For All the Saints

Sermon for Sunday, November 3, 2013
All Saint’s Day, Year C
Daniel 7: 1-3, 15-18; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1: 11-23; Luke 6: 20-31
The Rev. Margot D. Critchfield

I love All Saints Day! It’s such a palpable reminder that we are all intimately connected to something so much bigger than ourselves:  to our histories, and to all the saints who’ve been a part of shaping them. I take great comfort in remembering that our world didn’t just drop out of the sky yesterday fully formed, but has been unfolding and expanding and enlarging in a way that transcends time, binding us to all those who’ve come before us and all those who will live and breathe, laugh and cry, long after we’ve gone.

Now, I didn’t always such a fine appreciation for All Saints Day. Growing up, even though I was Episcopalian, I always thought “All Saints” was a day for remembering people like Bernadette and Joan of Arc, those super-holy, miracle-working men and women with amazing visions, chosen by God for missions that would change the world.

So it was a little strange when I came back to the church as an adult and was told that we’re all saints—you, me, the person sitting next to you in the pew… our familial ancestors, our ancestors in the faith…the men and women who built this this church– all of us are saints, together. And it says so right there on page 862 of The Book of Common Prayer. It says, “The communion of saints is the whole family of God, the living and the dead, those whom we love and those whom we hurt, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer, and praise.” 

The whole family of God…bound together…in sacrament, prayer and praise. Defying denominational distinctions, defying all the labels we slap on each other to classify and characterize, defying time itself. We are bound together with all who came before us, known and unknown, those we loved and those we hurt….bound together such that they are with us—however mysteriously—in the sacraments, in our prayers, and in our praise. Just as we will be with those who come after us.  That is the communion of saints.  All this wonderful connectedness!

We’re going to honor that connectedness this morning by remembering in our prayers the saints we love, but no longer see. We’re going to pray for those who we’ve buried from this church since All Saints Day last year, and we’re going to name out loud the many loved ones who we have lost over the years but who will always be apart of us —honoring them with our prayers and recognizing that they are present with us.  All of those who walk now with God, with whom we are connected nonetheless, and without whom we wouldn’t be who we are. It’s huge!

But the communion of saints is even bigger and more expansive than this. The communion of saints embraces all of God’s people—not just those we love, but those we hurt, and those we would just as soon leave out.  It embraces the poor and the rich, the hungry and those with plenty, those who mourn and those who laugh, those who are hated and reviled, and those who are liked and respected.  All those Jesus calls blessed and all those for whom he foresees woe.  The whole family of God.

This, I think, is one of the hardest Christian truths for us to swallow—that Jesus came to heal the saint and the sinner, the prince and the prostitute, the rich young man and the poor old widow, the son who squanders his inheritance and the obedient, albeit self-righteous, older brother.  Everyone has a place at God’s table. Everyone belongs in the community of saints.  We are all connected in Christ.

And with this gift of community and connectedness comes responsibility—the responsibility of committing to self-sacrifice.  “Listen,” Jesus says to us in no uncertain terms, “Love your enemies.  Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who treat you spitefully…Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

This, Jesus seems to be saying, is the price of admission to the communion of saints. And what a price!  Do we really have to sacrifice our hurt pride, our grudges, our self-righteous sense of justice and our bruised ego’s for a commitment to love, bless, and pray for those who don’t even like us, much less treat us well?

Do we really have to give to the poor, feed the hungry, comfort the grieving, welcome the outcast, and otherwise commit to being present, as God’s family, to all those Jesus calls “blessed,” but towards whom it’s so much easier for us to turn a blind eye?

And do we really have to treat with equal compassion and understanding even those who are rich and well-respected, who appear to live care free lives in the lap of luxury, seemingly wanting for nothing yet confronted by Jesus’ warnings of woe?

Well, yes.  Yes we do.  Because this is what it means to call ourselves Christians.  This is what it means to count our selves among the communion of saints.  This is what it means to be the “whole family of God, those whom we love and those whom we hurt, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer, and praise.”

Of course, without God’s generous grace, this would be flat out impossible.  Even with it, we’ll never do it all perfectly this side of the grave.  But Jesus isn’t setting before us a bunch of lofty ideals beyond human capability.  The “golden rule” isn’t a job description for St. Bernadette or St. Joan.  It’s for us.  This is God’s will for all of His saints, made possible for us in Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, so that we may all know what our opening prayer calls “the ineffable joys” that God has in store for all those who truly love Him.

We are all perfectly capable of praying, like Paul, for God to “enlighten the eyes of our hearts” so we may know the immeasurable greatness of his power—power that can change us and bless others.

We are all perfectly capable of asking God for the willingness, and the courage to pray for those who have wronged us, and to treat them as we so wish they would treat us.

We are all perfectly capable of bringing a can of soup or a box of cereal with us to church each week for the food pantry, or of going to the Long Island Shelter just once in the course of the year.

Because you see, we are all saints already: you, me, the person sitting next to you in the pew… our familial ancestors, our ancestors in the faith…the men and women who built this church.  All of us are saints, intimately connected by God, bound together in Christ, and empowered by the Holy Spirit to love one another—if we but ask.

So let’s ask.  Let’s honor all of those who came before us, who we remember today, by being a blessing to all those who will follow.  Because this is the hope to which to which Christ has called us as the communion of saints. Amen.

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