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The other evening, my son and I were watching the Food Network. One of the chefs used the old adage - “it is all in the presentation.” Presentation, first impressions; a lasting opinion can be formed by a first encounter with a restaurant, person or religion.
Today we celebrate Christ the King. For those who do not know Jesus, what could be the first impression of using the words Christ and King together? Some may think of power, oppression or dominance. For others, glory, majesty and awe.
Personally, I think it is an odd word to describe Jesus. And it seems that Pilate is having the same difficulty calling Christ a King. Who can blame him? Pilate has everything – status, money and power. So imagine Pilate’s first impression of this poor and beaten man standing before him.
This much does not have a home, how can he be a King, where is his Kingdom? Yet what does Pilate really know of this Jesus? That he challenges judgmental religious authorities, preaches strange things like acceptance, love and this Kingdom that involves God. But Jesus a King? What kind of King would walk with the poor? Or touch the sick? What King would eat with outcasts? Not any King we know of.
But Pilate only has heard one side of the story. What he knows is what others have told him. I doubt if Pilate heard of how comforted those in pain, how Jesus smiled at the outcasts, the way he took little children into his arms and blessed them. Pilate did not see how Jesus looked into your eyes and said – I love you just the way you are.
No, people took Jesus and used him for their own advantage. Used his words against him, distorted his message. They took this beautiful man and battered his body to the point of disfigurement. The Jesus that is presented to Pilate, made him unrecognizable to the people who follow him.
When Pilate looks down and asks ‘Are you the King of the Jews? Jesus’ answer is telling, ‘Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?’ In reading this encounter, I not only thought of the Pilate and the Pharisees, I thought of how Christians have presented Jesus to the world? What do we tell others about him?
Is Jesus a King or a Servant? Judgmental or asking that we not judge? Does Jesus accept or condemn? Include or exclude? What interpretation of Jesus has been presented to the world? Sadly, there are instances where Jesus has been used for power and oppression.
We believe that the Church is the body of Christ and it is painful to acknowledge that many have taken that beautiful body, the church, and disfigured it with the beatings of exclusion and condemnation. To the point that the word – Evangelism, taking the message of Christ to world, now has a negative connotation for many.
Whose is this Jesus presented to the world when we have supposed Christians picketing at the funerals of fallen soldiers as a way to condemn homosexuality, or Christians allowing injustice to occur in the name of religion, clergy excluding others from Christ table as if one can claim sole ownership of Christ’s body. Not any Jesus I recognize.
What Jesus is presented to nonbelievers when there are those who spread the Good News by laying out a list of unattainable expectations and then stating that if those expectations are not met, or worse met and broken, you may suffer eternal fire and damnation. Now it may be me, but who would want to join that club.
God is always reaching out to us, reaching out to us in love. And we have allowed Christianity to be portrayed as a pointed finger rather than as an outstretched hand.
This is important because by pointing a finger you are requiring the other person to do all the work, to change their behavior, to fit into your expectations.
With an outstretched hand you are required to participate, to help the other, to use your strength and to rely on the strength of others. God is always reaching out to us. And the greatest act in the history of this fragile plant is when the divine reached out to the world. It was reach out to each one of us in the divine plan. To bring hope and not despair, light and not darkness, love and not hate. That is Christ.
Pilate did not recognize Christ, and today many would not recognize Jesus. You know those insignificant instances when we saw him hungry and we fed him, when he was a stranger and we welcomed him, we he was hungry, sick and poor and we reached out and responded, when we reached out and loved.
We are blessed by the amazing power of God to transform, to overcome the darkness. And for every negative portrayal of Christ to the world, there have been millions of beautiful pictures.
Like the head of British television, Malcolm Muggeridge. An affirmed agnostic, until one day, while in India, he watched as Mother Teresa pushed a wheelbarrow carrying a dying man infested with maggots to a Hindu temple.
Mother Teresa wanted this man to die with dignity. Surrounded by love and in his own faith tradition. She told Muggeridge that the poor were really Christ presented in a distressing disguise and that we must “do something beautiful for God.” Muggeridge converted to Christianity.
Or of the Anglican nun in Africa, cleaning those dying from the Ebola virus. The television interviewer stating “I would not do that for a million dollars.” The nun responding “neither would I.”
Millions of instances where Jesus is presented as the individual who becomes a voice for the voiceless, the person who cared for the sick, the one who included those on the margins, the person who fed the poor. The politician who fought against injustice Christ presented to the world as we know him..
