Monday, November 2, 2009
All Saints’ Day 2009
A colleague went to Israel some years ago. While he was there, he had to have his car tuned. It was in those days when it took only a screw driver to and a gap gage to tune the sparkplugs. The mechanic adjusted the car by the sound until all the coughing and sputtering of the idle moved into a place when all the cylinders began to work together and began to purr. The mechanic stepped back with satisfaction. “Tsedek” he said in Hebrew. “It is righteous!”
It was a use of the word “Tsedek” I had not ever heard before, because the word in Hebrew is usually translated “Justice or Righteous”. But I believe that it is the mechanic’s understanding of the word that helps us understand what the Wisdom reading means this morning.
When I read that “…the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
and no torment will ever touch them…” I want to know what it means to be righteous. In western Christianity we often translate “tzedek” as “saint”, often giving the ‘righteous’ all kinds of miracle working powers or extraordinary abilities or talents that perhaps the majority did not have. But St. Paul writes to the various churches in the epistles and usually calls the people who follow Jesus “saints” and then he chastises them for all the things that they are doing wrong. So we need to find another way to understand what the word means.
The best way of describing a Tzedek is one who tries to make the world a better place by trying to bring the world into harmony. They may be called the Righteous or Saints or just plain “good folks”. But they are the ones who understand the joy of knowing and being known by God in Christ Jesus.
Personally I have been in the presence of those who I know will be considered a saint sometime in the future. One was Mother Theresa of Calcutta and the other, Desmond Tutu of South Africa. Both of these people were just plain ordinary people whose mission in life was to “make things right”. There is an aura about them that exude peace and a deep sense of hope. They are people who have suffered, and seen suffering yet knew that suffering is not the end.
All Saints’ Day celebrates that sense of hope—that sense that life can be “tzedek”, “in tune”, righteous or holy when we allow God’s love and peace to guide us. This does not mean that we become doormats, or opt for ‘peace at any price’. ‘Tzedek’ is quite the opposite. It calls for an honesty that brings us into harmony with those around us.
In the reading from Revelation we find John the Divine explaining his vision to a people who suffered being conquered once again, whose homeland has been savaged , who have lost their sense of themselves through the Jewish Wars. He sees in his vision, new hope, a “New Jerusalem”, without a Temple. It will not be a city where there are those who fight about who has the right to live there or visit there. GOD will be there. As Pastor Marilyn Sanders taught us last Lent, this is not a reading about heaven, but of the kind of life that God can help us create in this world. God makes all things new—God is the beginning and the end. The New Jerusalem is not place where people rule—it is any place where God’s “shalom” and “tzedek” are lived out.
But it is in the Gospel reading from John that we hear of what it means to be raised from the dead. The story of Lazarus coming forth from the tomb is a foretaste of what is to come in Jesus. This story tells of Jesus raising one who is truly deceased, his friend Lazarus. It is this miracle which is at the center of Christianity. It is reminds us that resurrection is not just for the Son of God—it is for those who are his friends. It is a reuniting of a man with his family and friends. But most of all, this story tells the followers of Jesus that Jesus is the Son of God. The miracles that are worked by Jesus focus on his loving-kindness but most of all on his ability to “make things right”. Like God, it is Jesus’ righteousness that is to be seen, he is ‘tzedek.’
Today we remember those who have become “Tzedek” who have entered into the realm of God who know the harmony of God’s presence as they have never known. Today we remember those who have died and who have entered into that presence and we name them. During the Intercessions we will repeat those whom we have lost their physical presence but who are among the righteous, among the saints. I invite you to name and give thanks for those who taught you righteousness, who taught you to be ‘in tune’ with your life and your God.