Often when I think of All Saints Day, my first thoughts are nostalgic, delightful memories of my grandparents. They were kind and committed, smart and resilient, funny and faithful. A church tradition on All Saints Day is to remember the saints who have impacted our lives. Yet Martin Luther’s description of Christians as simul justus et peccator, simultaneously saint and sinner, reminds us that we, too, are saints living in faith—now, not just after we have died. We are saints not because of what we have done but because of what Jesus has done.
Likewise, our lectionary text for All Saints Day, the beatitudes from Matthew 5:1-12, reminds us we are simultaneously blessed while still dealing with everyday struggles. The text doesn’t say, “Blessed are those who used to mourn or those who were poor in spirit or those who made peace before.” The blessed are in the midst of serving God now; they are deep in the trenches. They are being persecuted and reviled and more, even now. And yet they are blessed.
The Greek word makarioi used in this text means both blessed and happy. It’s not about a lightweight, fleeting happiness—common in our culture now—but a deep, lasting gladness. One of the great contradictions in this text through the lens of today’s culture is understanding how it is that someone is blessed and happy while, at the same time, poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful, and persecuted and reviled for their faith. These sound much more like sad and disgusted occurrences than blessed and happy ones, but in this contradiction we discover what it means to truly be blessed.
In the very state of being where we may least expect him, Jesus shows up and we are blessed. This may not always look like the world’s view of a blessing—it might not be about physical and material blessings, but rather about abundant spiritual blessings. There may be no cash value, but this blessing from Jesus feels like pure gold.
The lives of the saints whose memories live in our hearts weren’t always filled with what the world may consider blessings. I like to remember the fun and caring moments from my grandparents, but there were also plenty of challenges. Yet, in those moments, there was also blessing. Just as we are blessed not because of what we have done but because of what Jesus has done, we are saints not because of what we have done but because of what Jesus has done.
Encouraged by the legacy of the faithful saints who paved the way for us, we are reminded that, thanks to Jesus, we are blessed and we are saints.