Now the question becomes – how do we present Christ to the world. You know those little things like love, forgiveness, and acceptance. Feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, fighting for justice.
St. Francis said to preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words. Christ presented in our homes, in how we treat our families, wives, husbands, partners, children. It can be something as simple as a smile. It can be over pie in the Parish hall.
You are presenting Christ to the world in song, or when we bring up cans of food at the offertory. By teaching the loving and accepting message of Jesus to our children. You are presenting Christ with just a bit of forgiveness, patience and kindness. It is there that Jesus becomes recognizable in each one of us.
King, Savior, Messiah, Jesus. Many words used to present Christ. When I think of that beautiful message that he preached, the love he represents, there is not a word that can describe him. It just makes me what to follow him.
And when I follow him, I have hope. It is that hope of Christ that I want to present to the World. As we begin Advent, remember that in the cold fields of Bethlehem, God presented Jesus with these words:
An angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them. The angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. You will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and singing Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace to all people on earth.
Let’s present that hope, that love, that Christ to the world.
November 15, 2009
The Rev. Brian C. Taylor
The readings appointed for this part of the liturgical year are known as eschatological writings. Their authors thought that they were living in “end times.” They also looked to a new world that they believed was about to be born. They exercised great faith in the midst of chaos.
The book of Daniel was probably written in the middle of the 2nd century BC, when Israel was in an unprecedented historical crisis. At this point in their history, they were living under Greek dominion. The Greeks had taken over the temple in Jerusalem and outlawed the Jewish religion. They forbade circumcision, sacrifices in the temple, and all other public expression of Jewish culture and religion. They went so far as to set up a statue of Zeus in the Holy of Holies. They were attempting cultural genocide, and those who resisted were killed by the thousands.
This was the reality of the author of the book of Daniel. The world as the Jews knew it had come to an end. And so he wrote in an eschatological tone: There shall be a time of anguish, such as never occurred since nations first came into existence.
But Daniel, in the midst of this chaos, also wrote Those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, and those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky. He saw light in the darkness; he exercised great faith during end times.
200 years later, the Romans ruled Israel. They, too, brutally oppressed the people. Shortly after the death and resurrection of Christ, a group of idealistic Jews started a revolt, but they seriously misjudged the power of the Roman Empire. The Romans responded ruthlessly, massacring thousands of Jews, destroying the temple in Jerusalem, scattering the people into exile for what would be 1,800 years. The fragile, new Christian community was decimated; soon they would be persecuted, hunted down, and killed in city after city. It was a complete disaster. The world as they knew it had ended.
This was the world of the author of the gospel of Mark. And so in this book, Jesus speaks in an eschatological tone: After stone upon stone of the temple are thrown down, there will be wars, earthquakes, and famine. There will be suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of creation until now.
But Jesus also says Do not be alarmed…This is but the beginning of the birthpangs. The early Christian community saw light in the darkness; they exercised great faith during end times.
What was the nature of this faith, for Daniel and the early Christians? I think they had a pretty concrete form of hope. For Israel, God would raise up a leader who would restore the kingdom. For early Christians, Jesus would come again on clouds of glory to set the world right.
We’re living in what seems like end times, too. I’ve felt this ever since the 1950’s in California, when I was in elementary school learning to duck and cover so that when the atom bomb shattered the windows, the flying glass would pass over our heads. That made quite an impression on this 8-year-old boy. I decided that I wanted the bomb to land right on top of my head so that I wouldn’t have to waste away in a poisoned landscape.
Since then, we’ve seen the development of global warming that will lead to disastrous climate change. We’ve seen terrorists whose access to nuclear or dirty bombs seems only a matter of time. And we’ve seen population growth in the third world that has created urban nightmares.
If this insanity continues to accelerate exponentially as it has been over the last 50 years, what kind of world will we have created 50 years from now? It doesn’t help me, when I’m in an apocalyptic mood, to hear that the Mayan calendar ends 3 years from now.
Eschatological writings come alive again: There shall be a time of anguish, such as never occurred since nations first came into existence. There will be wars, earthquakes, and famine. There will be suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of creation until now.
But I want to be like the ancient Jews and early Christians before us, and exercise faith in the midst of these end times. As the Church, I think it is our job to provide hope to people who sometimes feel that they are living on borrowed time, glancing over their shoulders at the dark clouds approaching from the horizon.
So what is the nature of the hope that we shall offer? What can I hold on to?
