“What we will be has not yet been revealed.” On this All Saints Sunday, how do we live in the mysterious “not yet” of our life together with God? And what do we know about God’s presence with us now?
Vicar Jessica Christy
All Saints Sunday, year A
Texts: Revelation 7:9-17; Psalm 34:1-10, 22; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12
Let us pray. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of every one of our hearts be acceptable to you, our rock and our redeemer. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Beloved, what we will be has not yet been revealed. But what we do know is this: when God is revealed, we will be like God.
That seems like a strange sort of promise for us to hear, on today of all days. On this festival when we celebrate the communion of all saints, it would make sense for us to proclaim with as much as much certainty as we are able what it will be like for us to experience full union with God. Mystery is unsettling, especially in the face of eternity. We long for certainty about what awaits us after death. We want a clear picture of what has happened to our departed loved ones. And yet we read 1 John and are confronted with a great mystery of faith. We know what we will become, but the fullness of that has not yet been revealed. Our faith promises the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, but scripture gives us precious few details about how we will experience that fulfillment. In hope, we await perfect peace and joy and praise in God’s presence, but the rest is hidden from our gaze.
For centuries, much of the church has acted as though the purpose of the gospel were to teach us the right way to get into heaven, and what to expect once we make it there. But if that was really meant to be the center of Jesus’ teachings, he didn’t do a great job of communicating that. He seemed a lot more interested in how we live with each other here, how we participate in God’s reign on earth. When Jesus died, he broke open the jaws of Hell, ascended to heaven, and returned to Earth, but he didn’t then grab his disciples to tell them the essential facts they needed to know about the afterlife. Instead, he forgave them, and fed them, and told them to go forth and do likewise. The work of faith is to love God, love each other, and trust that God will take care of the rest. Christ’s promises of heaven light our way, but they do not shine so bright as to blind us to the world around us. It might not always seem that way, but the mystery of heaven is truly a gift. We have been given the gift of mystery so that we can live together more fully on Earth. And we have been given the gift of mystery because we know that what awaits us is more wonderful than we could ever comprehend.
So what we will be has not yet been revealed – but we know what we are now, and that knowledge is amazing. As 1 John tells us, we are God’s beloved children, now. The great God of the universe, the God who lights the spark of distant galaxies and who breathes life into all the secret places of the earth, that source of all being knows me, and knows you, and calls us child. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God.” See what love, that in this vast cosmos we should be made in God’s own image and loved as God’s dearest creation. And also we know that, when God carefully created each and every one of us, God placed something of Christ within us, something shining and eternal that flashes forth whenever we encounter the living Trinity. John says that when God is fully revealed to us, we will discover that we are like God, for God has been alive within us all along. We can’t begin to imagine what that will be like, but we know that it is already true, just waiting to be unveiled. And because we know these things, we know that nothing – not sin, not sadness, not even the grave, can separate us from the love of God. We are God’s children now, and we will be God’s children forever.
What we will be has not yet been revealed, but we know that we are embraced by God’s blessings. When Jesus pronounces the beatitudes, it’s the first time in the book of Matthew that we see him really speaking to his disciples. He has called them, and performed miracles in their presence, but these verses are his very first teachings. They eagerly follow this new wonder-worker to a mountaintop to hear what he will tell them, and he says: blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek, the merciful, the persecuted, and all those who hunger for a better world.
In the places of weakness, dissatisfaction, and despair where the world sees only curses, Jesus proclaims blessings. He says that the kingdom of heaven is found in the lives of those who live in the service of others. Not “theirs will be the kingdom of heaven” but “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” When we see peacemaking and justice-seeking, we know that God is with us. When we see gentleness and mercy, we know that God is with us. And when it feels like all is lost, Christ comforts us with the promise that our places of helplessness and sorrow and fear are the places that God attends to with the greatest care of all. When it’s joyful and when it’s painful, we know that our life together is blessed.
What we will be has not yet been revealed, but we know that we are members of the risen body of Christ. Not only do we know this, but we experience it every week when we gather around the table for communion. The shared body and blood of Christ knit us together, all of our different lives and bodies into marvelous, divine union. In Christ, all the walls that separate us from each other are breached, and we become one. Here, we find wholeness in each other.
But it’s more than that. It’s not just the people we see here and now around us. The body of Christ transcends all space. At the table we are part of the same body and blood as believers around the world. People we have known for our whole lives and people we will never meet. People who sit beside us and friends who are far away. People we love with all our hearts and people we’d honestly rather have nothing to do with. All of us are part of one another. John’s vision of the faithful gathered before God’s throne gives us a glimpse of the glory of this universal communion, when Christ joins us to every nation and language on earth.
And the body of Christ transcends all time. That same body and blood that Jesus shared on the night he was betrayed is shared here today, just as it is shared each time Christians gather for the meal. In Christ, we are joined to every saint who ever has been and ever will be. The disciples who heard Jesus first say the words, “This is my body, given for you” – they are here around the table. Every martyr, missionary, and mystic enters into our midst through the Eucharist. People of ages past, popes and reformers, farmers and kings, all share the Lord’s Supper with us. Our loved ones who have gone before us are also members of the living body of Christ. Bob, Donna, Ed, Catherine, and all the other beloved saints we remember today – they are truly present whenever we break the bread and pass the cup. And unknown generations to come, they too are here in the mystery of this meal. Across every age, all of us are members of the same body, sharing the same communion. Death is no barrier. We do not yet know the fullness of eternal life, but eternal life is already here. It always has been here for us to taste and see.
What we will be has not yet been revealed. We do not know what we will be, but we know what we are now, and for now, that is enough. We are the beloved, blessed body of Christ. In Christ, nothing can separate us from God, and nothing can separate us from each other. We are one people, knit together in one communion, in the mystical body of Jesus Christ. So come to the table. Everyone is invited – and everyone is here.