The communion of saints finds itself an integral part of God’s Kingdom, the Reign of God.
This is the one Sunday in the year when we turn to our sisters and brothers and marvel at what God has given us in them. Those from ancient times and those who share the peace with us today are all in that great community of the living and dead through whose witness our own witness is confirmed.
We give thanks today for all of them. And we remember that saints are also simultaneously sinners. God calls normal human beings to the communion of saints, not gods and goddesses. It helps to make our thanks all that more meaningful when we hear about our ancestors and reflect on our contemporaries with honesty.
Scripture’s stories are replete with those whose lives are real enough to contain triumph and actions that make us cringe. Abraham tried to give his wife Sara to the king. Peter denied Jesus three times. Moses killed an Egyptian. Tamar slept with her father-in-law. Paul referred to his “thorn.” Yet, through each of them–– and all the others––we catch a glimpse of God’s desire for what is life-giving. This is true, as well, of our own lives and those of our faith communities. We don’t always get along with each other, but we are always brought together by the Holy Spirit for yet more inspiration and hope.
On this Sunday, we hear Jesus’ words to the people who long for hope in a tough world. It is a word for us, as well.
Jesus is on the mountain teaching his disciples the realities of the kingdom of God. However, they are the realities of being in Christ's presence. The kingdom of God arrives with Jesus. To be in his presence is to be in the presence of the kingdom. Everything that Jesus is teaching his disciples in chapters 5 through 7, the Sermon on the Mount, is fulfilled in what he himself actually does. The teachings describe Jesus: how he lives, heals, relates to God and people; how he dies, how he is faithful in the Garden of Gethsemane and the time of trial, the cross, the resurrection from death to a life that is beyond and free of death, how the apostles share that resurrection with him during the days before his ascension, how it passes to his church to be the reality of saints in the world, those who have received and been incorporated into the kingdom teaching. Above all, Jesus is faithful. These are the realities of Jesus. Saints are they who know, are shaped by, and rejoice in these realities.
This brings us to the other truth of the kingdom of God. It cannot be Jesus alone. It must include saints, be passed on to the saints. I knew a woman years ago who claimed that her father, long since deceased, had been the last crafter of tortoise shell art in the world. When he died, there was no one left who knew this once highly valued craft of working tortoise shell into beautiful adornments. The art died with him, and is lost to us. The point of Christ's coming to us, of his Incarnation, of his delivering us from our captivity, is so that we too might be schooled in the arts of living with God and each other in his kingdom. So there must be saints to realize life in the kingdom; there have to be saints if there is to be a completed communication, a coming together of heaven and earth. The saints rejoice in the tangible union of heaven and earth.
The Sermon on the Mount ... describes our freedom beyond the rule of sin and death and a promised destiny that Jesus' atonement opens to us, one fitting for humans. The invitation is to take up our cross and join him, follow him into his relationship with God and a blessed life. Suddenly the Sermon on the Mount becomes the best we can imagine about us and where we are going. It is a promise. Jesus leads the way, a gracious way. Yes, we are to turn a cheek or two, to be forgiven and to practice forgiveness, to practice peace even before the emperor, and to do it as a community together—again and again and again, without giving in, hanging on like a terrier to a sock. We are to live in Christ's gracious presence as witnessing saints.
– John E. Smith has served as a Methodist pastor for many years.
1 John 3:1-3 reminds us that we are children of God, and that we are changing, always coming to know new facets of what God has wrought in us. It is never-ending, this revealing. The saints, in this sense, are always on the march.
And in Revelation 7:9-17 we receive the powerful vision of the saints around the throne of God. For many of us, the words of the hymn “Who is This Host Arrayed in White” are inextricably entwined with the vision. The images of the heavenly throne, the suffering, the white robes, the singing, the Lamb, and the tears wiped away all give heft to the abstraction of our communion of saints.
The preacher is, today, free to lift up all the warts and wisdom present in the assembly, and to name it all as precious.
Homily Service 41, no. 4 (21 July 2008): 100-114.