This past Sunday was the first time in a while I’ve preached from a full manuscript. So I can post it.
All Saints Sunday 2021
RCL Propers for All Saints Yr B
Calvary Church, Stonington CT
Alson Holy Baptism, Stewardship Celebration Sunday, and Remembrance of all Faithful Departed.
This is one of the major feast days of the church year. It doesn’t celebrate an event in Christ’s life, like Christmas or Epiphany or Easter, but rather celebrates Christ’s presence in all of our lives, from our beginning to our end.
As the author of Revelation recounts from his vision, Christ says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning, and the end.”
Today we celebrate Christ being at the very beginning of a person’s life as we baptize Indie Fiftal. Indie, and all of us when we are baptized, are united to Christ is a very real unbreakable way. We are united to him in his life, death and resurrection, so that nothing in life nor in death can separate us from Christ. We are marked as Christ’s own forever. And we are given the Holy Spirit to help us grow more and more into the stature of Christ.
We also give thanks for those who have reached the earthly end of their life, all the faithful departed whom we love and no longer see on this earthly plane. We remember them via the cloud of witnesses on this tree of angels. When we are made part of the Body of Christ in Baptism, we are also connected to all the other members of Christ’s Body. And we believe that we are in communion with all members of the Body of Christ in a mystical way even when we do not see them in a physical way any longer.
There is a story about Episcopal worship that I told in last week’s worship class that I think is worth repeating to this larger group:
“A Southern Baptist minister and an Episcopal priest ran into each other at the post office on Monday morning. The Baptist turned to the Episcopalian and said, “We had such a great day yesterday! We had over 300 people show up. A famous foreign missionary came and gave us the message. And that was just our Seeker Service!” “Wow, congratulations,” his Episcopal colleague responded. “So, how’d you do?” the minister prompted. ”Let me think…” said the priest. “We had the Maxwells, the Murphys and their kids, and Bill and Joe. Old Miss Wordward was there and so was her driver. And we had nine ranks of angels, 144,000 sealed out of the tribes of Israel, and then a great multitude that no one could number from every nation, tribe, people and language. Our Lord Jesus Christ came and gave us himself. And that was just our 8 a.m. Low Mass!”[i]
We often speak of the life of faith as a journey. Journeys have origins, and they have destinations. Our origin is in our baptism into Christ, our destination is reunion with Christ in the resurrection.
But what about the route between origin and destination? Nowadays we just plug our destination into our phone, it senses our location and speaks every turn and option out loud. For long and complicated trips we used to need a paper map and a human navigator as companion in the passenger seat.
What about the journey of faith?
We do still have a recommended route laid out, and companions to help us navigate it.
That route is to live a life in which we cooperate with God’s grace and efforts to make our lives more and more resemble that of Christ. The baptismal covenant, which Indie’s parents and godparents will make on her behalf and which we will all renew along with them, is one description of the route—which direction we are asked to choose when there is a fork, a decision point of how to act, how to be.
The opening words of the baptismal service, which are different from the opening sentences of our regular Eucharist service, come from the 4th chapter of Ephesians. Listening to those verses in their larger context gives us more guidance:
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
7 But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8[ii]
The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ[iii] . . . . 29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you[iv]
Last, but not at all least on this Feast of all Saints, we celebrate those whom the Church celebrates as having lives of especial holiness, “saints w/ a capital S’ Saints
One thinker has defined a saint as “a person so grasped by a religious vision that it becomes central to his or her life in a way that radically changes the person and leads others to glimpse the value of that vision.” [v]
The martyrs the author of the book of Revelation was describing in his visions, in the 1st or early 2nd century, died rather than worship the Emperor, Diocletian, as God.
“For Diocletian, what was at stake was a matter of state control, including control of the religious imagination. For the Christians, what was at stake was control of their inmost identity. In putting on Christ in baptism, they had been made citizens of a heavenly city, a city not made by human hands, and could do no other than act in the name of the Christ for whom they themselves were named, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”[vi]
Today we view existence from the perspective of eternity.
We may recall some of the earliest saints of the church– Mary, Paul, the apostles, Priscilla and Aquilla. Those who are church history and theology nerds may remember names from later centuries such as Gregory and Benedict and Francis.
But there are saints much more recent as well. This is just a few of the persons our Church remembers from the 20thCentury: Evelyn Underhill, Harriet Bedell, William Temple, Florence Li-Tim-Oi, Pauli Murray, C.S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, Oscar Romero, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Vida Scudder, Jonathan Myrick Daniels.
Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, has suggested that instead of arguments for God’s existence and character, God gives us human beings who make God credible through their lives:
“Where is evidence of God to be found? It may well be all around us in those exemplary, transformed, challenging, disturbing, holy, human lives we call saints. And if this is so, we may well become the argument we’ve been searching for. [vii]
These same saints give us inspiration for how to live our lives. Many of us remember the children’s song that used to be sung on All Saints….”and one was a doctor and one was a priest … you can meet them in shops or at work or at tea, and I mean to be one too.” Each of us, can be pursing sainthood.
And we can say, “I mean to be one too.” Amen.
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[i] Olsen, Derek. Inwardly Digest: The Prayer Book as Guide to a Spiritual Life . Forward Movement, p. 274
[v] Lawrence S. Cunningham, The Meaning of Saints (New York: Harper and Row, 1980), 65.
[vi] Roger A. Ferlo, in Feasting on the Word Year B Vol 4 “All Saints Sunday: Pastoral Perspective”
[vii] Robert MacSwain https://templetonreligiontrust.org/explore/the-saint-is-our-evidence/ Accessed on Nov. 5, 2021.