All Saints' Sunday, 6 November 2016

Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
Psalm 149
Ephesians 1:11-23
Saint Luke 6:20-31

Background: All Saints’ Sunday
One wonders how the popularity of this festival became so great that it has spilled over to the Sunday following, thus assuring its celebration. The original feast in the West was celebrated on 13 May (roughly similar to its celebration in the East) where it commemorated the dedication in 609 of the Pantheon in Rome by Pope Boniface IV to Sanctae Mariae ad Martyres. Later, ca. 735, the feast was moved to 1 November at the dedication of an oratory at Saint Peter’s Basilica for the relics of the holy apostles and of all saints, martyrs, and confessors. In some churches, the day has become conflated with All Souls’ Day (2 November) in which the general commemoration of the saints is combined with a remembrance of all the dead.

First Reading: Daniel 7:1-3,15-18

In the first year of King Belshazzar of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head as he lay in bed. Then he wrote down the dream: I, Daniel, saw in my vision by night the four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea, and four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another.

As for me, Daniel, my spirit was troubled within me, and the visions of my head terrified me. I approached one of the attendants to ask him the truth concerning all this. So he said that he would disclose to me the interpretation of the matter: "As for these four great beasts, four kings shall arise out of the earth. But the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom for ever—for ever and ever."

Daniel, both the book and the character are complex entities. We have seen Daniel as a prophet, a dream-teller and interpreter, but unlike the prophets of old who did not attempt to peer into the future but rather mediate God’s message for the present time, Daniel is predictive. It is the product of a Judaism that was reeling under the abusive policies of Antiochus IV Epiphanus, and wanted to see a way out, a means for redemption and salvation. The book is written both Hebrew and Aramaic, and thus represents something of a collection of teachings and sayings that comment on their times, most likely the product of several authors. The book also introduces ideas, which were new to Judaism, namely the notion of the resurrection of the dead. Thus it represents to us a Judaism influenced not only by the Greek ideas of Hellenism, but also by ideas flowing out of Persia as well.

In our pericope we meet a Daniel who is modeled on the great dream-teller Joseph (Matthew will also use this model in his Birth Narrative). He has a vision of four beasts and is disturbed by it. If we note resemblances with the Dead Sea Scroll materials, and later with the Book of Revelation it is because the former was being written at about this same time, and the later was definitely influenced by Daniel. Why is this reading included here? “The holy ones of the Most High” seem the most likely reason that this text was included by the framers of the Lectionary. That would provide for a distinctly Christian reading of that text. Most commentators see the reference as to the angels. And it is the angels that make frequent and useful appearances in the course of the book. Perhaps anyone preaching on this text could see in that comparison and behavior a description of the saints.

Breaking open Daniel:
1.          What visions do you have about the church and its future?
2.          What about your own future?
3.         Who is your guide into the future?

Psalm 149 Cantate Domino

Sing to the LORD a new song; *
sing his praise in the congregation of the faithful.

Let Israel rejoice in his Maker; *
let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.

Let them praise his Name in the dance; *
let them sing praise to him with timbrel and harp.

For the LORD takes pleasure in his people *
and adorns the poor with victory.

Let the faithful rejoice in triumph; *
let them be joyful on their beds.

Let the praises of God be in their throat *
and a two-edged sword in their hand;

To wreak vengeance on the nations *
and punishment on the peoples;

To bind their kings in chains *
and their nobles with links of iron;

To inflict on them the judgment decreed; *
this is glory for all his faithful people.

If this psalm is late, and there are a couple of indications that it is so – the reference to “adorning the poor with victory”,  “let them be joyful on their beds.” – the first being a retelling of the people’s story of deliverance (here described as “the poor”) who are graced with victory over their enemies, and the second to the late practice of reclining to eat, as at a banquet. The whole psalm evokes a celebration of praise of God for the victory given to God’s people. Perhaps this is the connection to the day that honors all the saints – whether known or unknown, the people of God’s grace are given the victory.

Breaking open Psalm 149:

1.     What kinds of victory has God given you?
2.     What kinds of victory have you given others?
3.    How are the saints victorious?

Second Reading: Ephesians 1:11-23

In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people, to the praise of his glory.

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

The patterns of blessing in the Hebrew Scriptures, and the developing forms of Christian worship certainly have influenced Paul’s words here, if not actually borrowed by him. While our pericope are not words of blessing per se, they convey the blessings that are inherent in Christ, and that Paul wishes to explicate to the people of Ephesus. The saints are mentioned numerous times in the text, but it is the raising of Jesus, and his exultation to the right hand of power and dominion that is the true center of Paul’s focus. Of special interest is Paul’s idea of pleroma the fullness of Christ, and the saints that comprise the church, completing the universe with an abundance of God’s grace and mercy in Christ Jesus.

Breaking open Ephesians:
  1. How is Christ a blessing in your life?
  2. How do you bless others?
  3. How would you like to be blessed?

Holy Gospel: Saint Luke 6:20-31

Jesus looked up at his disciples and said:
"Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
"Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
"Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
"Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
"But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
"Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
"Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
"Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets

"But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you."

Here we have Jesus forming his disciples, and the casual hearer as well. The initial four blessings, there is the Lucan focus on the poor and dispossessed. We don’t experience the spiritualization that Matthew applies to his beatitudes – here it is simply the poor, the hungry, those who weep, and the hated. One idea worthy of exploration might be is this either an existential reality (being poor) or an adopted reality (mendicancy). What follows, however, is at once a departure from the blessings, but also a patterning after the style of “Blessings and Curses” found in the Hebrew Scriptures. His reversal of the fortunes of the first four underscores the great messianic reversal that this text looks forward to. The question for the casual reader or for the lector or preacher is one of reality. Who am I in this equation, and what must I do to be on the right side of things? The final paragraph speaks of reversals over which we have a modicum of control – loving enemies, doing good to those who hate, blessing those who curse. These are the behaviors of the redeemed, and it seems odd that amongst Christians today such behaviors are seen as weak and unfaithful. I suspect that few preachers venture into the Lucan version, and most certainly avoid the final paragraph of this pericope. It is time for refreshment and challenge

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     In what way are you poor?
2.     In what way are you rich?
3.    How do you reconcile the two?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday. 

Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2016, Michael T. Hiller


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