Homily: November 2, 2014 - All Saints' Day
Anyone who comes into my office will see I have five large framed icons on my wall. The one in the center is Holy Wisdom, but she is surrounded
by my chosen pantheon of Anglican saints:
there’s Aelred of Rievaulx, a 12th Century abbott and theologian,
who wrote movingly of the ability of two men to find a true depth of love in each other
and who was made a saint of this Church in 1985; next to Aelred is
Julian of Norwich, the 15th Century mystic, who wrote what is believed to be
the earliest surviving text written in the English language by a woman.
Despite living in a time of turmoil, Julian’s theology was optimistic
and spoke of God's love in terms of joy and compassion, as opposed to law and duty;
then there is John Donne, a major poet of the 16th and 17th centuries and late in life
Dean of the Cathedral of St. Paul’s, London. Most popularly known today for the poems
“No man is an island,” and “Death be not proud,”
as a theologian Donne emphasized universal salvation
and the oneness of all human beings;
and finally, there is John Henry Newman, a 19th Century Anglican priest and theologian
and later a Roman Catholic cardinal, who wrote forcefully of the nature of God
revealed through the natural world and that said that there is
"something true and divinely revealed in every religion."
Each of these figures says something particular to me as the Christian and priest
I am most want to be and so they have traveled with me from place to place
these 20 years of ministry as sources of both inspiration and humility.
I am sure many of you have similar stories of the saints who speak to you.
Did you know that there are 274 individuals formally recognized as saints by TEC?
In the Anglican tradition you don’t have to produce a miracle to join this list, by the way;
neither do we pray to the saints or ask them to pray for us.
Rather, we see them as examples of faith after whom we are called to pattern ourselves.
And so when enough people hold dear the memory of a particular individual,
they may be voted into the calendar by the Church meeting in General Convention.
Call it beatitude by democratic elevation.
Some of those we celebrate were teachers, some priests, some evangelists,
some fighters for justice, some died for their faith, some lived to ripe old age.
All were holy women, holy men, as the book that records their lives is titled,
filled with the love and the light of Christ.
Note, however, that today is All Saints Sunday and not just Some Saints Sunday.
When we celebrate All Saints we remember not
the superhuman faith and power of a select few
but God’s ability to use ordinary flawed people to do divine things.
We celebrate all those on whom God has acted in baptism,
sealing them with the mark of the promised Holy Spirit.
We celebrate the fact that God creates faith in God’s people,
and those people, through ordinary acts of love,
bring the Kingdom of Heaven closer to Earth.
We celebrate that we have, in all who’ve gone before us,
what the unknown author of Hebrews calls such a great cloud of witnesses
and that the faithful departed are as much the Body of Christ as we are.
It is quite a thing, really. That we are connected to so many.
Connected to so much faith. So many stories. So much divine love.
Especially in this day and age of alienation,
when so many try to find community and belonging in smaller and smaller ways.
I mean, I may think that the basis of my being connected to other people
is in having theology or political beliefs or denominational affiliation
or neighborhood or musical taste or Facebook groups in common.
But none of that is really what connects me to the Body of Christ.
What connects me to the Body of Christ is not my piety
or good works or theological beliefs. It is God.
The God who gathers up all of God’s children into the eternal divine embrace.
And although I’m speaking here in terms of our Christian observance,
let me be quick to add that every human being is a child of God and every human being
will someday experience the embrace and never-ending love of God in person.
So we are talking about the family of humanity as much as the Body of Christ.
The communion of saints includes as much a Muslim fisherman in Malaysia
or a Sihk storekeeper in the Punjab or a tribeswoman in the Amazon
as it does those lovely framed religious forebears on my wall.
Today therefore let us remember all the deeply faithful and deeply flawed children of God,
the saints of God’s Church and the saints of God’s wider family: all those through whom the glory of God has been revealed, is being revealed, and will be revealed.
And let us also recognize that although they are officially celebrated
on two different days in the life of the Church,
our observance this morning combines two feasts:
All Saints and All Souls, the commemoration of all the faithful departed.
Thus many of us come with our own beloved dead to remember this day,
those whom we love but see no longer,
who have departed this world in the year or years past.
People who we’d frankly rather still have here in this room as a living person
and not as a name in a chapel of remembrance the first octave of November.
We’d rather be standing behind them in line for communion.
Yet we rejoice that all of them are now held within the embrace
of the God from whom they came in the first place.
All of these are part of the mystical Body of Christ we celebrate this day.
God somehow gathers us all up into the divine love of Christ
and makes us one body both now and in the life to come.
Even those whose names are eventually forgotten
are, after death, always and forever nourished in the light of God in glory.
Because while death is a wrenchingly painful reality to us, it’s meaningless to God.
So what can we do but give thanks this day and rejoice in God’s saints?
Thanks for their example of faithful living,
helping others to live using the gifts God has given.
Thanks for the love they have shared with us.
Thanks for this table around which we are about to gather,
a foretaste of the heavenly banquet around which the saints are already gathered.
Thanks that through this meal we are tied to the whole communion of saints –
united with all who have ever eaten of the feast spread on the mountaintop for all people.
Thanks for God’s promise that all – all – shall be gathered up into the Divine Self.
Thanks that we are joined here with angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim –
with the church on earth and the church in heaven,
with all who have called on the name of God
and all whose faith is known to God alone.
And all of us connected to God in the great web of creation.
And although your name, my name, may never be officially recorded in a book,
do not forget that we are all called to be saints, each in our own particular way.
Each of us may be God-made-manifest to someone who thirsts, who hurts,
who suffers injustice, who finds solace or compassion that comes from our hands.
It’s not just a day of remembrance: it’s a lifestyle.
Adapted in part from a sermon for All Saints Sunday November 4, 2013: Small Acts of Love
by Nadia Bolz Weber; posted on the web at www.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber/2013/11/778/