The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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
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.
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
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
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.