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Introduction To The Scripture For All Saints Day - Year A
Revelation 7:9-17, Psalm 34:1-10,22,1 John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12

The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (jlss@sympatico.ca) of the United Church of Canada. John normally structures his offerings so that the first portion can be used as a bulletin insert, while the second portion provides a more in depth 'introduction to the scripture'.

INTRODUCTION TO THE SCRIPTURE	
All Saints - Year A

The lections for All Saints may also be used on the Sunday, before November 1st in lieu of Ordinary 31
REVELATION 7:9-17 This remarkable passage has influenced Christian images of Heaven from the time John wrote it in the last decade of 1st century CE. It presents a vision of God's eternal presence which is both profoundly Christ-centred and universal in its scope. It consists of a conversation between "one of the elders" and John, the author of the Revelation, giving details of what John saw in his vision and why the vast multitude from every nation is to gather before the throne of God. PSALM 34:1-10,22 As an antiphon to John's vision, this psalm presents one of the clearest statements of God's redemptive purpose to be found in the Old Testament. 1 JOHN 3:1-3 With a deep understanding of God's ultimate purpose for the end of history, John attempts to describe just what we shall be like and how that will come about. He declares the simple faith that because God loves us and because we are the children of God, in the end we shall be like God. He spoke in spiritual terms, of course, which means that we shall be spiritual as God is Spirit. MATTHEW 5:1-12 The Beatitudes set forth how Jesus saw those who are to inherit the reign of God's gracious, redemptive love. While this description may seem to project beyond current reality into a far distant future, it also sets forth a value system on the basis of which we can live from day to day as if that reign of God had already begun. A MORE COMPLETE ANALYSIS REVELATION 7:9-17 This remarkable passage has influenced Christian images of Heaven from the time John wrote it in the last decade of 1st century CE. Christian art through the centuries has used this passage as one of its main sources for depicting in stone, glass, paint and ink what we would see when we too joined the throng of the faithful in the kingdom of heaven. We need to remember, however, that this is an apocalyptic vision akin to what psychology now defines as a hallucination. Yet it presents a vision of God's eternal presence which is both profoundly Christ-centred and universal in its scope. Faith in life beyond death presumes that the redeemed will be ushered into God's presence. The passage consists of a conversation between "one of the elders," presumably of the apostolic company, and John, the author of the Revelation It gives details of what John saw in his vision and why the vast multitude from every nation is to gather before the throne of God. In ancient times, a throne was actually a ceremonial chair from which a ruler issued judgments. It was so closely associated with royalty that it became symbolic of kingship. In the Hebrew tradition, Yahweh was deemed the supreme monarch and the Messiah vice-regent. Hence, the Lamb is seen standing beside the heavenly throne. In his excellent study of *The Revelation St. John the Divine,* Professor George Caird concentrated on the song of victory that the multitude sang rather than the scene itself. (Black's New Testament Commentaries. London: Adam & Charles Black. 1963.) He noted that it was not their own salvation that the Christian martyrs were celebrating, but their triumphant passage through persecution. They had received the promise that by faith they would share both the conquest of sin and death fully revealed in the cross and the resurrection life with God beyond death. Then too, they celebrated the victory of God over all the powers that compete against God's eternal purpose for the humanity, the world and all creation. We must remember that these are martyrs who have defied all human conquerors like the Roman Caesar. The victory is spiritual, not over the threat of physical death, but the victory of faith over all else that can seduce and divide our loyalties. In this mortal life we may frequently doubt where our duties lie. The martyred Christians have successfully fought this fight and found that they have conquered by holding to the central tenet that in Christ crucified lies the whole truth of God. This is the great ordeal through which they have come, having washed their white robes, the symbol of their baptism, in the life-blood of the Lamb. The passage contains many Old Testament images and elements, especially from the Psalms and the prophets Ezekiel, Jeremiah and Deutro-Isaiah. That too was characteristic of Revelation. For instance, the song that greeted the Lamb parallels the new song of Ps. 97. Ezekiel 34:23 also describes the Davidic shepherd of Israel as feeding the people of God. In Isaiah 25:8, the prophet of the Exile promised that Yahweh would "wipe away tears from all faces." This should not surprise us because even at the end of the 1st century CE, there were only scattered fragments of what we now call our New Testament scriptures. The scriptures of the first Christians were the sacred writings of the Hebrew tradition which only then were being gathered into the Hebrew canon by the Synod of Jamnia (ca. 100 CE). PSALM 34:1-10,22 As an antiphon to John's vision, this psalm presents one of the clearest statements of God's redemptive purpose to be found in the Old Testament. In the Hebrew text the psalm has an acrostic form, each line beginning with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The psalm also is in the wisdom style and so dates from the late Persian or early Greek period. Some scholars believe it may also have been associated with the lament of Ps. 25 as a hymn of thanksgiving. The main purpose of the psalm is to celebrate with gratitude the saving power of Yahweh. It expresses great confidence and trust in Yahweh's special care for the righteous. While the superscription mistakenly attributes the psalm to an incident in David's flight from his rebellious son Abimilech, no direct reference to that or any other event in David's reign can be found. The Davidic references were found in about half of the psalms probably related to a special collection attributed to David. These titles were added during the compilation process somewhere between the fourth and second centuries BCE. Viewed from a wider perspective, the psalm points to the constant mercy and love with which Yahweh watched over and delivered Israel from innumerable disasters. At the same time it draws more attention to the individual believer who trusts in Yahweh than to the nation as a whole. This too has been the attitude of saintly Christians through many generations. 