I don’t have the concrete hope that Daniel and the early church seemed to have, and that many Christians today have – that soon, the messiah will swoop in and fix everything. As if we could just go on like this until God decides “Enough is enough!” and like a parent whose children have finally gotten way out of hand, steps in and establishes order.
I also don’t have the hope that we will suddenly become selfless and far-sighted enough to cooperate among the nations and radically change our ways of living, so that we can avoid disaster. Don’t get me wrong: I know that we have a responsibility to make every effort to make this world a better place, and I think God always helps us do this. I just don’t place all my hope in humankind’s willingness to do so until things are so bad that we have to.
The kind of hope I have is this. I believe in resurrection as the only enduring reality of life. For even if the worst happens – if we destroy our environment and make this earth temporarily unlivable for most humans, even then, as Jesus said, This is but the beginning of the birth pangs. I believe in resurrection. Creation will renew itself. Life will manifest in new and spectacular forms. God is unstoppable and will always resurrect life.
And even if human beings can’t figure out how to evolve beyond violence, greed and ignorance, even if first we make our societies a lot worse, humanity too will resurrect. In the future, we may have to live in ways that we cannot even imagine today, but God will be in the midst of that, too. New prophets will arise as they always do and, as Daniel said, those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky. There will still be love. There will still be humor, art, and new scientific breakthroughs.
But these stories from scripture are not, of course, just about ancient Israel and the end times of human history. Scripture always speaks to several levels at once. These writings are about our personal end times, too. Israel’s slavery, its liberation, wandering in the desert, and arrival in the promised land is our faith journey. Jesus’ ministry, cross, and resurrection is a pattern for our lives.
The same is true of the Bible’s eschatological writings. We go through our own end times, again and again, and we must find a way of exercising faith in the midst of them.
There are the end times of childhood, when we no longer feel innocent and protected – an end that comes too soon, for some. There are the end times when the sap of early adulthood is rising and we meet our first big disappointment. There are divorces and deaths, illness and failure, depression and being lost. Finally, there are the end times of old age, when we have to gradually let go of public persona, strength, control, and then life itself.
In every one of these end times, it may seem like a disaster and nothing but chaos, but resurrection is in the middle of it. So
Do not be alarmed…This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.
Be wise, and you will shine like the brightness of the sky.
Zero sum game or abundance?
November 8, 2009
The Rev. Brian C. Taylor
We’ve heard stories of two poor widows today – one from the Jewish scriptures, one from the gospel. Elijah and Jesus. Back in Israel in those days, widows generally didn’t have it so good. No pension, no Social Security, no chance of remarriage.
Not every widow was poor, but these two were. In the Elijah story, the woman’s poverty was made worse by a drought. Nothing to grow in the family plot, no vegetables to trade for grain at the market. She was out gathering sticks for her fire, so that she could make a final meal out of the last bits of grain and oil she had, and feed herself and her son. They were about to starve.
Elijah had received word from the Lord about this woman, and what he was to do. So he found her and had the audacity to ask for food from her. Not only that, but when she said she only had a handful left, he told her to cook it for him first, and then, if there was any left over, to feed her son. She must have known that Elijah was a well-known prophet, because she did as he asked, as outrageous as it was.
After she cooked her last for Elijah, there was still enough for her and her son. The next day, same thing. The food never ran out. It lasted until the drought ended, the rains came, and she was able to grow food again. The moral of the story? The widow trusted and gave to God first, and somehow by the very act of doing this, there was more, not less.
Jump ahead a few hundred years to Jerusalem. Another holy man and prophet, Jesus. Outside the great temple, he and his friends were watching people coming and going to worship and making donations. An religious leader came by, sashaying around in his robes, praying loudly so that everyone could appreciate his piety, making a show of his donation to the temple.
Then along came a poor woman. Jesus noticed that this widow put in two small coins – no showiness about it, no public piety, just a humble offering. Jesus could see that she was poor, for he said that this small amount was everything she had. She gave her last nickel to God, and had nothing left to feed herself. But my suspicion is that by the very act of trusting, there was somehow more for her, too, not less.
These stories tell us about something that is deeply true and reliable. No matter what our circumstances are, even if we feel squeezed in a tight place, if we give of ourselves first to God, there will be more, not less, for us. Seek first the kingdom of God, and all else will be added unto you as well.
There is a term that is used a lot these days – “zero sum.” It refers to both games and economic theories, where a participant’s gain or loss is exactly balanced by the loss or gain of another. When the total gains and losses are added up, the sum is zero. This is how betting works. Your loss exactly matches the gain of the casino.
