sermon art: Communion of Saints by Elise Ritter
Pastor Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran church on November 5, 2023
[sermon begins after the Bible reading – the 1 John reading is at the end of the sermon]
This Bible reading is often called “The Beatitudes” for the “Blessed.” My sermon is written in beatitude form – beginning with the concerns of the world and shifting to words of comfort…
Matthew 5:1-12 When 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.”
What does the world want? I mean the world that doesn’t include opportunists, oppressors, and oligarchs. I mean us, people – young, old, sick, healthy; all genders, religions, and colors. Regular people all around the world. What does the world want? Well, I haven’t interviewed the world, but I read a lot, listen to people a lot, and wonder about this question A LOT. People seem to want similar things – including enough love, food, shelter, income, community, peace, and health to lead meaningful lives. These near-universal wants hit home at last week’s concert here in our sanctuary. 100 voices combined in song to sing Tuvayun, the nine verses of the Beatitudes that we heard in the Matthew reading today that begin with “Blessed.”  Tuvayun is Aramaic for “blessed,” a language that Jesus spoke.
There was this moment in Tuvayun entitled “I Hope” when each member of our Chancel Choir and the Colorado Chorale spoke their own words of hope, first one at a time and then all at the same time. It was cacophony of words piled on words, hope piled on hope. Hope so full and urgent that it rang through our ears to our hearts until mine broke into sobs. (I think Rob was worried about me for a minute.) Through the tears and heart broken open, I thought that these could be the voices of just about everyone in the world, hoping upon hope that we could get our collective act together so that everyone could simply live.
Jesus sums up reality’s clash with hope in the Beatitudes. Blessed are the depressed, the grieving, the merciful, the pure heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted, and the slandered. Folks who bear the burdens of despair, grief, persecution, justice, and pure hearts know the lament that comes with their heavy load. Jesus hears their cries and sees their suffering. His list of nine beatitudes is a precious gift as people’s pain is heard and seen. Jesus doesn’t stop there. He offers a word of hope.
Hope as blessings are revealed. There isn’t a lot of agreement about what “blessed” means in the Matthew reading. Because Jesus was Jewish and likely had some rabbinic training, I hang my hat with the rabbis on this one; that a blessing is something that already exists and occasionally we get a glimpse of the blessing that already exists. The rabbinic view is in opposition to our 21st century view that a blessing is like being tapped by a fairy wand and something good happens because of how deserving we are. The Jewish notion of “blessed” helps us see life in full, revealing not only God’s promises when we suffer but also our call as conduits of blessing when we encounter suffering around us. God’s work. Our hands.
On All Saints Day, it’s important to note that the blessing is not the suffering itself. The church has done some damage over the years with this kind of thinking. Opportunists, oppressors, and oligarchs are the ones who don’t want what most of the world wants. They perpetuate injustice, suffering, and violence to disrupt and take advantage of the disruption to gain power and wealth over and against most of the people in the world. Let’s not confuse their corruption as something from God.
Let’s focus on the saints. In Lutheran Christianity, saints are regular people like you and me who are touched by the waters of baptism. We’re sainted by the power of the Holy Spirit and together we add up to the body of Christ. (Another weird bit of Christian math kind of like the Trinity.) Sometimes we do super special things and most of the time we don’t. Martin Luther called this being saint and sinner at the same time – simul iustus et peccator. I sometimes use this language when I welcome people at the beginnings of funerals or other events here. I’ll say something like, “Good morning, I’m Pastor Caitlin, and I welcome you on behalf of the sinner-saints of Augustana.” When I say this, I know that most people probably don’t know what it means but I like it because it’s true. Sinners the lot of us. And I want people to know that we know that, especially since some people have an experience of Christians as enamored with their own importance.
The other thing that’s said at funerals is a prayer of Commendation at the end of the funeral. There are different prayers of Commendation but the one that I say most goes like this…
Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant, __________. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive him into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen.
We say this prayer as a request, asking God to receive the person who died. But it’s a request to which we’ve been given the answer in baptism. God’s answer to this request is, “Yes.” God enfolds us in the life of God here and now. And God enfolds us in the life of God when we die. We’re enfolded in the life of God and “into the glorious company of the saints in light.” Now I don’t know what that means exactly. None of us does on this side of death. But it’s that glorious company of the saints in light that captures the imagination – seeing again much grieved for loved ones and friends. I’ve said prayers of Commendation many, many times as I touch urns or caskets. It’s the line about joining the saints in light that fills my heart with hope.
Last week, I was able to join by zoom the funeral of a dear colleague and friend, Andrea Doeden. Her congregation is in Trinidad, Colorado. As I watched the communion line that lasted for three full hymns and part of a fourth, I was struck by the mundane act of communion – coming forward, hands outstretched, bread and wine offered and eaten – and the mystical union that we have with Jesus and each other when we commune. We’re connected across time with the many who have come before us who make up the glorious company of the saints in light. We’re connect across time with Jesus and the saints who will come after us. Then I watched Bishop Jim commend Andrea to “the mercy of God, our maker and redeemer.” He put his hand on her urn, her photo next to it surrounded by flowers, and he prayed the prayer. Even in my sadness, I felt it, the mystery of communion with the saints in light.
Death cannot unlove a life that is loved. In fact, nothing can unlove a life that is already loved because love is from God. The full measure of God’s love is that God loves you into life and God’s loves you through your last breath. The people listed in the bulletin today, the people named because they took their last breath in the past year, the people we commune with when we take communion, God loved them into life and God loved them on the way out. As you live and breathe today, God loves you. As you live through your last breath, God loves you. You are enfolded in the life of God, created in God’s image, and beloved through God’s death in Jesus on the cross – a wounded and beautiful Savior. You are sainted by God’s activity, not your own. In the words of the First John reading:
“Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when [Christ] is revealed, we will be like him.”
Alleluia! And Amen!
1 John 3:1-3 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
 The form of this sermon is written like a Beatitude, like Jesus’ “Blessed are…” statements in the gospel of Matthew reading. I begin with the cares and sufferings of the world and then proceed to the word of hope.
 Matt Skinner, Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN. Discussion on Sermon Brainwave podcast for November 5, 2023.
 1 John 4:7 “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” NRSV. A few verses later is 1 John 4:12 which is actually my favorite verse of all time. “No one has ever see God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and [God’s] love is made complete in us.” When I couldn’t pick up a Bible after many years out of the church, this was the verse that drew me back in.
 1 John 3:2