Nov 1, 2012 - The Feast of All Saints

The Feast of All Saints, Year B
The Rev. Lawrence Crumb
Combined Joint Service of Area Episcopal Churches
November 1, 2012 – St. Mary’s, Eugene

I would like to thank Father Bingham Powell for allowing me to share this Golden Jubilee here at St. Mary’s, where I assisted on a regular basis for several years, and where my Silver Jubilee was celebrated twenty-five years ago. I also thank the clergy of the other parishes in Eugene and Springfield for allowing it to be at this joint service of the five congregations. I have supplied at all of them at one time or another, so it is a little like having my extended family all together in one place. I am also pleased that some of my immediate family at St. Andrew’s, Cottage Grove, are also here tonight. And I would like to pay tribute to Dorothy Bergquist on this one month anniversary of her death. She was my friend, my voice teacher, and my colleague in liturgy here at St. Mary’s, and was the MC at the Silver Jubilee service. Her memory, and that of her daughter Emily, who was thurifer on that occasion, so soon before her untimely death, are dear to me.

Now, a Golden Jubilee is a fiftieth anniversary, but, of course, the story goes back more than fifty years. In September 1951, as a sophomore in high school, I joined the Young People’s Fellowship of Christ Church, Los Altos, a small but growing parish in a small but growing town on the San Francisco Peninsula, in the area now known as Silicon Valley. The following month, I joined the church choir, and a month later I was baptized and confirmed. A large addition to the church was being built, and the choir practiced at the home of a couple who both sang in it. One Thursday evening, I was greeted at the door by our host with these words: “The king is dead; long live the queen.” It was February 7, 1952. He was quoting from a speech given earlier that day by the British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill. 

The previous day, a twenty-five year old princess had climbed down from a tree-house in Kenya to learn that she was now, “By the grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and of her other Realms and Territories, Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.” Sixty years later, she is still queen. As an Anglophile monarchist, I am naturally pleased that my golden jubilee as priest should coincide with her diamond jubilee as monarch.

But we are here tonight principally to celebrate the feast of All Saints, one of the major observances in our calendar. The attitude of Christians to saints has varied greatly over the years. For some, they have been at best stained-glass figures, remote and impossible to identify with; or, at worst, a kind of pantheon of lesser deities. On the other hand, some have reacted against these perceptions to deny any attribution of sainthood to anyone. The 18th C. essayist Joseph Addison tells of someone who “had occasion to inquire which was the way to St. Anne's Lane, upon which the person whom he spoke to, instead of answering his question, called him a young popish cur, and asked him who had made Anne a saint!” (Spectator, April 27, 1711) I think, in the spirit of the Anglican via media, we can find a way to avoid both extremes, and I think we can do it by going to one of the most ancient Christian documents, the Apostles’ Creed. It ends: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” It sounds like a miscellaneous grab-bag of odds and ends that were left over and had to be tacked on somewhere. But it isn’t. The earliest form of the creed said, “Do you believe in the Holy Spirit in the holy Church?” Holy Spirit and Holy Church are like two sides of the same coin. Of the many spirits one might encounter, this one is the Holy Spirit because of being encountered within the Christian community, the Holy Catholic Church. 

And the church is holy because it is indwelt and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. And the communion of saints is simply another name for the church. (Older Prayer Books made this clear by a difference in punctuation, if anyone noticed.) It is this understanding of saints as a communion that preserves the more traditional forms of Christianity from the individualism of some later movements.

The Communion of Saints is affirmed in many parts of the Prayer Book, in addition to the Apostles’ Creed in Morning and Evening Prayer, and the Nicene Creed in the Eucharist. The traditional post-communion prayer, preserved in Rite I, gives thanks “that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, the blessed company of all faithful people.” (BCP, p. 339) This is not the kind of company you entertain in the parlor; it is the kind of company you are assigned to in the army – a company marked by unity, discipline, and purpose, under the leadership of a captain. In Rite II, one of the new collects for the conclusion of the Prayers of the People affirms that God has “made us one with your saints in heaven and on earth [and that we] know ourselves to be surrounded by their witness to your power and mercy.” (BCP, p. 395) And in both rites, the Proper Preface for All Saints proclaims that “in the multitude of your saints you have surrounded us with a great cloud of witnesses, that we might rejoice in their fellowship, and run with endurance the race that is set before us.” (BCP, p. 380) I like to think that Dorothy Sayers, a daughter of the manse, had this text in mind when she entitled one of her detective novels Clouds of Witness. In the Burial Office, one of the additional prayers, also appropriate for other occasions, praises “God, the King of saints … for the blessed Virgin Mary; for the holy patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs; and for all your righteous servants, known to us and unknown … that encouraged by their examples, aided by their prayers, and strengthened by their fellowship, we also may be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.” (BCP, p. 504) 

So we see that the saints are not some kind of spiritual aristocracy, placed between us and God, but a fellowship – an extended family, if you will – that surrounds us and supports us in our pilgrimage.

Here in Eugene and Springfield, we have several saints to remind us of important Christian virtues and values. First of all, St. Mary, the first to be united to Jesus – in her case, united both physically and spiritually. As a good Jewish mother, she made him the primary concern of her life. Isn’t that the best example a saint could give us – putting Jesus first, putting first the God revealed in Jesus Christ? And St. Matthew, who left wealth and position to accept the call to be a disciple, and, later an apostle and evangelist. And St. Thomas, whose temporary doubt enabled his faith, and that of later generations; so that a thousand years later, another Thomas, writing the Summa Theologica, could show that “ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt.” [John Henry Newman, alluding to Aquinas’ method of raising difficulties and resolving them.] St. John the Divine, the traditional name for the author of the book of Revelation, gives us a vision of heaven – not a paradise of earthly joys, but a heaven where the chiefest joy is the Beatific Vision, where “the Lord God omnipotent reigneth” and the saints sing “Hallelujah.” Resurrection is not a saint, except in the Greek form of Anastasia, but it is the central fact that binds the saints together and gives them the one hope of their calling.

I love the hymns associated with All Saints’ Day, especially the one that begins, “For all the saints, who from their labors rest.” It ends, “From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast, through gates of pearl streams in the countless host, singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Alleluia, alleluia.” (Hymnal 1982, no. 287) 

And we are here, on this feast of All Saints, inside the gates of Pearl -- Street, gathered from the wide bounds of Eugene and Springfield, surrounded with a great cloud of witnesses; encouraged by their examples, aided by their prayers, and strengthened by their fellowship; and, with them, singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Alleluia, alleluia! 

[Note: I have given the queen’s present title, adopted in 1953. At the time of her accession, it was “By the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland, and of the British Dominions beyond the Seas, Queen, Defender of the Faith.”]