Memory and imagination are powerful. They have a way of reminding us of where we’ve been and pointing us to where we need to be. This past week I spent a lot of time remembering with my grandmother. She told about her parents, who I’ve never met, yet though her memory somehow they became real. Her father, who along with his two brothers, moved to London to become police officers because they were all over six feet tall. Her mother, who was 4 ft 10 and somehow managed to raise 10 children. How she went to the farm only for a few months and stayed a lifetime with my grandfather. Memory reminds us of where we’ve been. In this week of All Saints – it is important to remember those who’ve gone before us. Not only those who fought in battles, those who tended the home fronts, and those who built churches and raised families and cared for others.
Memory tells us where we’ve been. Imagination on the other hands helps us look ahead to the future. So many people over the years have gone into battle with brave hearts because they were imaging a world that is different than the current present.
In many ways that is what Jesus is doing in our reading from Matthew. Jesus and the disciples are gathered at the top of a mountain. Jesus is teaching them. He is helping them to imagine a future that is so different from their present. Jesus says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3 – 11)
It is hard to wrap our heads around those who are grieving or poor in spirit being blessed. It is not how we normally use the word “blessing.” We talk about blessings often as something that is going our way or seems really good. Susan Hylen writes, “The Greek word, makarios, which is central to the Beatitudes, is a fairly common word. It’s not really hard to understand, but it’s difficult to translate into English. The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translates “blessed,” which is by far the most common translation of the Beatitudes. The problem with blessed is that it sounds a little unreal, like a quality that applies only to those saints whose stories we celebrate on All Saints Day and whose example may appear a bit unattainable to us.
New Testament professor Margaret Aymer has translated makarios as “greatly honored.” This is another good option for translating this word because it emphasizes the theme of reversal that is implied in the Beatitudes. The meek and the merciful are not revered by the world’s standards, but they are honored by God and by those who would align their lives with God’s ways.” (https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3453)
That changes how we read the beatitudes doesn’t it? They are a way of imagining a different future for all God’s children. In God’s kingdom, the one we daily strive for, those who are most vulnerable are greatly honoured. They who are grieving are greatly honoured. Those who show mercy are greatly honoured. The peacemakers are greatly honoured. Jesus is laying before us a new way of living the seeks the welfare of all – it is a world of peace.
Eugene Peterson, in his translation of the bible called The Message translates Matthew 5 this way: “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought. … “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.” (Matthew 5:3 – 6, 9)
There is so much happening in our world today that is difficult and sets us to be at odds with one another. Jesus is pointing us to a world where love, mercy, compassion and above all peace are real and lasting. Jesus is asking us to imagine a future that is the reversal of many of the norms of this world. If we pause for a moment we can catch glimpses of that peace and love at work in our world. Hold onto those moments because they help us to imagine what is possible.
Memory and imagination allow us to both remember what was and hope for a better world. Today we remember. Today we pray for peace. Today we follow in the footsteps of the prince of peace who asks us not only imagine a world of peace to live each day working for that peace. May it be so. Amen