Updated: Jul 18, 2021
(The Rev. Dr. Deborah White and The Rev. Walter Ramsey)
Today is All Saint’s Day – the day we remember those who have gone before us to eternal life. In ancient Christianity, each saint had his or her own day of remembrance. All Soul’s Day, which is on November 2nd, was set apart to honor those who were not officially recognized as saints or martyrs of the church. In time, however, there came to be so many saints that the Church decided to honor all of them on one “all” saint’s day.
All Saint’s is also one of the preferred days to perform baptisms, as we will do today. Although it seems counterintuitive to baptize on a day commemorating the dead, our prayer book reminds us that baptism is the way we understand our relationship to God and to one another. This includes everyone we come into contact with, but most especially the community of Christ – those who live now and those who no longer live on this earth. We are all members of the same community of saints – living and dead – and we enter that community through the sacrament of Holy Baptism.
These days, even though it feels as if there are huge and seemingly immovable barriers separating human beings from one another, there is no evidence that our desire for community has decreased. Humanity has applied our collectively amazing intelligence and creativity to find new and innovative ways to “see” and “be with” one another, even when physically separated. Unfortunately, some of us have also sought refuge in smaller and smaller communities made up of those who completely agree with what we believe, and consistently affirm our existing ideas without providing the thoughtful questioning and fact-checking we all need to make our best decisions. This type of “community” is not good for us. It has led to extreme polarization in our society culminating in mindless vitriol and violence. We are now witness to communities, some of which identify themselves as communities of Christ, that justify treating other human beings as unequal and unworthy and equating power and wealth with faithfulness.
Today’s readings provide us with a scriptural understanding of what it means to be part of Christian community, both now and eternally. They tell us that we are all God’s children, and that God wants what is best for us. They remind us that God does not punish us with suffering; we bring it upon ourselves. We are flawed beings, and it is through our human impulses that pain is brought into the world. Yet, even in the midst of our grief, God blesses us – for our meekness, our purity of heart, our efforts to live peacefully with one another, and, most especially, when we sorrow and suffer on God’s behalf. Best of all, we are promised that at the end of our road is God’s Holy City, where we, “will hunger no more, and thirst no more, [where] God will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes.”
Our deacon, Reverend Walter Ramsey, reminds us that in our “reading in The Revelation to John, John has a vision of a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. An elder tells John that they are the ones that have passed through the ordeal of persecution and martyrdom at the hand of Rome.” They are not souls who have escaped trial and tribulation. They are not people who believed that God provides magic wealth, health, and righteousness in this world. Reverend Walter says, “Life with God means that we may know what it is to be poor, hungry, sorrowful, and cursed. Life with God means that we might know what it is to be unpopular, to be discounted and overlooked. What matters is that when we put our lives in Jesus’s hands, we will, like him, find our yoke is easy and our burdens light. The souls who stand in the presence of the Lamb of God are those who have resisted the lure of empire- who have kept their faith in spite of suffering the fears and anxieties of illness, injustice, economic hardship, and persecution. They are those who lived for Christ and are now one with Christ in death.
Reverend Walter suggests that it is important to remember the connection between this earthly realm and the heavenly throne room envisioned by John. Those who have died in Christ “witness to us the nature of eternity itself and how knowing the shape of eternity can show us how to live our lives in the here and now! The life of heaven – the life of the realm where God’s will is already complete– is to become the life of the world, transforming the present ‘earth’ into the place of beauty and delight that God always intended. Those who follow Jesus are to live in God’s way here and now. That’s the point of the Sermon on the Mount and the paired blessings we call “beatitudes.” Jesus does not pronounce these blessings as something we should try to live up to or to offer a list of people whom God always blesses. Instead, they are a reminder that we can live this way in the present, because God’s promised future has already arrived in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
We need not fear our future. We need only accept the gift we have already been given -membership in the fellowship of God – by walking beside those who are here now and those who have gone before us. “Proclaim the glory of the Lord,” our psalmist exults, “Those who seek the Lord lack nothing that is good. The Lord ransoms the life of his servants and none will be punished who trust in him.” We are God’s people and we have been made new in the image of God through Jesus Christ. The glory of God is us. It is in the meek and the brave; the seekers and the suffering; the persecuted and the peacemakers; the mourning and the merciful. It is for those who are present and those who are absent. It is for St. John and for little Andrew Senn. The glory of God is God’s people.
Reverend Walter believes that God’s love is personal, contemporary, and eternal. The Beloved Community of God shines most brightly when we are able to do the most difficult thing God asks of us: to love our enemies. It takes root when we do good to those who hate us. It comes alive when we bless those who curse us. It shines brightly when we pray for those who abuse or mistreat us. It is always present when we respond to the cry of the poor, hungry, homeless, and refugees. When we live our lives by showing love to all people, we claim our membership in the community of Christ.
Victor Hugo said, “To love another person is to see the face of God.” In these days when it is so easy to recognize hatred in the faces of many around us, we must try instead to see the glory of God in other people. We must struggle to look at those toward whom we feel hate as well as those we love and see the face of God. We must attempt to look at an election ballots, social media, and newscasts and imagine the face of God. We must remember that ours is a community of all saints, of all souls- good and bad, rich and poor, dead and alive.
In the Christian church baptism is associated with All Saint’s Day because we know that from the very moment of our birth until we leave this world and enter the new life of the resurrection, God is with us. Look and see. Taste and see. See and accept the glory of the Lord – because it is already yours –yours to have and yours to share. O blessed communion, fellowship divine! Let us not struggle. Let us in glory shine. Let us be one in God, because we all belong to God – and let us look at one another and see the face of God. AMEN.