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As we face a national election in two days – yes, I said it – it might do us good to know that the author of the Book of Daniel offers this message: God is the master of history, who uses the rise and fall of nations as preparatory steps in the establishment of God’s universal reign of justice and peace for all. This was no mere pollyannaish optimism, as it was declared in the face of a bloody persecution and a cultural creep away from faithfulness in God.
In an attempt to encourage the people to remain steadfast in faith and to keep hold of their tradition as a people of Moses, Daniel, as the Book’s protagonist, reflects upon his present reality, or as today’s lesson describes it, “the visions of his head.” So I thought I would do the same.
It happened a few weeks ago before I left Central New York. 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 adjusted up and down. Such a table often serves as a makeshift altar. The vision occurred as I was opening up the portable communion set and placing the sacred Body and Blood of Christ on the square white linen cloth.
“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 of well-wishes on the wall. Some were from other former parishioners, some family and friends. The wine and bread – they were provided by the people of the parish next door to the hospital where I had stopped to obtain the reserved sacrament, consecrated at a gathering of God’s people in worship at some other time. There was a white linen cloth, gently washed and pressed by a member of the Altar Guild. The communion set was one given to me by loving friends from yet another parish where I was ordained a priest 36 years ago.
It was an amazing flood of love and presence and joy and communion, a communion of saints, All Saints, known and unknown. It was not merely a bishop and one of his priests, but a whole community of concern and care represented by outward and visible signs of that love – sacraments if you will – in flowers, cards, wine and bread, small linen cloths, vessels of silver, joined by angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. It was the Church gathered, “Jesus’ own body,” as the writer to the Ephesians reminds us today.
I wanted to turn around and tell a nurse in the hall, “Do you know there are several hundred people, maybe thousands, in that room right now?” But I wanted to make sure I got out of the hospital that day and kept quiet. There we were, celebrating the sacrifice of Christ’s love for his people and I saw and knew deeply the power of the Holy Spirit in the communion of saints. All that we might, again in the words of Ephesians, “…live for the praise of God’s glory.”
Of course that same reality is present here right now. Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain that we discover in Luke’s Gospel today proclaims God’s favor/God’s blessedness, to those seeking to live in faithfulness to God’s vision for the world. To be sure it is a counter cultural vision that loves one’s enemies; does good to those who hate us; prays for those who abuse us; gives to all who beg from us; and, sees the poor, the hungry and those who weep deserving of our first attention. And if I may say, “do to others as you would have them do to you,” is the attitude we take into the voting booth this Tuesday, however that sifts out for you.
Never forget that you are here because of a great repository of faith from over the millennia and yes, as it has been faithfully practiced in the time of the existence of this parish church for 170 years in the service of God and God’s people. We are inheritors of these gifts that must not be taken lightly, nor can we forget the church expectant, those yet even to be born who will inherit the legacy of God’s faithful people in the ages to come, all because of you! For you, your faithfulness and willingness to take on the mantle of Cathedral for the Episcopal Church in South Carolina, I give thanks to God.
Those being confirmed, received and reaffirming today, do you see what a great treasure of which you are a part and to which you are making vows this day? You are a part of this great vision and you are participating with God in the power of his Spirit that allows you to know and be known, to remember and be remembered, to lavish love and to receive love, to dine on Jesus and in the fellowship of those who live in him, to find a friend and be found.
It is why we are doing what we are doing right now. It is why we sing the hymns and pray the prayers. It’s why we remember All the Saints this day, hearing from Ephesians once more, “So that we might know the hope to which he has called us, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.”
Before falling asleep tonight, I hope you will intentionally and specifically thank God for the communion of saints which we experience every day and in whose prayers we are held and sustained throughout eternity. I hope you are grateful.