A communion of saints: A Sermon for All Saints’ Sunday, 2018

Today is All Saints’ Sunday. In the life of Grace Church, it’s a day full of opportunities to reflect on who we are as a community and who we are becoming, and called to become. We are baptizing a baby today. We commemorate those who have died from our congregation and our loved ones, in the last year and distant past. We welcome new members into our community, and finally, we gather up our pledges of financial commitment to the ministry and mission of Grace for the coming year.

For some reason, I’m feeling a bit nostalgic and reflective today. As I was entering the name of William James Dalton in the baptismal register this week, I looked back over the records of all those I’ve baptized over the last 9 plus years. The total is 47. Some of them were members of families who were only barely connected to Grace, some have moved away or joined other congregations but many I see almost every week. I’ve watched them grow and learn, and show me the beauty and delight of human beings loved by family, congregation, and God.

I did something of the same thing as I wrote down the names of those members and loved ones who died over the past year for our commemoration today. I reflected on the other faces who are no longer among us, those faithful souls who were such a part of our congregation, who many of us remember and whose passing has left holes in our church, empty spaces in the pews where they always sat, and loving memories of their gifts, their spirits, and the time we spent with them.

As we think about the communion of all the saints today, it’s important to remember above all, that we are all the saints, in the New Testament sense of the word. We tend to think the saints as heroes of the faith; those who were martyred as they bore witness to Jesus Christ, or those who through their deep devotion and spirituality showed evidence in their lives of a closer connection to God than most of us have, or have served as role models throughout history, for what we as Christians are capable of, and how we might show forth our faith in our lives.

All of that is true, of course, but when we think of saints in that way, it’s easy to lose the connection between their lives and ours. In the first place, all of us are called to sanctity, or holiness—to grow more deeply in our faith and to seek to model our lives on that of Jesus Christ, to shape ourselves in Christ’s image, through reading of scripture, prayer, or to use the language of the baptismal covenant that we all will recommit ourselves to in a few minutes:


Celebrant
Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and
fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the
prayers?
People I will, with God’s help.
 
Celebrant Will you persevere in resisting evil, and , whenever
you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
People I will, with God’s help.

 

 

Celebrant Will you proclaim by word and example the Good
News of God in Christ?
People I will, with God’s help.
 
Celebrant Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving
your neighbor as yourself?
People I will, with God’s help.
 
Celebrant Will you strive for justice and peace among all
people, and respect the dignity of every human
being?
People I will, with God’s help.

 

So that’s part of it—for all of us, we are called to be saints. But even if we find that language hard, or the image of being a saint unrealistic, impossible, or outlandish, the fact of the matter is, we are saints to each other. I would like you to take a moment to reflect on someone who has been a saint to you—someone who has showed you what Christian faith is, helped you when you struggled, or someone whose faith, commitment, and service inspire you. It maybe someone from your childhood; it maybe someone who is sitting in the pew next to you.

Now another question: are you, could you be that sort of person in someone else’s life? How might you or have you inspired, supported, or demonstrated to someone else what following Jesus is like? That’s probably a hard question for you to answer. Perhaps you’ve never thought of the possibility that you might be a saint to or for someone else but again, the idea comes straight out of our baptismal liturgy. I will ask you all, “Will all of you witnessing these vows do all in your power to support this person in his life in Christ.” In baptism, we commit ourselves to be saints for each other.

So, whether we like it or not, whether we can see ourselves that way or not, we are a communion of saints. We are all of us, individually and together, on a journey to grow more deeply in faith, to shape ourselves in the image of Christ, to become the body of Christ in the world. That is the case in spite of our own shortcomings and sins and the fallenness of the world in which we live.

We experience that contrast between who we are and who we are called to be in many ways, not least in the contrast between John’s vision of a new Jerusalem coming down from heaven, and our experience of the city and nation in which we live.

I know that many of us are worried about our community and our nation. The divisions in our society are deep, anguishing, and increasingly expressed in violence. Those divisions do not end at the doors of Grace Church. We carry them with us into worship and fellowship. Our baptismal vows to “seek and serve Christ in all persons” and “to respect the dignity of every human being” ring hollow in a society where racism, Anti-Semitism, and toxic masculinity are expressed openly without shame and claim victims every day in gun violence. Many of us, perhaps all of us, no matter what our political leanings, fear what will happen on Tuesday.

In this context, on this day, the reading from Revelation offers us both hope and challenge. The vision of a new city, a new Jerusalem coming down from heaven reminds us of the possibility of human community shaped in God’s image: where all human beings are made welcome and respected, where there is no suffering or pain, where creation is renewed.

It is a vision that may seem farther off to us now than it ever has been but it reminds us of our hope—not that we can make things new, but that God will make things new; that whatever happens, today, Tuesday, or in the months or years to come, God is making all things new. So on this day that we focus on the communion of saints, past, present, and yet to come, may our hearts be filled in thanksgiving and hope that God is working in and through us and that one day we will experience the perfect communion of all the saints rejoicing in the presence of God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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