All Saints Sunday, November 4, 2018
I’m wondering. Is there anyone here today who has been to Winchester cathedral in England? Do any of you recall what it says as you enter? Allow me to remind you: “You are entering a conversation that began long before you were born and will continue long after you are dead.” You and I are taking part in that conversation that spans millennia by what we are doing here today as we continue the conversation of prayer and thanksgiving that has been going on in this parish church since its inception.
Another way of joining in the conversation is by engaging scripture to discover the dialogues with God held therein. As we come upon midterm elections, confront the epidemic expressions of hatred and bigotry, deal with national tragedies, or even face a time of parish transition in the retirement of a rector, I find it helpful to hear from the Bible its wisdom by taking the long view it affords us. When the One seated on the throne says, “See, I am making all things new,” it can be hard to trust that promise if we but take a snapshot of a moment in history. But the Revelation to John goes on to offer the big picture, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” “Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”
Even the conversation we overhear in John’s Gospel among Jesus, Mary, Martha and some religious authorities, calls us to see in a more universal way. In the short term Lazarus is dead. Flesh is corrupted. “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” Yet look what Jesus does. “Take away the stone!” Big picture. “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Back to narrow picture. But hold on for the biggest picture, “Lazarus, come out!” “Unbind him and let him go.”
Scripture teaches us time and again, and it might be good for us to hear this today, God is the master of history. “…the Lord will reign over them forever,” the Wisdom of Solomon says. Big picture. “Those who trust in him will understand truth, and the faithful will abide with him in love, because grace and mercy are upon his holy ones and he watches over his elect.” Even bigger picture.
All Saints Day reminds us again of this grand vista. We find ourselves part of a vast community that spreads beyond the limitations of time and space. And perhaps you can find a degree of hope in this, that what we see at any given moment is not all there is. The Nicene Creed calls us to believe in God, the creator of all that is, seen and unseen. The Apostle’s Creed calls us to believe in the communion of saints. We are reminded that we are always a part of something, held in God’s love, which is much bigger than anything we can observe. In times like ours we need the perspective All Saints Day gives us, that what we see is not all there is. Once again from Revelation, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples.” Panoramic!
Look at it another way. Some years ago I was visiting one of my retired priests in the hospital and standing over the food tray table, you know, the one on wheels that can be positioned over the bed. Such a table often serves as a makeshift altar. As I was opening up the portable Communion set and placed the sacred Body and Blood of Christ on the square linen cloth, something began to happen.
“Who sent you the flowers?” I asked. He told me, “A member of the parish I used to serve.” The card said, “From a heart filled with love.” Suddenly, not just two of us were at that table, there were three – one in the bed, the one who sent the flowers, and me. God was in our midst.
The community was growing and it continued to grow. I noticed cards on the wall. Some were from other parishioners and some from family. The wine and the bread – they were provided by the people of the parish next door where I had stopped to obtain the reserved sacrament, consecrated at a gathering of God’s people in worship some other day. There was a white linen cloth, gently washed and pressed by a member of the Altar Guild. The Communion set was given to me by loving friends from yet another parish where I was ordained priest 38 years ago this week.
It was an amazing flood of love and presence and joy and communion, a communion of saints, All Saints, known and unknown. Beyond the priest and his bishop was a whole community of concern and care, joined by Angels and Archangels and all the company of heaven. Talk about the big picture! I wanted to turn and tell a nurse in the hall, “Are you aware that there are several hundred people, maybe thousands, in this room right now?” But I wanted to make it out of the hospital that day.
You and I are here because of a great repository of faith from over the millennia. We are inheritors of these gifts that must not be taken lightly. Nor can we forget the church expectant, those yet to be born who will inherit the legacy of God’s faithful people in the ages to come, all because of you.
Those being confirmed and received today, do you see the great treasure of which you are a part and through which you are making vows today? You are a part of God’s great vision as we participate with God in the power of his Spirit to know and be known, to remember and be remembered, to lavish love and to receive love, to dine on Jesus in the fellowship of those who live in him. It is why we sing the hymns and pray the prayers.
Before falling asleep tonight, I hope you all will intentionally thank God for the communion of saints which we experience every day and in whose prayers we are held and sustained throughout eternity. Never forget that what we see is not all there is, beginning long before we were born and continuing long after we are gone.
Bishop Skip Adams
The Right Reverend Gladstone B. Adams III was elected and invested as our Bishop on September 10, 2016. Read more about him here.