Siblings in Christ,
We open each November with All Saints’ Sunday worship, when we recall our beloved dead: especially those we have lost in the past year. We say their names. We light candles. We hear bells echoing through the sanctuary. This year we will be separate, but we will still give thanks together for their lives and for the home they now find with the saints in light.
As we hold their funerals, remember them in Sunday prayers and celebrate this great feast day, we also recall the hope that we will be reunited with those we love at our own death or at the last day when all the vault of heaven resounds with Alleluias before the throne of God.
Someone asked me this fall, in earnest, “Will I go to heaven?” A question layered with regret, shame, and uncertainty. And a holy question that invites us again to the table of God’s good and abundant grace.
In this year of Matthew, I am reminded of the story of the rich young man (Matt. 19:16-26) that asked Jesus this very question. After establishing that the young man had in fact followed all of the commandments faithfully, Jesus said: ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
We assume the young man has failed and perhaps will not attain heaven. But Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.’
Jesus set the young man an impossible task to demonstrate that it is impossible for us, by our own actions, to earn heaven. The bar is too high. Who can even imagine perfectly keeping the commandments! Jesus uses the young man’s query to remind his hearers who holds the power for our liberation and forgiveness, who opens the door to eternal life with those we love. It is all Christ. It is all done. It is pure gift.
That gift liberates us from striving for perfection and struggling to earn our way into heaven. And failing. Martin Luther reminds us that we can wake each day to a reminder of our baptism, forgiven, renewed and refreshed to live life as fully in Christ as possible. Not to achieve anything, but to celebrate what has been achieved on our behalf. Liberating us to love without limits.
You are God’s beloved, part of the great communion of saints, gathered at a table that bridges heaven and earth. Come, take your seat, welcomed and beloved. And someday, you will sit next to those whose lives you are recalling on the Feast of All Saints. For now, know that they are at the heaven end of the table, waiting.
Thanks be to God.