Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
-- Matthew 5:3-12
Once, when I was at the Greenbelt Festival in the UK, I stood on the top of a tall grassy hill and two of my dear friends, Padraig and Doug, each preached on the Beatitudes. The event was called Sermons on the Mount and it was my very favorite thing about the festival.
I spoke that day about how I think it can be easy to view the Sermon on the Mount as pure exhortation. It can be easy to view the Beatitudes as Jesus’ command for us to try real hard to be meeker, poorer, and mournier in order that we might be blessed in the eyes of God.
And since the Beatitudes are always the Gospel reading on All Saints – the day each year that we set aside to honor the saints, and remember our beloved departed it makes it even worse. I mean, people who are called saints seem so unattainably good and the fact is, most of us feel unworthy. Plus, it can be easy to look at a saint like Mother Teresa and think – well, she is a saint because she was meek and so if I too want to be blessed I should try and be meek like her. Don’t get me wrong, we could use a few more people trying to be like Mother Teresa, I just don’t think that her virtue of meekness is what made her considered blessed by Jesus.
Because, what if the Beatitudes aren’t about a list of conditions we should try and meet to be blessed? What if these are not virtues we should aspire to, but what if Jesus saying, “Blessed are the meek,” is not instructive—what if it’s performative? …meaning the pronouncement of blessing is actually what confers the blessing itself. Maybe the Sermon on the Mount is all about Jesus’ seemingly-lavish blessing of the world around him especially that which society doesn’t seem to have much time for: people in pain, people who work for peace instead of profit, people who exercise mercy instead of vengeance. So maybe Jesus is actually just blessing people, especially the people who never seem to receive blessings otherwise. I mean, come on, doesn’t that just sound like something Jesus would do? Extravagantly throwing around blessings as though they grew on trees?
So for this All Saints Sunday, a time when we remember and celebrate the lives of those who have gone before us – those who Jesus would bless, I thought maybe it was time to have some beatitudes for this day, for this place, and these people.
Because I like to imagine Jesus here standing among us saying…
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Blessed are the agnostics. Blessed are they who doubt. Those who aren’t sure, who can still be surprised. Blessed are they who are spiritually impoverished and therefore not so certain about everything that they no longer take in new information. Blessed are those who have nothing to offer. Blessed are they for whom nothing seems to be working. Blessed are the pre-schoolers who cut in line at communion. Blessed are the poor in spirit. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Blessed are they for whom death is not an abstraction. Blessed are they who have buried their loved ones, for whom tears are as real as an ocean. Blessed are they who have loved enough to know what loss feels like. Blessed are the mothers of the miscarried. Blessed are they who don’t have the luxury of taking things for granted any more. Blessed are they who can’t fall apart because they have to keep it together for everyone else. Blessed are the motherless, the alone, the ones from whom so much has been taken. Blessed are those who “still aren’t over it yet” Blessed are they who laughed again when for so long they thought they never would. Blessed are Bo’s wife and kids and Billy’s mom and Amy Mac’s friends. Blessed are those who mourn. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Blessed are those who no one else notices. The kids who sit alone at middle-school lunch tables. The laundry guys at the hospital. The sex-workers and the night shift street sweepers. Blessed are the losers and the babies and the parts of ourselves that are so small. The parts of ourselves that don’t want to make eye contact with a world that only loves the winners. Blessed are the forgotten. Blessed are the closeted. Blessed are the unemployed, the unimpressive, the underrepresented. Blessed are the teens who have to figure out ways to hide the new cuts on their arms. Blessed are the meek. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Blessed are the wrongly accused, the ones who never catch a break, the ones for whom life is hard – for they are those with whom Jesus chose to surround himself. Blessed are those without documentation. Blessed are the ones without lobbyists. Blessed are foster kids and trophy kids and special-ed kids and every other kid who just wants to feel safe and loved and never does. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are they who know there has to be more than this. Because they are right.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” Blessed are those who make terrible business decisions for the sake of people. Blessed are the burnt-out social workers and the over-worked teachers and the pro-bono case takers. Blessed are the kids who step between the bullies and the weak. Blessed are they who delete hateful, homophobic comments off their friend’s Facebook page. Blessed are the ones who have received such real grace that they are no longer in the position of ever deciding who the “deserving poor” are. Blessed is everyone who has ever forgiven me when I didn’t deserve it. Blessed are the merciful for they totally get it.
See, I like to imagine Jesus here blessing us because I believe that this is our Lord. Maybe the first time he blessed all the things we try and hide or make up for, or the things we insult in ourselves and others wasn’t in the beatitudes, maybe it was in his life. Because after all, it was Jesus who had all the powers of the universe at his disposal but who did not consider his equality with God and something to be exploited, but instead came to us in the most vulnerable of ways – as a powerless, flesh and blood newborn. As though to say, you my hate your bodies, but I am blessing all human flesh. You may admire strength and might, but I am blessing all human weakness. You may seek power, but I am blessing all human vulnerability. This Jesus whom we follow cried at the tomb of his friend, and turned the other cheek and forgave those who hung him on a cross. He was God’s Beatitude – God’s blessing to the weak in a world that only admires the strong.
So if you are mourning, or feeling forsaken, abused, unseen, or no-longer-useful; if you, perhaps like myself, are all too aware that it is not your strength and virtue that qualify you to be called a saint, but your need for a God who makes beautiful things out of dust, then this meal we are about to eat is for you. It is as much for we who believe we have no need for it as it is for we who believe we are not worthy of it. And know that it is not your ability to do for yourself, but your hunger that qualifies you to be fed. For it is a Beatitude meal: the broken, blessed and given body of Christ. So as you come, behold who you are. And as the blessings Jesus pronounced on the mount so long ago – know that it is here that you become what you receive.
Nadia Bolz-Weber is an author, Lutheran pastor, and public theologian. She served as the founding pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints, a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in Denver, Colorado, until July 8, 2018.
Image credit: Kat J on Unsplash