Some of us are old enough to remember the badly made horror movies of the 1950’s. The Blob comes to mind. Others of you may have seen the re-runs on You Tube or Netflix. One of the most cheaply made was one produced in 1955 and titled, “It Came From Beneath the Sea.” It was so low budget that the giant octopus only had six arms. It kept two of the giant arms under water while the other four reached up to crush the Golden Gate Bridge. These movies – and many like them today – simply play on age-old fears that bad things lurk in the dark. Those fears come from childhood days when there were monsters in our closets. Or they come from ancient times when map makers drew monsters in the seas of uncharted, unknown, territories.
It seems as if Daniel was prey to those same fears as we heard of his dream in today’s first lesson … four great beasts stirring up out of the great sea, each different from the other. Now, to Daniel this was more than just a vivid dream. It was a religious experience. It spoke to him of some primordial fear in his heart. And so he did what most people do when they have profound religious experiences. He sought interpretation. What does this mean? What does this mean for me?
Now, we’ll come to Daniel’s answer in just a bit – but first I want to talk about how Daniel’s experience is similar to ones I think you and I face. Daniel’s sea-monster dream came to him in a time of personal turmoil. Daniel lived in a time of Israel’s history in which it was severely oppressed by the Syrian king, Antiochus Epiphanes. There had been loss of life. There was suffering and mourning. And there was fear of the future. It is no wonder that Daniel would dream of monsters coming out of the sea.
You don’t have to be a pastor of a church to know that people deal with their monsters daily. Loss breaks into our lives like a thief in the night. And, as with a thief coming in the night, we feel loss and we feel violated and we feel fear. Maybe it has to do with a health problem. Maybe it has to do with severe psychological stress. Maybe it has to do with death. Whatever it is, it has to do with that primordial chaos out of which bad things come.
Today’s gospel from Luke are the familiar Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the hungry. Blessed are those who weep Blessed are those who are reviled.” But when the gospel writer Matthew reports these words from Jesus he gets a little more specific in the beatitude about weeping. He says, “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.”
Mourning is a more vivid word than weep. Weeping is an outer sign of mourning. Mourning is experiencing darkness and despair and fear. It is more than sorrow. Mourning is standing directly in front of a loss so big and so powerful that its overwhelming presence seems insurmountable. It is like standing in the midst of a hurricane in which everything you own has been blown away and the storm hasn’t stopped yet.
Mourning, whether we like it or not, is a religious experience. It puts us in touch with life and loss. It is a painful reminder that we are finite. It makes us consider the infinite – things beyond us.
When Daniel had his religious experience – his beasts of fear – he immediately sought interpretation. What does this mean? What does this mean for me? And he didn’t go to the high priest. He didn’t go to a prophet. He went to a simple attendant and said, “Interpret this for me.” Now, the attendant gave him an interpretation which, on the face of it, would seem to be as cryptic as the dream. He tells Daniel, “As for those four great beasts, four kings shall arise out of the earth. But the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever – forever and ever.”
Who those four kings are is a question interpreted in various ways and probably lost to history. But the meat of his answer is that the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever – forever and ever. It says the beasts are defeated.
Today, on All Saints Sunday, I am here before you to announce that the beasts have been defeated. Crushed. Vanquished. Subdued. Satan has been defeated through the atoining death of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. The power of sin has been defeated. And death has been defeated So, blessed are those who weep. Blessed are those who mourn. Because these beasts, too, have been defeated. You may be standing in the midst of a hurricane and all that you have may have been blown away. But you and the hurricane both are held tightly in God’s outstretched hand.
Today we will read the list of those saints who have gone before us this past year. It is a short list. I have not officiated at a funeral in a year and a half. You may or may not have had a loved one or a friend who passed away this year. But I think all of us, on All Saints Sunday, remember special people who are no longer with us. We strongly desire that such people still be with us. And, as we remember and give thanks for that person’s life, the process becomes something of a prayer in which we join with God’s servants of every time and every place.
Our own daughter, Kathie, passed away in 2004. Of course I think of her always, but especially this time of year – more so even than the time of year she actually passed. I thought of her last Sunday, Reformation Sunday, when we sang Luther’s hymn, “A Mighty Fortress” which proclaims that, even in the loss of a child, death cannot win the day. I think of her today on All Saints Sunday, grieving that she is no longer with us, but rejoicing that she is in the company of Saints of which we all are a part.
This day, this All Saints Sunday, we – in the words of our liturgy – we join with God’s servants of every time and every place and unite those prayers with the ceaseless petitions of our great high priest until he comes as victorious Lord of all.
And, when the hard part of that prayer is done, we take a deep cleansing breath and come to the joyous part when we remember those who have become Christians this year through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. Made saints. By God. Saints now. Saints forever. Entered into the lambs book of life. Forever.
For all the saints. Past. Present. Future. These saints have been, are, and will be – in the words of Daniel – “the holy ones of the Most High (who) … receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever – forever and ever.”
Text: Luke 6:20-31