On our son’s recent birthday, we took a cake to him when he was with about 15 of his friends, and he shared it with them. If he took a very large piece, others would have to take less. If several of them took large pieces, they would get to zero sum pretty quickly. The amounts those ex-friends enjoyed would exactly match the amounts the others didn’t get.
There is only so much to go around, right? If you have no savings and a fixed income, and you blow $2,000 on a trip to Vegas, you won’t be able to pay your rent. Some of us are convinced that all of life is a zero-sum game. So we hoard and protect what we have. We grip our money, our energy, our time, and even our love, because we might run out if we don’t. We begin to look at the demands of life as a threat, because we think that they will take part of us away and then we’ll have less.
What the two stories of the widows tell us is that this isn’t always how it works. Sometimes, giving more away, even when we are pinched, results in gain, not loss. This is because when we give of ourselves, we participate in the energy of God in this world, and God is limitless. Let me give you two examples.
There are times when all of us get pretty busy at work. You know what this is like. 50 emails in the inbox, 8 phone messages to return, 4 projects with deadlines, a fellow worker with a crisis, and a presentation to get ready for tomorrow. When I’m having one of those weeks, sure enough, in walks a person off the street, saying that they want to talk to a priest.
Immediately, my gut tightens up, and it feels like my head is in a vise. Internally, I say No, I can’t do this! Zero sum has caught up with me. The cake ran out hours ago. But then sometimes, God gets in there and quietly says “Let it go; let it all go. Stop, take a breath. Open your mind, your heart, to this person. Give yourself to me first, and then everything else will fall into place.”
Like the two widows, I take my handful of grain, my last nickel, and offer it. We go into the church together, have a conversation, and he asks to be anointed for healing. Afterwards, I walk back to the office, and lo and behold, the jar is full again. My spirit is spacious. There’s more than enough to see me through. In fact, there is now abundance where there was only scarcity before.
Or how about this. A couple, members here, have a few thousand dollars in debt, a tight monthly budget, kids in preschool or college, and not much left over for fun. They come here to worship, and the preacher is asking them to pledge a percentage of their income to give away for God’s purposes in the world. Is he kidding? There’s no cake left!
But they would like to do it. And so, like the two widows, take their last bit of grain, they risk trusting in God, and they do it. So they step out in faith, and pay that first every month, and everything else seems to work out. They give not out of their abundance, as Jesus said the scribe did, in the gospel story. That’s easy to do. Anyone can tip God when they’re feeling flush.
They give instead out of their tightness. And lo and behold, the fear and the constriction opens up. Their life is spacious again, and there is enough. In fact, there is a kind of abundance where there was only scarcity before.
The abundance may not be a check that magically comes in the mail from a recently-departed rich uncle. It may be instead a new way of looking at money, a willingness to spend less on insignificant things. It may be a sense that by giving, they are not living small, individualistic lives, but are connected with the big world around them. It may be the surprise that when they seek first the kingdom of God and its purposes, all else is added unto them. Some kind of abundance results whenever we trust and give.
It is a tragedy when we apply zero-sum thinking to everything in our lives. For it doesn’t protect us from scarcity; it creates scarcity; it makes us tight and isolated. There are certainly times when we must say “no” and crawl into our shell. We all have these times, when we just can’t give what we don’t have. But as a lifestyle, it makes us small.
Life in God is not a zero-sum. It is an expanding universe that only gets bigger as we give more of it away. God has a way of enlarging things, enlarging our capacity for love, for generosity, for being fully present. But this only seems to happen when we trust, when we give of ourselves to God first, when we risk that last handful of grain or that last nickel. There is something in the act of letting go that opens the door to God’s spaciousness. It is a natural law that we can count on.
That’s why Jesus said
Give, and it will be given to you.
A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over,
will be put into your lap;
for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.
- Luke 6:38
The Feast of All Saints
Sunday November 1, 2009
St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Preacher: Rev. Christopher McLaren
Theme: Finding Hope in the Fall Triduum
More than any other Sunday in the Church Year, All Saints Sunday is a kind of designated family reunion day. It is a time to take out the family photo albums and scrapbooks and perhaps a home movie or two – remembering where we came from and hopefully to get some perspective on where we are going.
