Sunday, November 01, 2015

Sermon; All Saints; Year B 2015

Today, as you have noticed, is All Saints' Day.  This is one of those rare times when November 1 actually falls on a Sunday.  It's an even rarer time when Sunday, November 1, occurs in Year B of the lectionary cycle.  This is a good thing.

It's a good thing to be able to celebrate All Saints' Day on its actual day, rather than transferring it to the next Sunday, as so often happens.  For me, it would be like saying, “The Feast of the Nativity may always be observed on the Sunday following December 25, in addition to its observance on the fixed date.”

And it's a good thing when All Saints' Day happens in Year B because I think the readings for this year are more appropriate.  Two of them, Isaiah and Revelation, can be used in the Burial Office, and the gospel deals with the death of Lazarus.

All Saints' Day reminds us most vividly of all who have gone before.  And, in some ways, it reminds us of our own mortality.  We have all had a grandparent or parent or sibling or friend who has died.  We have all heard of the death of a public figure that has impacted us – Robin Williams had that affect on many people, as did John F. Kennedy.  And in Holy Week we all participate in the death of Christ as we shout, “Crucify him!”

Death is an inescapable part of life and we will all experience it in one way or another.

But death doesn't have the final say.  As it says in the Proper Preface for the Commemoration of the Dead, “. . . life is changed, not ended.”

This belief is echoed all through the theology of the Burial Office:  Whoever has faith in me has life, even though he die; the glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ destroyed death; give us faith to see in death the gate of eternal life; and more.  Death is not to be feared, for our life is not ended, it is simply and profoundly changed.

This does not mean, of course, that we don't mourn.  We do.  It's never easy to say goodbye to a friend, spouse, or family member whom we will see no longer.  We mourn.  We weep.  Martha wept.  Jesus wept.

But our faith tells us that God will swallow up death forever.  God will wipe away every tear.  Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for those things will pass away.  All things will be made new, and we will dwell with God.

While this day reminds us of our own mortality, it also reminds us of those who have gone before.  It reminds us of the glorious company of the saints in light.  It reminds us that we are part of a great cloud of witnesses.  Maybe, more than anything else, it reminds us we are not alone.

This thing we call Christianity stretches back thousands of years.  Many millions of people have died in the faith, some have died for the faith.  Some are known, many more are known to God alone.  There are many more to come, and we are but one part of that body.

In remembering that we are not alone, know that Michael Curry is being installed as our 27th Presiding Bishop at this moment.  In remembering that we are not alone, know that thousands of others will join with us as we renew our Baptismal Vows today.  In remembering that we are not alone, listen for that place in the Eucharistic Prayer that calls us to unity with all the saints of God.

All this talk of the saints in light, being part of a great cloud of witnesses, not being alone, and being in union with all the saints of God as we participate in the great mystery of Holy Eucharist begs a question:  Are WE saints of God?  We sing hymns about saints who have become larger than life.  We commemorate saints on our calendar, people who have done such amazing things for the church and the gospel that most of Christendom celebrates their lives.  We name churches in their honor.  Can we imagine churches named St. Juli, St. Bill, or St. Mike?

Maybe we can't because we can't see ourselves living up to the standards of those saintly saints.  But let me tell you something – not all saints were all that saintly.  When I was in seminary, it was said that the reason Samuel Seabury was elected as first bishop in the U.S. was because if the ship sank on the way over to England for his ordination, it wouldn't be a tragedy.  St. Jerome, who translated Hebrew and Greek into the first Latin bible (called the Vulgate) and a doctor of the Church, is referred to as seldom pleasant and the least likable of all the saints.

As Lesser Feasts and Fasts says, these people aren't perfect and can be seen as flawed, misguided, defective, and wrong.  But they did, to the best of their ability, live lives that expressed the presence of Christ.

Today we remember all who have gone before us.  Today we remember that the great cloud of witnesses includes us.  Today we remember that we are not alone, as we join with all the company of heaven and in union with prophets, patriarchs, matriarchs, apostles, and martyrs in proclaiming God's glory.

We may not consider ourselves saints, but what if we did?  What if, instead of looking up to the old saints, we did our best to live lives that expressed the presence of Christ?

Today is All Saints' Day, and we are all saints of God – we just need to live like we believe it.



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