10.30.16 (Celebrating All Saints' Day early)
Rev. Kirsten preaching
In the portion of the deuteron-Pauline letter to the Ephesians that we heard today, the author speaks to the hearers about inheritance. Today as we celebrate All Saints Day, I’d like to focus on our inheritance from the Saints and on what Jesus calls us to leave as our legacy to those who will follow us.
In the letter to the Ephesians, I hear two answers to the question: What did we inherit?
First, we are inheritors of Jesus’ legacy. When he died, all who believed in him were “destined” according to his purpose. With Christ’s death and resurrection, we are given the same hope, the same ministry. We inherited God’s project—the redemption of all humanity, the reconciliation of all creatures with one another, the emancipation of all from whomever and whatever oppresses them. And this inheritance came not just once, with Christ’s death, but comes to us continuously as we remember all the saints who are part of the communion. As each person of faith dies, the communion of saints (which includes all of us) grows deeper, bringing the shared hope of God’s reign closer to us, expanded in its vision with the specific visions of those who come before us. The hope that we inherited from Jesus Christ, and the ministry that we inherit is shaped by the hopes and ministry of all the saints.
The second part of our inheritance that our epistle speaks to is the spirit of wisdom and revelation. The Holy Spirit has marked us and made us part of his work. We have the gifts that we need to live into this inheritance.
Holding together these two aspects of our inheritance, we can see that we, like Daniel from the Hebrew bible have been given a vision and the power to interpret that vision. We inherit Jesus’ hope, and the hope of all the Saints who have followed Jesus, and we can understand this hope in our own context, we can interpret Jesus’ hope in our own time.
How do the Saints help us in this project? In the Roman Catholic tradition, November 1 is the day when the Saints who have been canonized by the Roman Catholic church are celebrated. In our tradition, we understand the “communion of saints” as including all who have died in faith and all of us. We are joined together in one project that extends back in time to Jesus, and forward until the kingdom of God comes. Today I would like to celebrate both the Saints (with a capital “S”) and the small “s” saints who share their legacies with us.
Who is your favorite Saint and why? Maybe you feel especially close to St. Luke, the healer because you know that your part in God’s work is to heal the sick, or to bring reconciliation to those who are outcast from society. Maybe you feel close to St. Michael. He is known as the Guardian of the Church, and also as the Angel of Death. Do you join St. Michael in defending us against Satan, or the forces of evil? Do you feel called to be with people when they are close to death, offering them the opportunity for redemption by your presence with them? What about St. Hildegaard? She was one of the first great German mystics, a poetess, and prophetess. Living in the 12th century, her music and poetry have remained popular, all part of her recorded mystical experiences. Does the music of Hildegaard inspire you? Are you drawn to her mystical experiences, her visions of Jesus? Maybe you identify with St. Mary, the mother of God, or St. Mary Magdelene—Jesus’ disciple and friend.
I don’t have one Saint who I consider my favorite, or my role model, but I find that reading about the Saints enriches my sense of calling and ministry. I am inspired by their work, and comforted by the knowledge that the work that I am doing is part of a much bigger project God’s project, Jesus’ legacy and the legacy of so many Saints.
Today, we will read the necrology after our offertory hymn. As we read the names, we will remember their faithfulness, their ministry. In these memories, we will celebrate their roles in our collective life. These people of Nativity, or the faithful people in our families, help us to know Jesus’ work here. We join them as part of the Body of Christ working to bring the Kingdom here. For each person, as we read them, we’ll light a candle. The candle symbolizes the light that their lives have shed on us. The light reminds us that we come to know God more deeply by the presence of these people in our lives. The light of these saints, illumines and unfolds the mystery of God. As we say their names, I invite us to remember the specific ways that these people contribute to our wisdom and knowledge of God. If we remember the ways that they healed, or comforted, the ways that they taught us, or showed us what compassion looks like—our part in Jesus’ work is made clearer. Maybe there is a particular ministry that someone you knew cared about. As you remember them today, you might feel that you are called to continue this ministry. This past week, Kim Bromley, a regular member of our 10 a.m. congregation called and said that she was going to take on the Food Bank ministry. She called the Marin Food Bank and got us the barrel and she’ll make an announcement about how you can contribute. Kim told us that she was undertaking this ministry to honor her sister—who is alive. She said that she donates to the food bank instead of giving her sister a Christmas present. This is her way of honoring their shared commitment to doing God’s work here. But Kim also said in her note that she was thinking about Margaret Jackson. Margaret Jackson was a faithful member of the church who died two years ago. Margaret was passionate about outreach ministries. She chaired the outreach committee and organized many of our programs to serve the poor here in Marin. Kim (and all of us) now participate with Margaret who is part of our communion of saints as we continue Margaret’s work.
Today, I am remembering my friend Carol Davis who died recently. Carol was the friend who sent vaccinations from her veterinarian to me when I was in Bosnia trying to save my very sick kitty. Halloween is the anniversary of my adopting our Bosnian cat. Carol had a lifelong commitment to saving and caring for animals—cats, dogs, horses. She was a dog trainer and a passionate horsewoman. I include Carol’s ministry in my hope for God’s work here. I share with her the hope that no animal will ever suffer, that all will be given the food and care and love that they need.
After we have read the necrology, we will share communion. I invite you to look at the candles as you come up for communion and as we celebrate the Holy meal together, I encourage you to contemplate your participation in the communion of saints. In Eucharist, God brings us together in one Body. Today especially we will contemplate that Body that includes all who have come before us, and all who will inherit the legacy of our faith. When we die, we will leave our hope for those who remain.
Finally, before we pray together, I would like to speak for a moment about Halloween and the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed. It can be confusing because we have three holidays—Halloween on the 31st, All Saints on November 1st and All Soul’s on November 2nd.
Today we’ll carve pumpkins after Church in the kitchen and on Monday night, we’ll open the church to our neighbors for trick or treating. Halloween comes from All Hallow’s Eve. All Hallows is Old English for All Saints. All Hallows Eve, is the vigil the night before All Saints. The Halloween celebration incorporated some pagan traditions that focused on the battle between good and evil spirits. So when we dress up as scary characters or good characters and go trick or treating, we are acting out our hope that good will triumph over evil. I think it is really a fun secular holiday now, but it’s good to remember that it’s related to our celebration on November 1 (that we’re doing today) of being joined with all saints.
On Wednesday night, we’ll celebrate the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed. We’ll build an altar with pictures of people who have died, we’ll light candles and we’ll sing a simple Evensong service. This service in the Roman Catholic tradition offers prayers for those who are in transition, on their way to heaven. We celebrate All Soul’s because we (Episcopalians) know that all who have died are now with God and we offer our prayers for their life in God. So there is a similarity between today’s reading of the necrology and the reading of names at All Soul’s in that both services are about remembering the deceased. But today we are focused on celebrating their role in our community. We are focused on the legacy, the inheritance that we receive from their faith. On Wednesday night, All Soul’s we will focus on the people who have died. We will be praying for them, lifting them up to God, praying for their new life in God.
And so I conclude today with the prayer that the author of the letter of Ephesians prayed for that community:
“I 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.”