1 JOHN 3:1-3 With a deep understanding of God's ultimate purpose for the end of history, John attempts to describe just what we shall be like and how that will come about. He declares the simple faith that because God loves us and because we are the children of God, in the end we shall be like God. He spoke in spiritual terms, of course, which means that we shall be spiritual as God is Spirit. The 1st Epistle of John contains many references to a congregation of Christians being under severe threat by a dissident group. These dissidents may have been either Greek who rejected Jesus as a truly human person or Hebrews who rejected Jesus as the divine Messiah; or both. It was a time, probably near the end of the 1st century CE, when those who believed in Jesus Christ and followed the Christian way had to be both clear about their faith and strong in their commitment. Because of the challenges they encountered every day from both imperial authorities and public hostility, they could never know when their faith would bring them face to face with death. The dissident members of their own congregation proclaimed a false teaching which sought to undermine the true understanding of the person and redemptive work of Christ. The dissidents broadcast far and wide that Jesus was not the Christ and therefore could not be the Saviour. How was it possible for them to maintain their commitment under such circumstances? They could be certain of only one thing: that they were loved by God; they were God's holy children. A life rooted and grounded in love would bring them to the only worthwhile end. Whatever fate might bring upon them, and in particular rejection or even martyrdom for their faithfulness, they were constantly reassured that they would not only be with God, but would be like God. MATTHEW 5:1-12 [Except for the initial paragraph, the following analysis also appeared on the Fourth Sunday of Epiphany, Year A.] The Beatitudes set forth how Jesus saw those who are to inherit the reign of God's gracious, redemptive love. While this description may seem to project beyond current reality into a far distant future, it also sets forth a value system on the basis of which we can live from day to day as if that reign of God had already begun. This is the way of life lived by the saints now and eternally. The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 is a collection of sayings Jesus may have uttered at different times and places, rather than delivered all at once in a single discourse. There is still much scholarly debate as to how much of it Jesus actually spoke himself and what may have been added later by the early church. The Beatitudes summarize the revolutionary values intended to guide those seeking to follow Jesus. Each one is a sermon in itself, and the whole passage has generated many a sermon series from pulpits of yesteryear. Those who would have a little variation from the lectionary would do well to select this passage for such a continuum. Beatitudes appear in the OT according to a single pattern beginning with the Hebrew word *esher* (blessed or happy) after which they usually described someone worthy of praise (e.g. Psalm 1:1; 2:12; Proverbs 8:34; Isaiah 56:2; Daniel 12:12). Matthew quoted Jesus using the same method and adding the reason for this happy state. Apart from Matthew and Luke where the formula appears most commonly, beatitudes occur seven times in Revelation (1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7,14), three times in Paul's Letter to the Romans (4:7-8; 14:22), and once in John (20:29). The main difference from OT beatitudes, however, is their stress on eschatological joy of sharing in the reign of God as opposed to receiving rewards for living righteously here and now. The reign of God comes, the beatitudes insist, not by implementing human schemes of moral and social improvement, but by the gift of God. Another feature to be noted is the paradoxical quality of the Matthean beatitudes. They contradict the normal expectations of ordinary people and their reactions to human experience. The people Matthew identifies are not supposed to be happy - the poor, the mourners, the persecuted. Was Matthew writing for those of his own community as well as recording the tradition of what Jesus may have said? Was he promising release from the stresses of living in difficult times through trust in God's action on their behalf regardless of their present circumstances? Many martyred witnesses to the faith went to their death believing that a vastly better life awaited them in the heavenly realm. Yet the message of the Matthean beatitudes is not exclusively for a distant future. Rather, it is for the present. The words were spoken to generate trust in God in difficult circumstances, not simply to enable us to endure hard times. None of us can avoid the traumatic experiences that life so frequently presents. The challenge of Christian faith is to accept and live a sustaining relationship with God in the most trying circumstances. This was never more true than at this moment when in Africa and Asia millions of our fellow human beings suffer disease, privation and the effects of war and natural disasters we have never experienced let alone imagined. Members of a rural Jamaican congregation which had experienced much privation due to marketing issues, crop failures and devastating hurricanes spoke of how much they had been blessed, not of the poverty they struggled to escape. The beatitudes define the way that Jesus himself lived to the point of death as a rejected religious revolutionary and unjustly condemned criminal. Such spiritual power comes not through our most noble human efforts, but through the gift of grace the Spirit gives us. copyright - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006 please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.



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