All Saints’ Sunday, 2011.Last Tuesday, November 1st, the Church celebrated All Saints’ Day. This is the day in the church calendar when we remember the outstanding heroes and heroines of our Christian faith – the Blessed Virgin Mary, the apostles and martyrs and saints right down through the ages like Francis and Clare, Benedict and Julian of Norwich, Teresa and Augustine, and all those who made lasting contributions to our history and development, and to the spread of the Gospel throughout the world.
On Wednesday, Nov. 2, we celebrated All Souls’ Day. This is the day when the Church commemorates those so–called “lesser saints.” Perhaps our ancestors and forebears who may not have made a name for themselves worthy of Church history books, but who nonetheless made their own contributions. I think of my grandfather who read Psalm 91 every day my father was overseas in WW II, piloting his B-24 on bombing runs over Germany and flying gasoline to Field Marshall Montgomery in Northern Africa. I think of the Sunday school teachers and youth group leaders and clergy of my youth who made such lasting impressions, and who formed me in my Christian faith.
Today, on what we call All Saints Sunday, we gather all that up and remember that, in the New Testament, the word “saint,” (hagios in the Greek) refers to “all the baptized,” Christians just like you and me. When St. Paul writes to the “saints” in Rome and Corinth and Philippi he’s not writing to necessarily holy people (as the texts of those Epistles make clear!). He’s writing to people like you and me, baptized members of the Body of Christ, who are striving to be faithful, but all of whom had the same struggles, successes and failures and fears as we do.
Just last year The Episcopal Church – through our Church Publishing Company – provided a new resource to expand our knowledge and remembrance of some of these manifold saints of God. Entitled “Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints,” its Preface contains the following words. “ (This book) marks a further stage in the recovery within the Episcopal Church of the liturgical commemoration of the saints.”
“The first English Book of Common Prayer (1549) retained a small number of the many feasts contained in the calendar of the (Roman Catholic)…Missal. All but one of these were major Holy Days directly related to the New Testament; no post-Biblical saints were included. The 1662 Prayer Book, which Anglicans living in the American colonies used in the decades preceding independence, listed the names of sixty-seven saints in its Calendar, but made no provision for their liturgical commemoration.”
“The first American Book of Common Prayer (1789) listed no minor Holy Days…in its
Calendar and this continued to be the case in the 1892 and 1928 Prayer Books. Only in 1964 did things change. In that year General Convention approved the inclusion in the Calendar of more than a hundred saints’ days with liturgical (Prayers and Readings) to facilitate their commemoration in the Church’s worship.” (“HW, HM” pages ix-x). This resource was published under the name “Lesser Feasts and Fasts.”
“In 2003 General Convention called for a wide-ranging revision of (that resource)…”to reflect our increasing awareness of the ministry of all the people of God and of the cultural diversity of the Episcopal Church, of the wider Anglican Communion, of our ecumenical partners, and of our lively experiences of sainthood in local communities. Several years of extensive study and consultation led to the submission (and subsequent publication of) “Holy Women, Holy Men”… (page x)
We use that new resource here at Trinity Cathedral for our midweek services and on special occasions and I have found it to be very helpful. Previous commemorations of saints in our English Prayer Books have been overwhelmingly white, male, clergy and monastics, and – in fact – heavily weighted toward commemorating bishops (who we all know are seldom so saintly!) This new book includes such persons, of course, as well as the giants we know from the New Testament and early Church history.
But we also find in these pages prophetic witnesses like Frederick Douglass from the African Methodist Episcopal Church and Amelia Jenks Bloomer who started her work for women’s equality right here in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The Lutheran Johann Sebastian Bach is found within the pages of this book as is Florence Li Tim-Oi, the first woman priest in the Anglican Communion and Roman Catholic luminaries like Pope John XXIII.
So, why is all this important? I believe it is to hold up before us, on a regular basis, specific examples of what our Lessons from Holy Scripture are describing today. The vision in Revelation of “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne of God, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.” (Revelation 7:9)
The reminder from the Psalmist that “the angel of the Lord encompasses those who fear him, and he will deliver them.” (Psalm 34:7). John’s challenge in the Epistle to “see what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” (I John 3:1). And Jesus’ compassionate reminder in the Beatitudes that the real saints are not always heroes and heroines, but those who are “poor in spirit…those who mourn…the meek…those who hunger and thirst for righteousness….the merciful…the pure in heart…the peacemakers…those who are persecuted.” (Matthew 5)
In other words – YOU! You are the saints of God, dear friends. And if you read the biographies of some of these names in “Holy Women, Holy Men,” you’ll find that their lives were not so different from yours in many ways. They weren’t all plaster saints! They toiled and sweated and failed sometimes…just like we do. They didn’t spend all their time in church and, in fact, most of what they are remembered for took place, in the world…outside the doors of their churches.
It is no accident that each Eucharist ends with a dismissal sentence and why we no longer linger to watch the candles being put out! You and I are on a mission. We can’t wait to rise from our knees and get back out into our families and jobs and neighborhoods to share our faith in Jesus Christ and to make a difference for him in this world! We’re on a mission…and we can’t wait!
On All Saints’ Sunday, we celebrate Holy Women and Holy Men! On All Saints Sunday, we celebrate YOU!