Turning the pages of one of the old family photo albums, you might see some odd sights, strange predicaments and surprising events. You might find St. Francis standing barefoot, wearing a mud colored robe tied around with a piece or rope, rebuilding a church by hand or find him hands outstretched surrounded by animals communing with God’s creation and preaching to the birds. You will find the agonizing integrity of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, locked away in a German prison camp for resisting Nazi Germany’s regime and genocide by leading the confessing church in its underground activities.
Or perhaps you will find Dame Julian of Norwich living in her cell attached to a church, one window looking onto the world and street and the other looking into the altar of the church. What a wonderful double vision a view into the sacred mysteries of the church and out onto the sacrament of the everyday with a purposeful blending of the two. You might encounter Jonathan Daniels, gunned down outside an Alabama grocery store as an Episcopal seminarian working for civil rights during God’s long summer of 1965.
Here at St. Michael’s I have learned to celebrate All Saints alongside El Dia De los Muertos in a way that has moved me. Looking at the Ofrenda today reminds me that after 3 ½ years I too have a history at St. Michael’s. I have known loved members of this congregation that are not longer with us. I have known the power of disease and the pain of death in the faces of friends and parishioners whether by cancer or AIDS or some other ailment of the body. Having kept company with disease and death, anger and absence of endearing and enduring friends, I have come to suspect that the commemoration of All Saints might be a problem for we American Christians, who live in such a death-denying culture. We Americans have an uncanny knack for dealing with our most transformative and challenging theology in incredibly predictable ways.
We have lost the power of All Saints in the increased trivialization of Halloween. Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I love Halloween. I love its laughter, the crazy laughter that comes from surprise and fear. I love its creativity and costumes and sweetness even as it desperately attempts to stiff-arm the destructive forces at work around us in death, fear and evil. This is not some sort of diatribe about the evils of the Halloween with its acknowledgement of the darkness of the world or a condemnation of its commercialization into one of the biggest holidays of the year. Commercialization is only the symptom of which trivialization is the disease. The problem with All Saints is much deeper. We have disregarded this important adult commemoration so thoroughly that it has made it possible to push it into the realm of children almost entirely so that we can conveniently distance ourselves from the spiritual power behind All Saints. We in the church need to reclaim All Saints for the robust celebration that it is, instead of infantilizing it in a way that is an insult to thoughtful Christian Theology and quite frankly to children as well.
All Saint’s Day is the centerpiece of what we should understand as a sacred three days in autumn, a Fall Triduum if you will. In the carnival celebrations of All Hallow’s Eve or Halloween our ancestors used the most powerful weapon in the human arsenal, the power of humor and ridicule to confront the powers of death. We dress up as ghosts and goblins, grim reapers and zombies, like death itself, to make fun of it, to mock it, and to take some of its hold and power over us away. To be sure making fun of our fears is one way to deal with them but our story goes even deeper facing into fear and finding within it the face of God. At times it is through our fears that we become vulnerable enough that God can reach us and touch us.
On All Saint’s Day, the following day, we give witness to the victory of incarnate goodness embodied in the remarkable friends of God who through word and deed triumphed in some way over the powers of darkness. We celebrate those who are part of our family photo album and heritage who lived in such a way that the world was better for their having been God’s person in their time and place. Mind you these were not perfect people by any stretch of the imagination, but what distinguished them principally was their dogged love of God above all else.
On All Souls’ Day Nov. 2, we proclaim the Christian hope of our common mortality expressed through our expectation of a shared eternity with God. All Souls reminds us that in death life is changed not ended. It also stubbornly asserts that everything and everyone belongs to God always.
Yes, this powerful Christian Feast, this three day celebration of the depth of Christian understanding is not meant to be reduced to toddlers dressed up as Ninjas or Superheroes extorting candy from responsible citizens and yards full of spooky decorations as fun and festive as all of that is.
What is at the root of the trivialization of these incredibly important days in the Church? What do the plastic masks and fake blood and orange cupcakes hide? What are we afraid of? What are we embarrassed about? Could it be that we are embarrassed to admit of the hope that is within us? Sam Portaro, a fellow Episcopal priest writes, “To be fearful of death is natural and ageless. But we have gone beyond that fear; that we shall die we cannot deny. That we shall live, however, is a matter of faith we indulge at tremendous peril. Death shall not disappoint us; we can be sure of its coming, but of life we are less sure.”
We want to believe that human flesh and human being is blessed, but we are not sure of incarnation, so Christmas is a thing of material gifts and Santa Claus and nostalgia. We want to believe that the power of life and love will triumph over the power of death and evil in the end, but we are unsure of resurrection, so Easter is a thing of pastel colored eggs, fashion and fuzzy bunnies. We want so much to believe that life is eternal, but we are not sure of eternity, so this autumn season of spooks and saints and souls is traded off for a time of candy collecting and grinning pumpkins.
