Proper 26 – Sunday After All Saint’s Day
Job 42:1-6, 10-17; Psalm 34: 1-8; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10: 46-52
The Rev. James M.L. Grace
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
Today marks the rare appearance of a reading from a book that is not considered part of the Hebrew Bible. It is called the Wisdom of Solomon, and it was our first reading today. The Wisdom of Solomon is part of the apocrypha, a set of books positioned in between the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. If you want to know more about the apocrypha, google it!
In today’s reading from the Wisdom of Solomon we hear these words: “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them.” While there is some uncertainty surrounding the time when the Wisdom of Solomon was written, credible evidence suggests that it was written around the time of Christ’s crucifixion.
To be more specific – a case for the Wisdom of Solomon’s authorship during the final years of Christ’s life on earth is based upon it being dated specifically to the year 38 CE. This date, 38, is important because that is the year in which there is historical record of anti-Jewish riots in the city of Alexandria, Egypt.
There seems to be consensus among Biblical scholars that the Wisdom of Solomon was not only written in the year 38 CE, but that it was also of Alexandrian Jewish authorship. Let me restate what I’ve just said – the year is 38 CE, the setting is Alexandria Egypt, the author likely is from a persecuted Jewish community that is suffering.
Much of this book deals with a conflict between those who consider themselves righteous and those whom the righteous consider to be wicked. In the mindset of the author of this book, the Jewish community facing persecution and annhilation is of the righteous sort, while those who violently seek their demise (Greek, Roman, or otherwise) fall into the wicked category.
The verses read today from the Wisdom of Solomon are sometimes read at burial services in the Episcopal Church, for obvious reasons. I do not know if they are used with similar frequency in the Jewish community today, but I would not be surprised if they were read at the eleven funerals in Pittsburg this past week.
The Wisdom of Solomon is one of the Jewish books of the Bible that begins to develop a theology of resurrection, of life following death – well before any Christian writings on the topic emerged. We see evidence of that in todays excerpt from this book. The author writes “In the eyes of the foolish, the [righteous] seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster (again this is during a time of violent Jewish persecution) and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace.”
Today we celebrate All Saint’s Day – a day to honor the souls of all the righteous. A day to remember loved ones, friends, and family no longer in our presence, who also are at peace. Author Henri Nouwen, in his book entitled In Memorium writes “As we grow older we have more and more people to remember, people who have died before us. It is very important to remember those who have loved us and those we have loved. Remembering them means letting their spirits inspire us in our daily lives. They can become part of our spiritual communities and gently help us as we make decisions on our journeys. Parents, spouses, [siblings], children, and friends can become true spiritual companions after they have died. Sometimes they can become even more intimate to us after death than when they were with us in life. Remembering the dead is choosing their ongoing companionship.”
Today, I choose to remember Joseph, a neighbor of mine when I lived in Phoenix, Arizona as a child. Joseph died probably thirty years ago, he was much older than me. I knew as an elderly man. Joseph told me his story, how he grew up in Poland, and lived there during the 1940s. As a boy I was curious about the numerical tattoo on his forearm, and I would ask him questions about it. He told me that he had that number because for a time in Poland he lived in a camp. Joseph had this beautiful, friendly smile and a warmth about him that I still feel today. He is alive to me today even though he died decades ago. I consider him a saint. So it is with all the saints – “the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them.”
I will close with a verse from the Gospel of John, which we did not hear today. In this verse, Jesus is speaking to a crowd of people, and in chapter 8, v.51, Jesus says: “Very truly I tell you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.” [Pause] Today we will baptize children – a bold statement of faith that some would argue borders on the ridiculous: that in God no one really dies, even though their bodies fail. Do you believe it? I don’t. I know it. AMEN.