St. Mary the Virgin Anglican Church, All Saints, Nov.1, 2020 Canon Claude Schroeder
So today, we have great cause for celebration at St. Mary’s.
Earlier this morning we celebrated the baptism of Sophia, and now in this service we are celebrating the great and wonderful Feast of All Saints, or as it used to be called “The Feast of All Hallows”, from which we get the word Hallowe’en.
There is no trick or treating going on at the church this morning.
God has something much better in store for us.
And what is that?
In a word it is communion, understood as a shared life, Jesus Christ shares His life with us, and His victory over sin, disease, death, hell and the devil. Jesus Christ lives in us, and we in turn live in Him. That is what baptism and the Christian life is all about: Communion.
But this Communion in the risen life of Jesus Christ, is also communion with one another, who through faith and baptism have become members of the Body of which Jesus Christ is the Head, or the Source. As it says in the Collect for All Saints Day: God has “knit together His elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical Body of His Son, Christ our Lord.”
And so, my life as a Christian consists not only in terms of a relationship of faith, love, service and submission to Jesus Christ, but also in terms of a relationship of faith, love, service and submission to other Christians. We cannot separate the two.
The place where this works itself out mostly is in the context of the local congregation. Here is how St. Paul put it, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (1 Cor. 12. 26). My suffering, my pain, my loss is never just my suffering, my pain, my loss. It belongs to all of us. We take ownership of one’s another’s pain and loss. In the same way when one part of our physical bodies hurt, the whole body is affected. This was something that was brought home to me recently at the memorial service for Elizabeth Deng’s father. After the service which was held over at Kiwanis Park, there was a series of six speeches, 3 men and 3 women, who had been asked to give words of comfort and encouragement publically in front of everyone. “if one member suffers, all suffer together.” But what is true of our suffering, is also true of our joy. My joy becomes your joy, your joy becomes my joy. Today we rejoice in welcoming Sophia into the community of the baptized disciples of Jesus Christ.
But this “communion of saints” extends beyond the local congregation. It is something that transcends space, which is to say that this shared life of prayer, worship, and self-emptying love is something we share with Christians who are not members of this congregation. It is a worldwide fellowship and communion.
But the fellowship and communion we have with other Christians not only transcends space, it also transcends time, which is to say that it includes those Christians who have departed this life, and have entered the nearer presence of the Lord.
If as St. Paul wrote that, “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8), can any of these things separate us from other members of His Body?
Not if God has knit together his elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical Body of His Son!
Here at St. Mary’s we have a wonderful visual reminder of this in our stained-glass windows bearing the images of the saints including: The Blessed Virgin Mary, Blessed St. John the Baptist, Blessed Peter and Paul, Blessed St. Simeon, Blessed St. Christopher, Blessed St. George, Blessed St. Augustine. And then if you take the time, you will see the images of saints of the Old Covenant, including Isaiah, David, and Moses. We count them also among God’s elect with whom we have fellowship and communion.
And then if you look at the bottom of the windows you will see the names of people in whose memory the windows were dedicated, former parishioners and Rectors of this parish. We count them also among the number of God’s elect.
Wow. This fellowship, this communion is getting bigger and bigger all the time!
But then we have the vision of St. John in the Book of Revelation of the great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne of God and before the Lamb, clothes in white robes, with palm branches crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7. 9-10). These were the ones who have come out of the great tribulation, they are the ones suffered terribly because their faith Jesus Christ, but who in the midst of their suffering, washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, which used that they took their suffering as an opportunity to purify themselves, in accordance with the Beatitude of the Lord Jesus, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.”
And so it was that the 17th century English Puritan, Richard Baxter could write,
In the communion of saints
Is Wisdom, safety, and delight
And when my heart declines and faints
It’s raised by their heat and light.
Still we are centered all in Thee,
Members though distant, of one head;
In the same family, we be
By the same faith And spirit led,
Before the throne we daily meet
As joint petitioners of Thee
In spirit we each other greet
And shall again each other see.
Our celebration of All Saints today comes to us as a reminder of our hope of our ultimate destination which is the sheltering presence of God, where there will be no more hunger, and no more thirst, and where Jesus Christ, both Lamb and Shepherd will guide us to the springs of loving water, and God wipe away every tear from our eyes. 2020 is turning out to be a year of such tremendous loss and sadness, and this no doubt is going to continue. Having this hope doesn’t take away our sorrow and our grief, but rather becomes our companion in it, so that even in the here and now we receive and know God’s presence, comfort, love, grace, and mercy, and share that with others.
Which brings us to today’s lesson where Jesus has pronounces as series of blessing upon his disciples. In the Jewish understanding, to receive God’s blessing is to receive all of God’s goodness for the fullness of life, which includes knowledge of God, rightness in relationships, and material security.
But the blessings that Jesus pronounces here are a little different. It’s the blessing receiving the kingdom, of knowing God’s reign and rule in your life, the blessing of being comforted, the blessing of having your hunger for righteousness filled, the blessing of receiving mercy, the blessing of seeing God, the blessing of being called children of God, the blessing of the rewards of heaven.
But Jesus pronounces these blessings not as a future but as a present reality.
But to whom do these blessings come?
In our world it’s the healthy, the wealthy, the good looking, the intelligent, and the successful who are regarded as blessed. But in the kingdom that Jesus has ushered in it is the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the peace makers, those who suffer persecution to whom the blessing of God comes.
Do you know any one matching these descriptions? Might that describe various people here at St. Mary’s? I would hope and trust that to be the case, because what we have here is a description of the life of the people who have been gathered by and around Jesus Christ. Being part of this community and sharing in this life is what salvation looks like.
And it is into this community of the poor in spirit, the mourning, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the peace makers, and those who suffer persecution who know God’s reign and rule, who are comforted, whose hunger and thirst is satisfied, who receive mercy, see God, are called children of God, the receive the blessings of heaven. that we have been initiated into through Holy Baptism, into which we receive Sophia today, in communion and fellowship with all the saints. Amen.