome or have any control in the matter? But the language we use, typically around funerals, seems to contradict that.
The thing is, the Christian hope isn’t a wishful thinking, but it is more of a longing and a waiting. It is knowing what the outcome will be, but just not when that outcome will happen. The full term we hear is usually the “sure and certain hope in the resurrection,” meaning that we know that there is a resurrection, we know that we celebrate together the life eternal in the community of Christ, and we know that although our earthly bodies die, none of us will ever really be lost. The Christian hope isn’t a wish that this will happen, but the Christian hope is the assurance that this will happen, this is what it is, that we can draw confidence from this truth that we may live in the here and now as God’s children and servants, unafraid of what the future may bring because death doesn’t end us or our influence on those around us. It is the certainty that even after death we are not and will not be forgotten, that the love for us and from us for those around us does not end, and that future generations will light a candle for us when they celebrate All Saint’s Day. So again, the Christian meaning for hope isn’t a wish or desire, but it is confidence we can draw from certainty of God’s promises and faithfulness.
The next word which we got in spades today is “blessed.” Usually we think that means that we’re lucky. We talk about our blessings, which are typically the good things that we have or have happened to us. We ask God to bless our loved ones, our time, and pretty much anything that we hope will be better, more meaningful, or shorter (like this sermon). “O God, please bless this sermon to speak to me in the most efficient way possible.” But typically, being blessed is a good thing, it is something that we want or desire, it is maybe even something we could be envious about because those around us are more blessed than we are (at least they seem so on social media).
So when we hear texts like today, the famous Beatitudes as we have them in Matthew, we are confused. How can the poor in spirit be blessed? How can those who mourn or are persecuted lucky? It isn’t exactly desirable to be meek or have people falsely utter evil about us. So clearly, the Christian meaning for blessed is different than what we are used to.
Essentially, when the bible says “blessed,” it doesn’t mean lucky per se, but it means that we are not alone, and because God promises us that God will be with us. God, the very nature of love, will be with us among our peers, through our families and friends, in and around our communities and congregations. All these traits or bad situations that people find themselves in as listed through the Beatitudes do not remove them out of God’s love. While we often think that God with us or smiling on us or blessing us means that we have a good life, it actually means that God is with us, comforting us, giving us peace in spite of our bad lives, making life more bearable, even more desirable because all of a sudden life is full of hope. And not just the wishful thinking kind of hope but the sure and certain hope in the resurrection, knowing that we are loved and that we, by the very nature of being children of God, are full of value and worth. When we are told that we are blessed even when all this stuff happens and said stuff hits the fan, when we are told that we are blessed even when we are at the end of our ropes and our backs are up against the wall, when we are told that we are blessed in the deepest and darkest and most lonely times of life, then we are reminded that God’s peace and love that surpasses all understanding still resides with us, supports us through the hardship, and lifts us up to that new everlasting life with all the saints.
And that brings us to the final word that I want to talk about today, on this All Saints Day: saint. As I said we normally see a saint as a really really really good person. We call all the gospel writers saints. We call all the disciples saints. And we call those we loved so much who have died saints. The gospel writers and the disciples, sure we can see them as really really really good people, but those that have died? No disrespect to the deceased or not to belittle their lives and may they rest in peace, but were they really really really good people? We just lost Ruth and yeah, while she had her quirks we might be able to get away with calling her a saint. But I also lost my dad this year, and a saint? Again, no disrespect for the deceased but really, a saint he was not. He was helpful and generous, sure, but he was also mean, rude, and a bit of a braggart (I guess the chip doesn’t fall too far away from the old block).
But you know what? I still lit a candle for him, because while he wasn’t a really really really good person, he was, is, and forever will be a saint. See a saint doesn’t have to be an outstanding citizen or an exemplary person, but a saint is one who is welcomed into God’s kingdom, embraced by God’s love, forgiven by God’s grace.
Now wait, you might think, wouldn’t that mean we’re all saints then? Well, yeah. We are all saints. Not because of what we have done or who we are or how many people we can impress with our accomplishments or theological understanding or our really sweet selfies posted on social media. No, we are saints because God chooses to bless us with the sure and certain hope in the resurrection.
The point of all this wasn’t just to educate or condescend or bore, but it is to allow us to reimagine life and the possibilities graciously given to us. It is to help us understand the counter-cultural ways of God, reinventing what we know and making into something new and good. It is to remind us of our unchanging position in God’s love, God’s community, God’s everlasting life as we are all joined together with this gospel, this good news that we are God’s people, called to be saints, blessed with love and peace, given the hope that will sustain us in this life and in the life to come.
Yes, we mourn the loss of our loved ones. We miss Ruth. I miss my dad. But in our understanding of God’s promises, our acceptance of how we are all welcomed into God’s arms of love, our belief in resurrection gives us that sure and certain hope that those loved ones are not far away. In fact, they are very near. They live on within us, around us, truly present here in this community, joining us in our worship, praying with us for the sake of the world, and being loved by the God who created the universe.
So today, on this All Saints Sunday, let us embrace the blessed hope of the resurrection, accepting that we are all called saints by the grace of God, and we are always, eternally, forever welcomed into God’s community and kingdom. Thanks be to God. Amen.