Year C All Saints Day, 1 November 2022
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
Collect: Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
Jesus looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets."
"But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
"Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
"Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
"Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
"But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
In my sermon on Zacchaeus on Sunday, I talked about how we are social creatures, designed to be in relationship. We are made to be with one another, and for one another.
But as the cynic points out, “Man’s the only animal that knows he’s going to die.” Those relationships come to a close, at least in a physical sense. Death is one thing we can count on, and some would add taxes, too. But even before there were governments, Death was inevitable. Some cultures celebrate and honor it, like Dia de los Muertos. Our culture, for the most part, avoids and ignores even the hint of it, probably to our detriment.
I was speaking with a widow this last week about how she still talks to her husband, but even more, there are times and places where she can feel him close. I love that. I think she is right.
This period of time in Celtic understanding was when the worlds came close, the world beyond and our world. Today, November 1, was their New Year’s Day. One would do what one could to scare away the bad spirits with costumes, fires, hollowed out vegetables with scary faces, etc. But all this pageantry was to welcome in the beloved dead who may swing by for a visit. Christianity, as it spread from the Mediterranean and encountered new cultures understood that a universal God would obviously have preceded their missionary endeavors. And because of that, God’s fingerprints were already there. Sociologists call it syncretism when Christians say, “This festival or deity you have is really this in the Church.” Or we stole it outright. It may seem like cheating to get more to convert, but actually it was finding parallels for invitation and welcome. Truth is truth wherever it is found.
All Saints Day carried on the tradition of including and remembering those whose paths on this earth have ended, but continue on in the world to come. I have only been here 5 years, but already there are friends who have passed, stories that are told, fond memories cherished of who they were and what made them special.
Sarah Sanders sat in front of where my family sits now. My father-in-law saved her seat for her. One Sunday he missed it, and a guest sat in Sarah’s seat. My kids said that they had never seen someone that nice throw that much shade when she saw someone in her favorite spot.
Churches are filled with stories like that. Little moments of joy and personality that embraces the loved ones that were. And who are we to think that they are gone? We have pictures and plaques. We have stories and guesses on what they would have thought of what is happening now. They are, in so many ways, still among us.
I have had more than one person say how thankful they were that (fill-in-the-blank) was already gone before COVID because that would have done them in. We still are, and will be for years, overcoming the personal, social, and societal trauma of the Shutdown and deaths. Our education system will be playing catch-up for years to come, if they will ever make it at all. Mental Health. Physical Health. Spiritual Health. It all paid a price going through what we did. By ignoring death like we do, it makes it hard to deal with the trauma we experienced.
So I am thankful for this day, this day when we remember the Saints of God, and include them in our thoughts and prayers. Time, beyond this limited physical world, means nothing. God is not caught up in another part of his creation. He is beyond space and time, both. God made them and can step away from them. So in praying for the Saints, and with the Saints, we enter the Eternal Now that is promised after Judgment Day, when all creation will sing its praises to God.
I am thankful for this day when we lean on the tradition that has come before. As Anglicans, Scripture, Reason, and Tradition are the three legs of our theological stool. We claim the heritage of the one holy catholic and apostolic church. We include traditions from every branch of the tree of Christendom. Thankfully and unapologetically. That is our uniqueness, our openness. As G.K. Chesterton reminded us, “Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead.” They still get a say in their church.
Scripture looks at those who have come before with a beautiful metaphor…
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith…
I am thankful that we can look back to those who inspire us to be more like Christ. Growing up in the evangelical wing of the Church, I never gave saints any attention. I was honestly a little frightened of anyone who would pray to anyone but God, so Saints were not liked or appreciated.
But in the years since, I have been fascinated and overwhelmed with joy and appreciation for saints. Most days I look up “The Saint of the Day.” And each day has many.
I have made vows to try and love Jesus like St. Francis did, still a model almost 800 years after his death. (1226 was the year of his death.) I love the crazed devotion of St. Brendan. The quiet humility and ecstasy of St. Teresa of Avila. The dedication and systemization of discipleship of St. Ignatius. So many ways of loving Jesus, the study of this great cloud of witnesses could never end.
However you approach this night, however you remember those who have come before, however you look to the pilgrim path that you are on that only ends in one place, I pray God’s blessing on you. We need not fear death. As St. Paul instructed us, “To live is Christ, to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21) We do not rush to die, for as long as we live we have something we can do for God. But we see it as a transition, not an end.
As the Saints surround us, and maybe even come close today, think on them. Thank God for them. Maybe even tell them how special they are in your life, still. May their lives still be an example for us in the living of these days, and in our following of Christ. Amen