Let us pause for a moment to express our gratitude to God, in prayer…
we give thanks for your love which comforts us,
your Spirit which empowers us,
and the example of faith-filled living given to us by Jesus
and the communion of saints throughout the ages.
With joy and thanksgiving we celebrate and give thanks for
your presence, this day and in the days to come. Amen
Today is All Saints’ Sunday which we often celebrate on the closest Sunday to November 1st—All Saints’ Day.
All Saints’ Day was originally called the Feast of All Hallows. The word hallow simply means holy. The most familiar place Christians find this word is in the Lord’s Prayer when referring to God we say, “hallowed be thy name” or holy be your name.
For many people in our society the most familiar use of the word hallow is found in the word Hallowe’en which is the shortened form of All Hallows Eve; the day before the feast of All Hallows, or as we know it, All Saints’ Day.
The meaning of the word saint has evolved over the centuries to the point where we often think of a saint as someone who is an extraordinarily holy person who is well beyond the average person with respect to honesty, integrity, faithfulness and devotion to God. In the Christian Scriptures, however, there is no individual person named as a saint. The word is always used in the plural form, saints, and refers to all members of the Christian community, ordinary and extraordinary alike. One such reference is found in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, where he explains that spiritual gifts given to members of the Christian community have enabled some to be “apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, [in order] to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” (Ephesians 4: 11-12, my emphasis)
Saints, therefore, are ordinary people like you and me who are beloved in the eyes of God. Just imagine what the world would be like if we all thought of ourselves, and everyone else, as God’s beloved. I believe that is what Jesus is trying to convey when he bestows blessings upon ordinary folk and particularly those who were not held in high esteem in the religious, social, and political systems of the day.
The communion of saints is a phrase we often use when we speak of the continuity of Christian faith and action throughout the ages.
It is a term which reflects the belief that our faith tradition spans time and space. The communion of saints consist of those we’ve heard of or read about in stories from our faith tradition; those we’ve known whose faith we carry in our memories and in our actions; and those who stand and work next to us in the many ways we embody the ministry of Jesus Christ in our lives today.
Remembering and telling stories from our faith tradition is important. In the stories from Christian scriptures we are reminded of the radical love shown by Jesus in his life and ministry and we are encouraged to emulate his actions in our own lives. We remember how he loved and valued all people and how he especially took time to care for and encourage those who were devalued and marginalized. Jesus, literally turned the values of his society upside down when he proclaimed that, “Blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt.5:3); “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matt.5:5); “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matt.5:9) and the list goes on, as you know. We have come to know these words as the “Beatitudes”, a name which comes from a Latin word meaning “blessing”. They are powerful words of blessing which are a reminder that God values and stands with the powerless, the voiceless, the poor and weak and those who stand with them. This was true in Jesus’ day and it is equally true in our time and place.
It is important to remember and be strengthened by our communion with Jesus and all the saints in the history of our faith tradition. Their example of faithfulness and courage inspire us to live more fully, more faithfully, more compassionately as Christians and as citizens of the global community.
We are also inspired and encouraged by those, we’ve known personally, who quietly lived their faith in the actions of their lives. We all know people we’ve admired and whose memories are kept alive within the collective memory of our community of faith. People who embody the values that we hold dear as disciples of Christ.
In her book, Friends of God and Prophets, theologian, Elizabeth Johnson, says,
“On this [All Saints’ Sunday] we also remember those whom our hearts have personally known and loved, those who nourished and created us as human beings and those who helped us in rough times. This is our immediate…[communion of saints], beloved faces held in memory. …their goodness…is intertwined with the fabric of our lives, leaving a deep imprint on the way we now vie for life in all its wholeness. …A community that remembers in this way underscores the dignity and importance of every one of its members.”
I encourage you, in conversations with each other and with me, to share stories in the days and weeks to come about significant people who have nurtured and encouraged you in your own journey of faith.
I can personally think of many people who have inspired and encouraged me by their example of Christian ministry. Not the least of these, was a woman named Barbara Easton. Barb and I studied theology together at the Centre for Christian Studies. The educational program for Diaconal Ministry, in which we participated, was a five year course of studies. Six months before the completion of the program, Barb was diagnosed with cancer. For the first four months she seemed to be fighting the illness with some success but then her condition worsened and it became evident that she did not have long to live. It was a terrible blow for all those who knew and loved her. But, Barbara was determined to graduate with the rest of us and she “hung on” with determination and completed all her academic requirements despite her weakened condition. By the time we gathered for the final part of our formal education, Barb was in hopice care and could not physically be with us. We grieved her absence and that her life was nearing an end. We laughed and we cried as we remembered times with her and mourned the imminent loss of her companionship and the church’s loss of her gifts in ministry. Despite her incredibly weakened condition she rallied and joined us by conference call for the ritual blessing of our ministry and celebration of our graduation. Eighteen times she repeated the words of blessing even though at times it left her breathless. It was a great comfort to hear her voice blessing each of us individually. It felt as if she was passing the torch on to us – entrusting her companions to continue her passion and dedication for ministry. And, at that moment it became evident to all of us that Barb’s ministry would not end with her death but would continue in the ministry of all those whose lives she had touched and enriched.
Jesus did the same – he knew he was going to die and he trusted his companions to continue his ministry. He let them know that his spiritual presence would continue to encourage and empower them and asked that they remember his solidarity with them by ritually breaking bread and drinking the fruit of the vine together.
This communion with Jesus, strengthened the bonds of Christian community after his death and continues to remind us of our roots and purpose as a community of faith today. And, our spiritual communion with faithful followers, saints past and present, strengthens our resolve and inspires us to carry on Jesus’ ministry through our example of faith-filled living.
Our Christian tradition is one that spans time and space. We have a rich culture of story, faith, and community. We are a community of memory; a people who remember where we have come from in order to know who we are and how we will live. This, and the empowerment and persistent love of God, is a blessing which compels us to respond to our individual and collective call to ministry in the present and into the future.
And so we remember, when we gather as a community of faith, that Jesus is present in story and in spirit and that he is also present in the ministry of love and compassion which we continue in his name.
Thanks be to God for the life and ministry of Jesus,
the communion of saints, past and present,
and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit
that breathe life into our community of faith,
this day and always.