Sunday, November 2, 2008

Sermon: All Saints Sunday

One day a visitor asked the parish priest on a small Greek island in the Aegean Sea, “How many people usually worship here on Sunday?” The priest’s answer was, “Oh, about ten to twelve thousand, I would suppose.” The visitor was somewhat bewildered. “This is a tiny island,” she said, “and the church is small. Where do all these people come from and how can they possibly fit into so small a church building?”

The priest smiled and then said to the visitor, “All the people who ever lived on this island since it received the gospel message are still here. Just think of what we say in the sacred liturgy: ‘Therefore with all the angels and the saints and the whole company of the faithful we praise your glory forever.’

“Don’t you realize,” he added, “that when we sing the Trisagion [Holy, Holy, Holy] we are joining with all the holy ones who have ever worshiped in this church?”

A wonderful story that reminds us that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses that join us every time we come to worship together here in this sacred place. And on All Saints Sunday, we turn our attention to those who are with us in Spirit. “Let us now sing the praises of famous men and women, our ancestors in their generations.” Words from the book Ecclesiasticus, calling us to remember the saints.

Every year, we do just that. It began this year on Friday Night with the carnival celebrations of Halloween (All Hallows Eve). “Halloween is the time of year when we see that Christ has so triumphed over Evil that even little children can mock the Devil with impunity.” With children dressing up in freakish costumes, similar to the way “our ancestors had used the most powerful weapon in the human arsenal, the power of humor and ridicule, to confront the power of death.”
For in each case, we remember that Christ has brought us out of death into life, out of darkness into light. The saints live in that light.

On All Saints Day, we remember the saints from long ago and not so long ago…asking God to help us follow them in all virtuous and godly living… “In the New Testament, the word “saints” is used to describe the entire membership of the Christian community, and in the Collect for All Saints’ Day the word “elect” is used in a similar sense. From very early times, however, the word “saint” came to be applied primarily to persons of heroic sanctity, whose deeds were recalled with gratitude by later generations.” (Lesser Feasts & Fasts, 2000)

And so we remember the saints who lived the godly life…Today is also November 2. Traditionally the day set aside to remember All Souls, or (as our BCP puts it) the Commemoration of all the faithful departed. We remember our loved ones, family members, friends, even those whose name has become silent, no lips to speak their names. Even they are commemorated on this day. They are no less members of the community of the faithful in heaven then the saints we think of, but they are not recognized except by those who remember and love them.

“But of others…there is no memory…they have perished as though they have never existed…but these also were godly persons, whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten, their offspring will continue forever, and the glory will never be blotted out.”

We remember them, we think of them because God remembers them, they are at home with God, they are counted among that countless throng in heaven we call the communion of saints, both known and unknown.

Today, though is not just about remembering our departed loved ones or thinking of the saints of past years and their lives. We need to consider the saints of today and the saints yet unborn… For we are also counted among the saints…why? heroic deeds? a devout faith? a pious spirit? No. We are numbered among them because through our baptism, we are part of the household of God, members of Christ’s body, and part of that faithful tribe who call themselves Christians. It is baptism that links us with the communion of saints.

Today is really a feast day for all of us as we understand our place among the communion of saints. To use James Joyce’s words in thinking about the Church, that it’s “here comes everybody.” Everybody belongs, no matter how saintly they think of themselves or not.

Today, John Decker Sikes joins the communion of saints as he his baptized in just a few moments (at the next service). He will take his place among the body of Christ and as full members in Christ. It is Christ who is, in a sense, given to us in Baptism, is ritually remembered and taken in again at communion (taking in bread and wine as Christ said, “do this in remembrance of me.”) It is this same Christ who is our friend, throughout our life and in our death welcomes us with the saints home. It is Christ who remembers us and holds us in our death. For this is the hope of the saints, this is the hope that our ancestors in their generations lived with, it is our hope today. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are,” the First Epistle of John tell us.

This hope is grounded in our lives. How we follow Christ, living our lives as witnesses to this faith… How we live in faith is the Gospel message for today, consider that the Beatitudes were given to the disciples and the crowds gathered on a mountain; where Jesus taught…

Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, who are meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those who are merciful, those who are pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness sake…

We are called to live out of these: Have we been merciful? Or meek & humble? Have we tried to bring peace to our world? I think of those Pilgrims for Peace who stayed here on Friday…

In a society that lives on wealth and prestige, on aggressiveness and displays of power, the Beatitudes are a very different way of living our lives. They challenge us to see that the saints and the faithful departed were committed to their faith, their community and their God. They lived these Beatitudes in their lives. We account them faithful and numbered in heaven. Let us commit ourselves to the faith of Christ, and let us in hope, remember the saints, our faithful departed, knowing that one day we will join them.

For as that (first) hymn put it: “But lo! There breaks a yet more glorious day; the saints triumphant rise in bright array; the King of Glory passes on his way…”

or as another song has put it: “O Lord, I want to be in that number, when the saints go marching in…” Amen.

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