All Saints Day, November 4, 2018
Year B, Proper 26: Ruth 1:1-18; Psalm 146; Hebrews 9:11-14; Mark 12:28-34
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I generally don’t recommend Wikipedia as a highly reliable reference source, but its article pertaining to All Saints’ Day is pretty good. What the article says is this: “Christians who celebrate All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day do so in the fundamental belief that there is a prayerful, spiritual bond between those in heaven and the living”.[i]
Growing up in the Roman Catholic tradition and actually being born on All Saints’ Day, I always felt a special connection to this feast day of the church. Now when I was in elementary school, I was always jealous because the Catholic school kids had the day off from school. When I went to a Catholic high school I was annoyed because the nuns and parish priest had gained the wisdom that having the day off did not improve attendance at Mass on this holy day of obligation. Curses. No day off for me.
In the Episcopal Church All Saints’ is not a “holy day of obligation” as in the Roman Catholic church, but it is what is called a major feast day. It is a day that is often set aside for baptisms in a parish. And we get to celebrate it on the Sunday after November 1. It is one of the few feast days that can take the place of a regular Sunday service. So, today in many Episcopal churches we commemorate the “life and witness of the many” who have gone before us.
All Saints’ Day offers us a great web of connection to others past, present and future. Some of the saints and stories are well known; others stories have never been hard. On this day I often remember Saints Mary and Eleanor, my grandmother, Mary Sepple, and my college advisor, Sister Eleanor Rice, for their lives of love and faithfulness. This year I have another beloved saint to add, Saint Mitties.
Many of you were able to meet Mitties in April. Just three and a half weeks later she joined the great cloud of witnesses in heaven.
Mitties was a faithful priest, a faithful wife, a faithful friend, who lived in deep, authentic relationship with God and who faithfully engaged in God’s holy work as a preacher and teacher, but most importantly as a person who lived out her baptismal covenant to seek and serve Christ in all people.
What I know about this particular saint is that she had her own role to play in the reign of God as she celebrated the grace present in each of her relationship’s with people and their own relationship with God.
Now, Mitties might admonish me for putting her among the saints because there are some who believe that we celebrate only the “big” saints on All Saints’ Day and reserve the rest of the deceased for All Souls’ Day. But I’m big on celebrating all the saints in our lives. And those saints aren’t perfect, they’re sinners like you and me. But they are faithful, these saints. I’m one who believes that all who have gone before us speaks to us as saints because all of us aspire to lives that matter. We want to be significant, to make a difference, to create a legacy. Each and every person listed in our commemoration of All Saints’ this day have been significant in our lives.
Lazarus was significant in the life of Jesus. When Jesus approached the tomb of Lazarus he was greatly disturbed. He deeply loved Lazarus.
In the celebration of All Saints’, one might wonder why we have this rather dramatic gospel story of Lazarus to ponder. Lazarus is dead for sure. Not only is the fact that he is dead emphasized repeatedly in the text, but Martha’s words tell us very clearly about the “stench” of death. The King James Version of this scripture reads, “Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days”. [ii]
Lazarus is dead. And Jesus, his beloved friend raises him from the dead.
We are each called to the Christian life in a unique way, yet we are not alone. Lazarus, Martha and Mary were not alone. They had the love of Jesus Christ who made God’s love known to them in the raising of Lazarus from the dead. And what all present see is the miracle of life, death, and new life unfold.
We live our lives in connection with others, in community, in a web of connection that we call the communion of saints. We place ourselves in the way of love, seeking and serving Christ in one another. Confident that the Holy Spirit will teach us what we know not, give us what we have not, and make us what we are not, for Christ’s sake. The communion of saints in our lives, the communion of saints in the world around us, the communion of saints who have gone before us, are examples we to follow.
There are the saints in heaven, and today, we thank God for them. We remember their example of faithfulness that they left behind for us. It’s a useful thing to recall and to talk about the saints who are in heaven, described in the Book of Revelation. But it’s also useful to remember that there are the saints on earth – those who are here today and believe in Christ right now. That’s you. And so today we also give thanks to God that God has made holy men and holy women. Holy women and holy men like you me. Sinners and saints.
What do we do on All Saints’ Day…we remember…we celebrate…we believe.
We remember that saints are part of the new Jerusalem — a future that God’s people entered, hopeful, fully alive, unsullied and unafraid. We celebrate that city as the home of God. And we believe this is the dwelling of God among people.
God is here with us, welcoming us, sustaining us, giving us joy and hope. But it also says something else: “God will wipe every tear from their eyes.” Not that there will be no tears. We know we are talking about real life now. In real life there is suffering and there are tears, and God will wipe them away with his comfort and his presence.
It would be easy to think that the world is without saints. But we know that another saint has been added to our list. Mary Lou Lee joined the voices of angels and archangels yesterday. She went to her Lord in peace and courage. Our love and hope in the Mary Lous of our world propel us into a brighter future. Hope is stronger than death. Live in hope.
Shortly, we will approach the Eucharistic table to fulfill Jesus’ command to “do this in remembrance of me.” As we do that, we come to our ultimate celebration of All Saints’ Day “remembering his death and resurrection” with hope and love.
[ii] John 11:39, KJV
[iii] John 11:5, NRSV
[iv] John 11:36, NRSV
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