There are some events that we would give anything to attend. Who would not want to go to a presidential inaugural ball, the Super Bowl or a World Series, or the installation of a pope? Though very different, these are all momentous occasions and invitations to them are hard to come by. One usually has to have connections in order to get one. One has to be “in the loop.”
Today we celebrate the most momentous event to which we will ever be invited, the great gathering of the saints in heaven. The invitation has been extended to all women and men “from every nation, race, people and tongue.” What kind of ticket does one need to get in? One must be marked with the seal of the servants of God. And what is that seal? The blood of the Lamb.
In ancient Near Eastern mythology, the highest mountain was thought to be the dwelling place of the major god. Israel appropriated this concept, claiming that its God did indeed dwell on the highest mountain. Eventually, the hill on which the temple was built was considered to be this sacred mountain. Today’s psalm asks who might be eligible to climb that mountain and enter the presence of God. The response is encouraging: “One whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean, who desires not what is vain.” This means that access to God is not limited to celebrities or those who might have connections. Everyone can be “in the loop,” as long as they possess the right disposition.
The Beatitudes found in today’s Gospel story remind us that the disposition needed to approach God is not equated with obedience to laws. Rather, it is brought to birth in our relationships with others. It calls us to be meek and merciful; it challenges us to hunger and thirst for righteousness and to work for peace. Those who live in this way have access to God; they “can ascend the mountain of the Lord.” They make up the multitude who stand “before the throne and the Lamb.” They are the saints of God.
We all know people who are living examples of this kind of holiness. They are the ones who stand tall in times of crisis, who step forward in times of need. They are women and men of principle, members of our families, neighbors among whom we live. There is seldom fanfare when they practice virtue, but their virtue leaves its mark on the lives of others. These are the saints we celebrate today; this is the multitude among whom we want to be numbered. Will we accept the invitation?