There is a song on the radio with these words:
Oh Lord, I'm still not sure what I stand forThe song asks what we stand for and on this All Saints Sunday, we remember & celebrate those who knew what they stood for, who understood their lives and their faith, and it guided their actions.
What do I stand for? [What do I stand for?]
Most nights, I don't know anymore... ("Some Nights" by fun)
But this celebration really begins on the night of All Hallows Eve, or the eve of All Saints, what we call Halloween. When we use fun, humor even ridicule to live into our baptism and defy the power of death over our lives by a carnival type of celebration. As one Orthodox priest said, “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." (Fr. Victor)
Halloween can be a moment (if we get to celebrate it!) when we give thanks in revelry and enjoy the gifts that God has given to us, even in the midst of the growing darkness around us and our sense of how close death really is. For we remember that Christ has brought us out of death into life, out of darkness into light. The saints live in that light.
That celebration continuers with All Saints Day, when 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. But from very early on, Christians have also used the word “saint” 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, to which our first reading from Ecclesiasticus reminds us: “Let us now sing the praises of famous men and women, our ancestors in their generations.” Men and women who in faith lived lives that found joy by doing what God called them to do. To use the words of the late William Stringfellow:
“In truth, all human beings are called to be saints, but that just means called to be fully human, to be perfect—that is, whole, mature, fulfilled. The saints are simply those men and women who relish the event of life as a gift and who realize that the only way to honor such a gift is to give it away.”Life is a gift and the saints found it by listening to God. They would find fulfillment and happiness in what they did, for some they made their name by how they ruled, others by their counsel, some spoke in prophetic oracles; some led the people by their wise words; others by their musical tunes.
We remember them like President Abraham Lincoln and Q. Emma and K. Kamehameha IV.
We remember them for they reached out with wise words to their native tribe, John Johnson Enmegahbowh and to those who were deaf, Thomas Gallaudet.
We remember them for their prophetic words, Dorothy Day, or their prophetic actions, Sister Constance & her Companions who stayed when others fled as Yellow Fever ravaged Memphis.
When we think of words we remember Walt Whitman and when we remember those who put it to music, we think of Mahalia Jackson.
Each of these saints followed the Lord in their age, in their context, reaching out as they followed Jesus. But our celebration does end there.
Our celebration of the saints ends with All Souls Day, 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, with 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.
Today, I think of Steve Kulwicki, who died after a 2 year battle with cancer. This summer when Ellen and I and the kids were at the family reunion in Indiana. Steve opened his pool to us so we could get refreshed on those very hot days there. He and his wife delighted in seeing all of us use his pool when he himself used it less and less.
A very simple, caring act, but he manifested what Jesus asks of all of us, to love our neighbors as ourselves. Steve did that and I know today he has found a place with the saints and angels of light.
On this All Saints Sunday, may we in our lives, mirror that of the saints & live by faith. To live as humanly as we can in the midst of darkness and death, knowing the light of Christ still shines and it can shine through what each of us does today. Amen.