A sermon for All Saints’ Sunday, preached at Chapel Hill UMC.
Revelation is a peculiar reading for All Saints’ Sunday, don’t you think? When we think of saints we often think of individual men and women who have done particularly great things. St. Francis who was in such communion with creation that he preached to the birds. St. Teresa of Avila who experienced a dramatic mystical connection to God and who gave her life to reforming the Carmelite Order, building 17 convents in Spain. Mother Teresa, who made caring for the sick and left out of Calcutta her life’s work. These are heroic gestures, they come to mind when we think of saints.
But the New Testament has something different to say about saints. “To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints” (Rom. 1:7). “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” ( 1 Cor. 1:2). “To the church of God in Corinth, together with all the saints throughout Achaia” (2 Cor. 1:1). “To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 1:1). “To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi (“Phil. 1:1). “To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae” (Col. 1:2). Paul seems to think this whole saint thing isn’t an isolated me-and-Jesus journey, there isn’t a saint, there are saints.
Which makes sense, if we’re called to imitate Christ (who showed us the ultimate love of God and neighbor), then we can’t do that alone.
Back to Revelation, In our reading we get a glimpse of apocalypse (not a very saintly word, right?). This apocalypse isn’t full of zombies or whatever else Hollywood throws into the word. That’s not apocalypse. Apocalypse means the curtain is pulled back, and we can see things as they really are. It’s like a sneak peak.
And what do we see in John’s sneak peak? A great number of people—too many to count from every race, nation tribe, and language–worshiping at the throne of God, their shepherd. Where there is no more hunger or thirst and God gives the water of life in place of tears.
As he’s standing there, someone asks John, “Who are these people, dressed in white robes, and where have they come from?” John dodges his question, “You can tell me, sir.” Then the elder replied, “These are the people who have been through the great trial; they have washed their robes white again in the blood of the Lamb.”
These saints have gone through the trial, and come out sparkling white on the other side, thanks to the blood of the Lamb. These white robes aren’t to distinguish us from you. We wear these to remind you of your identity. In baptism, your robes are made white in the blood of the Lamb. You are called to be saints.
Notice what the text doesn’t say: it doesn’t say there will be no trial, but in Matthew, Jesus names blessing even in the place of trial. “Blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sale, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
These saints have been brought through the trial into communion with God and neighbor. What is the trial for you? This time of year it might be making it to Wednesday without breaking your tv because of all the campaign commercials. Trying to write this sermon was a trial with a newborn at home and the random crying and unusual sleep patterns that come with her. Maybe you’ve experienced the death of a family member or friend. maybe you’ve had a relationship severed. Or lost a job. Or had a health scare. Or lost your hope or joy. For you, on this All Saints Sunday, our image from Revelation is good news. This is how the story ends for the saints.
Celtic Christianity, where we get St. Patrick, has a concept of thin places. These are places where the barrier between heaven and earth seems incredibly thin, even possible to be bridged. We might call these places holy ground. The communion table is such a place. Even though we know where the saints’ story ends–the throne of God–we don’t have to wait to experience it. Every time we gather at this table and join our voices with the company of heaven: “Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, Heaven and earth are full of your glory, Hosanna in the highest, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, hosanna in the highest.” Every time we do that we experience the communion of the saints. It’s not just us gathered at this table, but all saints, from all times and places.
Today is a kind of thin time. We remember and grieve those saints in our lives who have gone on to that heavenly multitude. We grieve their absence because of the impact they had in our lives. The love they showed us, the wisdom offered, the times they listened when no one else would. One morning while our daughter was up early, we watched Les Miserables, and a line from one of the last songs goes, “To Love another is to see the face of God.” We grieve because those saints in our lives have pointed us to the face of God.
But we also give thanks for the saints who surround us here and now. Those who continue to walk with us through the trial. And we remember that we are called to be saints, to follow Christ wherever we find ourselves.
And more than that, we remember the One by whose name alone we can be called saints: Jesus Christ our Lord. For saints are not those with super human abilities that call attention to themselves. No, saints are those who humbly submit their lives to God. They point us to the lamb whose blood has washed our robes to a glistening white. To the one who gives us life and who promised to be with us always, even to the end of the age.
And isn’t it funny the thing Jesus left us to do in remembrance of him was eat together? When I was in divinity school I had an internship at Efland UMC, a small rural church. When someone died in the community, the church would surround the family of the deceased with love and support. After the funeral and graveside service, all who wanted to would return to the church for a delicious southern potluck served up by the saints in Efland: pinto beans, fried chicken, rice pudding, and sweet tea were some of the staples. And those in mourning and the rest of the church would sit and eat together, sharing stories and more than just a meal. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Whatever trial you find yourself in, know that you are not alone. You are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, visible and invisible. And the good shepherd will lead you to this table where the saints have always found bread and wine for the journey. That meal and fellowship which alone can satisfy. It’s easy to come to this table in auto-pilot, receiving the elements individually. Tonight, look around at your fellow saints, give thanks for them. And, if you can, look through this thin place to where that great multitude is gathered and get a foretaste of that eternal celebration, a foretaste of heaven.
Share on Facebook
Posted in Blog, Sermons |