Well, today's Halloween. I'm not in costume per se, though if I put on my jacket I can pose as a Red Sox baseball player. Candy has been bought for our neighborhood beggars, my son is ready to act the part of a short 2 year old pirate, and I'm ready to accompany him up and down our street...especially to the house that not only gives candy to the kids, but one of those little mini sampler bottles of assorted hard liquors to each of the adults that come to the door with their children. Last year I scored a tiny bottle of Goldschlager, my wife a bottle of Aftershock.
This year I'm holding out for Captain Morgan.
What gets lost in the shuffle of ghosts and goblins and pumpkins and candy is that today is just the lead-up to tomorrow, All Saints Day. I was at a Bible Study earlier this morning where we read through Revelation 21:1-6a. For church bodies that use the Revised Common Lectionary, it's one of the assigned readings for this coming Sunday. Even if you can't quote it chapter and verse, chances are you've probably heard it at some point...most likely at a funeral. John sees the vision of a new heaven and a new earth, where pain and weeping will be no more, and God will wipe every tear from their eyes...etc. It's absolutely gorgeous imagery:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.
Unfortunately we read or hear these words and too often fall victim to "pie in the sky" theology...you know what I'm talking about: "hang in there right now because everything's gonna be better in the sweet bye-and-bye." Problem is, if we live our lives with heaven as our only hope and comfort, what then of the gift of THIS life that God gave us? I love that there are 3 tenses used in the passage. We get the future...He WILL dwell with them...he WILL wipe every tear....etc. We get the present...It IS done! I AM the Alpha and the Omega.
But then we get another form of the present. "See, I AM MAKING all things new." It's something that's in the process of happening. It has begun, but hasn't yet been brought to completion.
And THAT'S where the true beauty of All Saints Sunday lies. Yes, we have the hope of heaven, where God WILL wipe every tear from our eyes. Yes, we have the assurance that God IS here right now with us, very much alive and very much in power. But most importantly, I think, is that sense of the work of the kingdom having started and not yet brought to completion. We don't need to wait until we die to realize our sainthood. Christ has MADE us saints through his death and resurrection, and we're called to be saints to each other and for the sake of the world. One of the great little nuggets of Lutheran theology is the idea of "simul justus et peccator," or simultaneously saint and sinner. Yeah, I'm a sinner...I am a chronic screw-up. But at the same time I am also a saint, not through anything I've done, but through what Christ has done for me.
So while Christ's work making us saints is completed, our work of BEING those saints to each other is not. All Saints Sunday isn't just a time to remember a bunch of dead people...it's a time to renew our calling as people made alive in Christ. It's almost a second Easter--a remembering of the victory over death not just in the future, but now.
So in honor of All Hallows Eve and All Saints Sunday, I give you Holy Sonnet 10 by John Donne, better known as "Death Be Not Proud." Imagine Jesus on Easter morning, stone rolled away, SHOUTING the final line:
"Death, thou shalt DIE!"
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so ;
For those, whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy picture[s] be,
Much pleasure, then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou'rt slave to Fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well,
And better than thy stroke ; why swell'st thou then ?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And Death shall be no more ; Death, thou shalt die.