All Saints, observed
November 6, 2022 A+D
St. Matthew 5: 1-12
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
The beatitudes foretell the suffering of the Church and her hidden glory. This is a constant theme in Holy Scripture and in the preaching of Jesus. In Matthew 10 Jesus says to His disciples: “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” To go as sheep into the midst of wolves means that we go to be slaughtered. To be wise as serpents and harmless as doves means that we should know it is coming and trust in the Spirit to see us through. We are poor in spirit, reviled by the world, and suffering an onslaught of sorrow, but the Kingdom of heaven is ours.
Imagine a pack of blood thirsty wolves attacking a few straggling sheep. The sheep are weak. They have no claws or teeth sufficient to resist wolves. Nor are they swift or clever. The strategy of the pack, whether it is gazelles, herring, or sheep, is to accept the loss of a few that the majority would escape. We will run away while the wolves stop to devour our brethren. Nature in this fallen world is cruel to the weak. The flock does not, by nature, care. It only seeks to survive. It is willing to pay the price.
But that changes if there is a shepherd. The shepherd cares for each of them. He sacrifices Himself so that none is lost. The flock learns in Him to love the weak and thus do we honor and rejoice in the poor in spirit, the mourning, the meek, and the hungry. The illustration of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, defending and leading us by laying down His life, could not be more pointed or apt.
But there is more to it than simply finding a fortress and safety in Christ. That is essential, but it is not the complete picture. The Lord says not only “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” but also “Blessed are you when you are persecuted or evil things are said of you because of My Name.” He might as well have said, “Blessed are you when you are devoured by wolves.” Most of the rewards promised in the Beatitudes are in the future tense: “You will inherit the earth. You will rejoice. You will be filled.” All that after the devouring. But there is also a promise for right now. “Yours is the Kingdom.” Blessed are you now, in your sorrows, in your cruciform life, in the midst of enemies. You are blessed because you belong to Christ and He belongs to you. He takes your sins and gives you His Kingdom. For the time being it is hidden from the world. Here the King rules by forgiveness that bestows blessedness that separates us from the world.
That is a gracious separation, but it is also painful. Elsewhere in Scripture He compares it to pruning and to the violent refining of precious metals. The old man does not enjoy drowning. The heart resists circumcision. The mind rebels against correction and rebuke and it chafes under rules. All the while the devil is beckoning us to the wide, easy road.
But we won’t go that way. The way of Jesus is the way of the cross. We go that way for it is the way of blessedness. The suffering, life, and death of Jesus is not merely a substitution or a payment. It is that most essentially, but it is also an adoption and a call to participation. He says: “Blessed are you when you are reviled for My sake and still extend mercy, still seek purity, and still engage in reconciliation and peacemaking with the very people who abuse you.” He is our Captain and He leads from the front, by example. He, Himself, becomes a helpless lamb for the slaughter. How could we be anything else?
We are not above our Teacher. We follow our Master. Our blessedness is the blessedness of Jesus, the blessedness of the cross, of being at enmity with the devil and this fallen world. We trust that the Kingdom is ours and remains ours. Thus we pray: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. We follow in Your train, O Lord. You control our fate and work all things together for good.”
It has always been thus on this side of glory. The beatitudes are not mere poetry or sentiment: they are description and prophecy. The Church of Christ has always been a suffering church, a militant church, a church whose glory is hidden. All our brethren before us were sent as sheep among wolves. So was Jesus. So are we.
History shows that suffering is good for the Church and is always in direct proportion to her purity. The more she has suffered, the purer she has been, and the purer, the more she has suffered. That is to say that the less worldly she has been, the more she has cultivated her proper gifts, and the less she has relied upon the means of this world, the more she has been abused and oppressed, and the more she has been blessed.
This is not to say that God never gives respite or relief. Yours is the Kingdom. There have been seasons of peace, times to gather strength and prepare for the next battle. But there has never been an age of peace anymore than there has ever been a Chrsitian who didn’t bear a cross. Peace and rest are for the future. Now is the hour of tribulation, endurance, and faith. Most of the promises of the Beatitudes are for the future. After the devouring comes comfort, inheritance of the earth, fullness, mercy, the Beatific vision, and vindication. And yet, yours in the Kingdom now. It is hidden in poverty, mourning, meekness, and hunger. It acts out in mercy, purity, and the making of peace. But in it is perfect joy, comfort, and peace. For in it, is Jesus. His is the Kingdom and He gives it you now.
Do not be ashamed of the cross. Do not think it strange that fiery trials come upon you. Do not seek comfort in worldly things or long life. The Lamb was slain, but the Lamb lives. Do not fear those who can only kill the body. Jesus lives. The Kingdom is yours. This world is temporary and so is your sorrow. Your blessedness goes on and on and on.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Credit for the purity and suffering connection to John Henry Newman, Sermons Bearing on Subjects of the Day (London; Oxford; Cambridge: Rivingtons, 1869), 293–294.