November 1, 2020 /All Saints Day / Richard Holmer
1st Reading Revelation 7:9-17 / 2nd Reading 1 John 3:1-3 / Gospel Matthew 5:1-12
Invitation to Remember
All Saints Day is an invitation to remember. We can be so caught up in the stresses and demands of the present moment that we forget we are part of a much larger story. Just getting through another day in these challenging times can consume all our energy and attention. All Saints Day serves to remind us that we are hardly the first persons who have had to deal with difficult circumstances. Today we pause to remember our history and the generations of faithful Christians who lived before us. We call to mind what the Letter to the Hebrews describes as “a great cloud of witnesses” – all the faithful who lived and died, trusting in God’s grace.
You and I are recent additions to a family tree that has been growing and spreading its branches for 2,000 years. We are like new leaves on a great redwood with roots that are old and deep. We remember saints from both the recent and distant past whose faithfulness has shaped who we are – actually made it possible for us to be who we are. There are no self-made Christians. God’s Holy Spirit works through the lives of ordinary saints, down through the generations, to call us, gather us, enlighten us, sanctify us and keep us in the faith. You and I would not be who we are without all those saints before us. So it is good and right to remember them, and thank God for them.
We are living in trying times. When we think back several months to the days before the pandemic, we are disheartened by the contrasts: Back then, kids could go to school and parents to work without any concerns or apprehensions. Going out to dinner or a movie was a normal pleasure. Coming to worship in this beautiful sanctuary was a weekly blessing. There were no worries about safely celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas. Most of us had never heard of Zoom. We are wearied by the constraints placed on our lives by an invisible virus – and we mourn the lives that have been lost and the suffering experienced by so many.
Faced with such a level of anxiety and grief, it helps to remember. To know our history is to realize that Christians before us have endured hardships and persevered through challenging times. For the first three centuries of its life, the Christian church was scorned, ostracized and persecuted. Christians were martyred for their faith. Plagues far worse than Covid devastated Christendom – killing a third of the entire population. The Reformation spawned violence and religious wars in the 16th and 17th centuries, during which millions were killed. In the 20th century, our immediate ancestors faced the burdens of two world wars and the Great Depression. We are dealing with serious challenges these days. Yet we can see that Christians before us have been faced with far more dire circumstances, and have continued on, nevertheless. Their courage and faith are inspiring, and encourage us to keep on keeping on, a cloud of witnesses watching and cheering us on.
It helps to recall those saints who have been an influential presence in your own life. We know of the saints in history at a distance. The saints we have known personally are intimately woven into the fabric of our lives. We don’t just know about them – we loved them and they loved us: Parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, friends and colleagues, fellow Christians. We would not be who we are without them. Their faith, their goodness, their wisdom, their love have made lasting impressions on our hearts.
I like how Frederick Buechner describes saints: “Saints are essential life givers. To be with them is to become more alive.” I trust that you can point to the persons who have been life-givers for you. I know I can. When I pause to reflect, it dawns on me just how many different individuals who by their nature have made my life far richer and more vital. God has blessed me through them – and I expect the same is true for you. Saints are those persons who let the light of Christ’s grace shine through them – often without even being aware of it.
In a little while we will see photos of some of the saints who have blessed our lives as members of this congregation. Seeing their faces will cause many of you to recall ways in which they were life givers for you. You can then add to the list all the faces of those you know by heart, all the saints you will never forget because of what they continue to mean to you. In remembering those whose lives have blessed ours, we find strength to do whatever needs to be done – to keep doing the next right thing.
All Saints Day calls us to look back and remember the lives of God’s saints. Today is also a day to remember the great promises God has made to all those he has claimed as his children. Along with what is past, we remember the future God has in store. We heard some marvelous promises in our readings for this day.
In the reading from Revelation we are given this assurance: “The Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” – No more crying, no more dying.
Psalm 34 proclaims: “those who seek the Lord lack nothing that is good.”
In our reading from First John we heard this: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”
Our promised destiny is to become like Jesus – nothing less than that! And the Gospel overflows with promises. Jesus says of the faithful:
“They will be comforted.”
“They will receive mercy.”
“They will see God.”
“Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.”
Friends, we can draw strength and courage through remembering the saints who have blessed us. And we can find hope and confidence by remembering the promises God makes to us. Recalling our past and our future can empower us to lead meaningful and useful lives amid the stresses and challenges of the present moment.
Today we recall that like all those who came before us, we have a purpose, a holy calling. You and I are called to live as saints – here and now. Inspired by the faith of our predecessors and moved by their example, we aim to live as worthy children of God.
In a world that fosters cynicism and selfishness, we will hunger for righteousness and justice.
In a world enamored with vanity and raw power, we encourage humility and gentleness.
In a world driven to seek dominance and revenge, we will show mercy.
In a world divided by resentment and antagonism, we will strive to be peacemakers.
I began by saying that All Saints Day invites us to remember.
Remember where we came from: from that long line of faithful and devoted saints, whose lives have blessed ours.
Remember where we are going: our destiny is to be at home with God, remade in the likeness of Christ.
Remember how we will get there: by following Christ, making disciples, and living the gospel.
Thanks be to God.