Sermon; All Saints' Day, Year A
Four years ago on All Saints' Sunday I stood here – well THERE (pointing to the crossing) actually – and said it was good to be here. My family and I had completed our cross-country move and this was our first Sunday together. And it is still good to be here among the people of this parish (and beyond) as we celebrate the Feast of All Saints.
On this day we remember those people whose life, labor, and witness to the world exemplified what it means to be the Church. We remember those people who sacrificed much, some to the point of physical torture and death, to proclaim the Good News of Christ. Today we remember people like Peter, Paul, Bartholomew, Polycarp, Justin, Ignatius, Athanasius, Augustine, Benedict, Brigid, Catherine, Clare, Constance, Perpetua, Stephen, Theresa, and so many others I can't name. Some were persecuted, some were martyred, some did great things for the life of the Church, and all of them were faithful to the calling of Christ.
But also included in the list of saints are people like Jerome who fought with clergy and was “seldom pleasant.” Or Pope Pius V who passed and enforced anti-Jewish laws. Or Mary of Egypt who was described as . . . um . . . a very busy woman. Or Cyril of Alexandria who had his own clerical special forces that violently attacked anyone who opposed him. And there are plenty of other badly behaving saints. These people were less-than-saintly. But as the preface to Lesser Feasts and Fasts states, “In the saints we are not dealing primarily with absolutes of perfection but human lives . . . .It should encourage us to realize that the saints, like us, are first and foremost redeemed sinners.”
So on this day we remember the saints of the Church, those people who, despite their failings, are honored for their heroic commitment to Christ and who have borne witness to their faith, sometimes at the cost of their lives.
On this day we also remember loved ones who have entered into glory before us. We remember those who were read at the beginning of the service today. I also remember people like Bobby, George, Sheila, Frank, Paul, and Lucille. And we remember that for them, and eventually for us, life is changed, not ended.
But today isn't only about remembering those saints and souls who have gone before. It's also about remembering and commemorating those people who by their faithful and godly living are examples to us. I remember people like Frank, Jeff, Tripp, Polly, Janis, Joan, Dan, Joani, and so many others who I have looked up to and admire. Their faith in Christ, and their life in the church, is an inspiration to many people and are lives I hope to emulate.
All Saints' Day is the day we remember and give thanks for all of this. We remember and give thanks for those in ages past, in our past, in our present, and in the yet-to-come, because all of these make up that great cloud of witnesses. Our Eucharist and liturgy reflect this every Sunday, but today it is more appropriate and more special. Today when we join our voices with angels, archangels, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, and with all the company of heaven, our worship is that much more significant. It is good to be here on such a day as this.
And on top of all that, on top of remembering and commemorating the saints and souls of the past, on top of paying tribute to those people who are inspirations to us by their faithful and godly living, this day is also about us. This day is about us because each one of us is an example of faithful and godly living to someone else, whether we know it or not.
That thought, or realization, that we are all saintly examples to someone, might prompt a question – What can we do to ensure that we continue to be examples of faithful living? Is there some kind of guidebook that can help ensure we live lives worthy of being called “saint?” Or, if not actually saint, at least a faithful follower of Christ? Well, as a matter of fact . . .
In a few moments we will participate in the renewal of baptismal vows. In that portion of the service you will be asked if you believe in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Following those three questions you will be asked a series of other questions laying out what it means to live a faithful and godly life dedicated to Christ. These are not a series of suggestions. These are not a series of statements based on how you feel at the time. This is the outline of how we are to live as Christian people every day of our lives.
Will you attend worship services regularly and pray daily?
Will you resist evil, repent and make restitution when you sin?
Will you evangelize?
Will you see the face of Christ in all people?
Will you respect the dignity of every human being?
These are hard things to do. They are so hard, in fact, that I believe we need to be reminded on a regular basis of just what it was that we promised at out baptism. Being a Christian is hard work; and if we are doing it right, it's the most counter-cultural thing we can do.
When we renew our baptismal vows here in a few minutes, notice something very important – you are not alone. Yours is not the only voice speaking. So not only are you not alone, but you are also being supported by many other faithful and godly people doing their best to live out their lives in fulfillment of the gospel.
Today we celebrate the Feast of All Saints. Today we remember and commemorate those heroes and saints of old, many of whom gave their lives for the faith. Today we also remember and commemorate all the faithful departed who lived faithful and godly lives, some who are known to us and many more known only to God. Today we renew our vows and take our place alongside those holy men and holy women, promising to be the face, voice, and light of Christ to our world.
Today is All Saints. Today we are reminded of what it means to live as Christians in this world. Today we revel in the knowledge that we surrounded by this great cloud of witnesses and are part of the whole host of heaven.
Today we remember that it is good to be here as part of this gathering of witnesses. And today we remember that we, too, are saints of God.