Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Feast of All Saints

Today is All Saints Day. It may be my favorite Holy Day--even ahead of Christmas and Easter--but Ash Wednesday is a close second to All Saints.

What I love most about it is the poetic imagery about death in the readings. The lesson from Isaiah 25.6-9 offers a feast on a holy mountain of fine foods and well aged wine when God will dry all tears and remove the shroud over all peoples by 'swallowing up death forever'. Something about God 'swallowing death' is so wondrous and poetic and final that I just have to love it.

Revelation 21.1-6a is the same theme: "See, the home of God is among mortals...he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away...See, I am making all things new."  No more death and all things new, who wouldn't devoutly and joyfully wish for that?

In the Gospel on this day from John, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, but speaking it into being (just as God 'spoke' the whole Creation into being) by saying, "Lazarus, come out!" (John 11.43) And, against all human wisdom to the contrary, Lazarus does.

I said some of this stuff in my sermon today at St. James in Higganum. I waited too long to write the sermon down--it's 6:33 p.m. now, I could have done it at 3 or so. I can't now.

I always know what I'm going to say in a sermon, I'm just not sure how I'm going to say it. And if I come straight home and write it out I usually get it 90% accurate, but my short term memory has a shelf life of 5 hours or so.

The other thing I love about All Saints is that 'we' are the 'Saints of God'. Really. No kidding. Trust me on this.

Garrison Keilor, that unlikely theologian, once, on his Prairie Home Companion, talked about the Feast of All Saints by suggesting when we come to communion we look to our left and imagine the communion rail stretches back into history and all those 'saints of God' who came before us are there with us, receiving the Body and Blood. Then, he suggested, we look to the right and imagine the rail stretching out into the eternity of the future and seeing all those 'saints' yet unborn that will follow us, joining us in the Sacrament.

I don't believe I've ever heard a more wondrous description of the 'communion of saints' than that.

I told that story in my sermon too. Wish I could reconstruct it in totality instead of piece-meal.

I also, in my sermon, right at the beginning, talked about the distinction in the first 4 or 5 centuries of the life of the church between the so called 'Gnostic Christians' and the Christians who became 'the church' as it was known for centuries. Gnostic Christians and Orthodox Christians disagreed on any number of things--but one was the nature of Death.

I teach about the Gnostic Christian writings at UConn in Waterbury from time to time. I always begin the class by doing a 'heresy test'. I ask the class to raise their hands if they believe in 'the immortality of the soul'. Most of the time a vast majority raise their hands and I tell them that they are 'heretics' because the Nicene Creed (which made the Gnostic Christians 'heretics') says we believe in 'the resurrection of the dead', not the 'immortality of the Soul'.

I don't give a fig about that distinction which forced lots of good Christians out of "The Church" in the 4th Century--what I give a fig about is God 'swallowing up death forever' and all of us being a part of the 'communion of saints'...dead and living and yet unborn.

I'm not help if you want to ask me "what happens after we die?"

I have not a clue. None whatsoever. Nada.

Somethings I simply leave up to God. All that about 'what happens' is part of those 'somethings'.

But this I know: on All Saints Day, we are all of us--dead, alive, yet to be--held together in the Heart of God.

That's enough for me.


Being one of the communion of saints is all I need. Truly.

I'm not kidding.

Come on, be a 'saint' with me....

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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.