The Feast of All Saints, Year B
The Rev. R. Bingham Powell
Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 24
Revelation 21:1-6a; John 11:32-44
Every Wednesday morning, at 9:30, a small group gathers together to celebrate the Eucharist over in the chapel. At each of those mid-week services, we remember a different saint. We read a brief biography about the saint of the day; we hear lessons that somehow reflect or highlight some aspect of their life or ministry; and the sermon, at its best, touches on the intersection of the Scripture, the life of the saint, and our lives today. At these services, we remember saints ancient and modern, lay and ordained, men and women. We remember saints close to home, and saints from the other side of the globe. We remember saints many different denominations, our own and others, and we remember saints from before there were denominations. We remember saints who were missionaries, martyrs, artists, activists, political leaders, visionaries, teachers, and writers, among other vocations.
At these Wednesday services, we focus on the individual saint, but today, we have a different task. Today is the Feast of All Saints. On this day, we don’t look at the saints individually, but as a whole, the whole communion of saints, the great cloud of witnesses. We step back for a moment today to look not at the trees, but at the forest. Going through all of those saints individually week in and week out has helped me realize when I do step back to get the big picture, that all of them, whether alive two thousand years ago, or two hundred, whether five hundred years ago or fifty, had something in common: through their lives and through their work, they pointed us toward the love of God found in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And when we look back on them now, they continue to point us toward our God. The saints are, therefore, signs on the journey in hope leading us toward that new Jerusalem that we heard about in Revelation, where every tear is wiped away.
The famous ones get remembered and get their own special feasts days, but fame is not what makes a saint; it is a life that points to God that makes one a saint. And that means that there are the un-famous saints also, saints that don’t get a special feast day, but who we do remember today. Perhaps one of those names of a loved one who has died that you filled out and put into the blessing bowl to remember today is one of these un-famous saints who pointed you toward God. Perhaps your grandmother who held you on her lap and shared Bible stories, and shared those good, old hymns with you as a child is one of these un-famous saints. Perhaps a newborn baby by her very presence pointed you toward God and is one of these saints. Perhaps that Sunday School teacher who graciously heard all of your questions, and loved you even when you pushed his buttons, and all the while helped teach you about the love of God, is one of them. Perhaps the person who gave you a hug or a warm smile on that day when everything seemed to be falling apart is one of them. Perhaps the person who served you a meal when you were hungry, or gave you a glass of water when you were thirsty, is one of these saints that won’t ever be famous, but helped point the way to God’s love and gave you some hope.
And perhaps you are the saint. In the Bible, the word saint is not used as a synonym for a perfect, super religious person like the word seems to be used today. No, the word saint simply means holy one; and, in Scripture, whenever the word saint is used, it refers to all of the members of the body of Christ. Yes, you heard that right, all of the members of the body of Christ are considered saints. By virtue of our baptism, we are saints, and we live into that when, by our life, we point toward God, whether that is through a kind word, a generous gift, or a loving action.
A few years ago, I went to England on pilgrimage with some of our youth. One of the places we visited was the city of Coventry. You probably know the story of Coventry; I’ve told it many times. Just to briefly recap though, during World War II, Coventry Cathedral was destroyed during a bombing. After the war, the people decided to leave the old bombed, shelled-out cathedral as ruins, right next door to a new Cathedral that they built. If you stand in the ruins of the old Cathedral, and face the new one, you will see huge, multi-story glass window wall. Etched into the glass are three rows of saints. They have a row of Old Testament saints like Isaiah, Moses, and Abraham. They have a row of New Testament saints like Paul and Peter, and the Gospel writers. And they have a row of British Saints like Bede, Columba, and Margaret of Scotland. There are thirty-one saints in all. As I stood there that day during our reflection time, I noticed not only the enormous etchings of these saints, but I noticed my own reflection in the glass, along with my fellow pilgrims, and the strangers who were also visiting that day. In this window, all of us were standing there with the great saints of old. It was a powerful image and reminder that we were surrounded by the communion of saints, and, at the same time, we were also part of the communion of saints.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, my fellow saints, as we remember all of those saints famous and not who have already entered the land of light and joy, and who surround us on every side even today, let us not forget that we, too, are saints. Just as they have pointed us toward God through their lives and work, we, too, can point others toward God, fulfilling our baptismal promise to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. Like them, we can act as signs on the journey, pointing others to God’s love and mercy and grace.