Today we celebrate the Feast of All Saints, that occasion in the Church calendar when we remember the intercommunion of all the saints. In this remembrance, we overcome our tendency to think of “saints” exclusively as the Christian All-Star Team, as though the Lord gets together with the Athletic Directors of major universities to winnow that long list of faithful folks into a foursome for the Christian playoffs. Rather, the Acts of the Apostles and the New Testament Epistles refer to “saints” as all believers in Jesus Christ…all believers…as in that section of Paul’s letter to the church at Rome we heard this morning.[ii]
On All Saints Day we further expand our recognition to include both the saints militant and the saints triumphant: the saints militant, those believers, who, like us, walk as yet by faith; and the saints triumphant, those who lived their lives in faith, and have since died in the same. See, in the mystery of the union between Christ and the Church, God binds the living and the dead…God binds the living and the dead…not by carnival crystal balls, but by Love: God’s love of us, our love of God, and our love for one another. When we celebrate the Eucharist, our Communion table knocks down our sanctuary’s plaster walls to include “Angels and Archangels and…all the company of heaven,”[iii] and through our table fellowship we make ourselves present to all the saints, even as those saints make themselves present to us.
All Saints Day is also one of four baptismal feast days,iv and in addition to the six children we just baptized here, right about now our friend Kathy Pfister is baptizing a seventh child at Good Shepherd on the Hill, our second campus. As in the intercommunion of saints militant and triumphant, with our remembrance of the dead and our celebration of baptism, we bend time: we take our linear ideas of past, present, and future, and we bend them so that our beginnings fuse with our endings, all in continuity within the life and Love of God.
To love is perilous – for us and for God – and to love a child is the most imperiling love of all. We who have endured sufficient seasons appreciate the world’s hardness, and we can anticipate the inevitable struggles awaiting the children we “help grow into the full stature of Christ.”[v] Risking to love a child, then, we accept that their hurt will become our hurt, and we make our hearts vulnerable to all of the “dangers, toils, and snares”[vi] against which we have spent a lifetime guarding ourselves.
Despite these hazards, we at Good Shepherd baptize as many children as any congregation in The Episcopal Church, in fact, in some years, having baptized the most in the Church. Families continue to move toward this font and seek these waters because of this community’s character: our commitment to keep our baptismal promises in the name of Love, and, as we just did, to thereby endanger ourselves joyfully. Rather than announcing Love’s risks, we proclaim our delight and nothing less.
Our All Saints faith also affords us church people an odd relationship with death. That is,
while our culture marginalizes the dying and isolates the grieving, we move toward one another when one has died: we make calls, we send flowers, we drop-off deviled eggs, and we carve the wax from around the Paschal Candle’s wick. We tell good stories, we remember the very best of the life that has ended, and we commend our loved one to God’s care and mercy, and we do all of this together.
Indeed, we at Good Shepherd host as many memorials as any congregation in The
Episcopal Church, in no small measure because we honor these occasions especially well.
Families more and less familiar seek Good Shepherd following a death because they want that something for their mother and for themselves that they experienced here, whether Sunday by Sunday, or perhaps some years ago, when we remembered at this altar their neighbor or their business partner. They want dignity, tradition, and truth, and, over and over and over again, we provide them with nothing less.
See, at The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, “we rejoice with those who rejoice,
and we weep with those who weep,” and from baptism to burial, there is holiness in these
devotions and the support we offer one another. I receive our congregation’s high regard as an affirmation of our wider Episcopal Church’s integrity, an acknowledgement that while some community’s come and go, our constancy makes a difference in our neighbors’ lives and even in their deaths. For these reasons among so many others, we renewed and fortified this campus in our capital campaign…for these reasons among so many others, we make our annual pledge as signs of our abiding commitment to be here…to be here until the Kingdom comes.
While this narration may suggest a tidiness to our emotional experiences – as though we
experience joy and grief orderly and in sequence – when we begin to particularize All Saints with our saints, we can feel both joy and grief in stops and starts and in the very same breath. Bending time as we do and fusing these beginnings to our mortal endings, we therefore approach this altar with swollen hearts, roiling in delight and despair, and fear and hope, and all at once. Confronting such ambivalence, we want to sort what we feel, compartmentalizing and approaching each joy and each grief independently, as though one has no connection to the other.
Instead, on this All Saints Day let us dare to feel what we feel – for ourselves and on
behalf of others – even if such remembrances and emotions feel so much in conflict that we worry they might rip our chest apart. Let us come as we are, believing that God’s Love can bear all of us, our rejoicing and our weeping. Let us allow that great Communion of Saints – the living and the dead – to fortify our very soul so that we can feel our loss, even while we celebrate our living…both experiences real and full.
This is the Body of Christ, broken for you, into which we baptized these sweet children
today. This is the mercy of God – the weeping of Jesus – that we share with one another. This is the Feast of All Saints and the truth we are willing to tell, of a Love strong enough to bear all of who we are…all our hearts…and all at once.
In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.