But what is it we truly fear. We do not after all fear incarnation, or resurrection or eternity. What we really fear is disappointment. We do not want to believe and hope in vain. This desire to have a true and abiding hope is what makes this autumn commemoration of spooky death, amazing saints, and all souls so special. We Christians dare to hope. We dare to hope beyond the constraints of our mortality. For many hope is hedged, hope is where many if not most draw-up short. Some constrain life to this earthly existence by hoping for reincarnations dependent upon time-bound existence and endless recurrence. Others perceive an end to life entirely trusting in a kind of everlasting nothingness for the soul after death. But we Christians hope, we hope unashamedly in life beyond the grave. Our hope is embodied in the lives of the saints and souls, who have lived in the hope that this life was not the end but only the beginning of an ongoing romance with the divine. We hope in a vast company and communion of faithful people dwelling beyond time and forever.
Is this an embarrassement? To be sure it is. We have no evidence to produce that it is so beyond our defining stories at the center of our faith. We cannot prove that there is life beyond the grave. In order to do that one would have to have gone there and returned to tell about it. But that is precisely what the Christian story is all about. For that beautiful piece of Christian hope is founded on the resurrected one, who demonstrated to the early Christians that there is indeed life beyond the grave, the one who called Lazarus out of the tomb, and awed the disciples by going ahead of them to Galilee.
So in a world that seems to value the present and avoid the ultimate questions like the plague, we Christians are a unique and recklessly hopeful people. In a culture that seeks its own gratification at any cost, and uses up its resources and people as if there is no tomorrow, we Christians dare to believe that there is a tomorrow. A tomorrow that can be shared with a people called the saints that have entered into that tomorrow through their faithful lives and are now enjoying the nearer presence of God.
That is why we need these precious three days of All Hallows Eve, All Saints, and All Souls. These three sacred days work together to remind us of the vitality and hope at the center of our Christian life. They move us out of our natural fear of death, into the victory and oddness of the saints who have led lives of heroic virtue, stubborn love, and uncanny faith showing us the way of life and love and goodness. This in turn leads us into the Christian hope that our companionship with them will become even more tangible and real when we share in the communion of the saints and all the other souls that have joined them in the heavenly throng. The Feast of All Saints, cradled between Halloween and All Souls is meant to move us from fear toward the shores of hope. More than ever, we need these powerful three days to reorient our lives. We know that it is hard to look death in the face and say, “I shall see you again.” It is harder yet to look into the flickering eyes of a dying friend and say, “I know that I shall see you again.”
Yet this is the Christian hope, that is the power at work in the waters of baptism, the waters of death are not the end but the entrance into newness of life by the power of God. That is the Christian Hope that we will see each other again, that the future belongs to us through the power of God. As C.S. Lewis reminds us in The Weight of Glory, “you have never met a mere mortal, we are all of us immortals, meant for eternity.” And we are each one of us either helping or hindering those we meet on the streets or at work or around our dining room tables toward a particular kind of eternity. And that is why All Saints includes you, because you too are intended to be part of that vast company of faithful folks that are gently and lovingly leading the way from fear and death toward life and hope in God. You are called to be a saint, you are called to be a person of deep hope in life eternal, and with God’s help you will become one of God’s saints. You will share in a communion that is ages deep and continent wide with all the faithful who have come before you and with whom you belong for eternity.
With the eyes of faith you can perhaps catch a glimpse of the communion of the saints around the baptismal font this day as we welcome our newest members into the family of faith and into this life of hope. It is a communion for which you are destined and to which you are called to belong. If we could for a moment see the reality that surrounds us, if the veil of time and space could but shift for a moment you would see that all around us this day tier upon tier and rank upon rank are the saints of God surrounding our worship as if we are in a packed stadium that would make the NFL games today look like child’s play. We are far from alone. We are in the company of innumerable friends, faithful people who have gone before us. And so with the apostle Paul we can pray: “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.” (Ephesians 1). May the joy and hope of All Saints be yours this day.
The concept for this sermon comes from Sam Portaro’s writing on the subject in Brightest and Best: A Companion to the Lesser Feasts and Fasts. I am deeply indebted to him for these reflections from which I have borrowed liberally. May it serve to enrich our understanding of this sacred time in the autumn of the church year.