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All Saints’ Day: “The Communion of Saints”

Ecclesiasticus 44:1-10, 13-14: Hymn in Honor of Our Ancestors

Psalm 149                                                                     

1 John 3:1-3

Matthew 5:1-12

 

Thank you, friends. Thank you for preaching the message of All Saints’ Day for me! By creating this Altar of Remembrance, you’ve done everything a good preacher aims to do on a Sunday morning: illuminated our beliefs; shared your personal stories; connected past, present, and future; and praised God. Beautiful.

You’ve made our communion table say out loud what we profess in our ancient Baptismal Creed: “I believe in . . . the communion of saints, . . . the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”[1] Because through images and mementos, you’ve made a true communion of saints—a Holy Community—visible on our altar. You’ve said: these good people, this “assembly of the faithful,” are still alive in us.

And in honoring your personal saints, you’ve taken part in a long tradition, not only in the Christian Church, but across religions, continents, and cultures. For centuries, late autumn has traditionally been a time when humans have paused to reflect on mortality—and eternity.

In the words of Rev. Leo Joseph, “As the days shorten and the growing darkness overcomes us, our common ancestors marked this season with various rituals centered around fire, food gathered at the harvest, and being conscious of those who had gone before us. So this season of year is a natural time for the Church to remember her, and our, loved ones who made us who we are today.”[2]

Together, through our collective altar, we have “re-membered,” that is, we have reconnected the members of our faith community—those who have died to those of us still living.

Through your devotion to those you love, you’ve demonstrated the meaning of the hymn of Ecclesiasticus: “These also were godly people, whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten. Their offspring will continue for ever, and their glory will never be blotted out. Their bodies are buried in peace, but their name lives on generation after generation.”

All Saints’ Day is celebrated precisely to honor the godly people on our altar—your authentic saints who died without a holy day of their own, but who responded to God’s love with love for others.

Asked what saints were, a small child once answered, “They are the people the light shines through.”

Well, I suspect she was referring to the images of saints she had seen in stained glass windows. But I love her definition!

When a person walks closely in the Way of Christ—loving God fully with heart, body, and mind; loving neighbor as self—there is a light radiating through him or her. A power, an energy, a warmth, a wisdom, a joy that absolutely shines. It’s unmistakable.

And because this light comes from a higher Source, I believe it continues to shine on long after that good person dies, through all that she or he valued and taught by example. And each of us can take in that saint’s light, that power, and use it in the world.

Our saints are speaking to us this morning, urging us on, reminding us in the words of the First Epistle of John: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.”

What, as children of God, can we do with this energy, this power of saints? This, I believe, is the central question of our Stewardship program this fall.

Like many before us, let’s take this season to remember and honor the godly people who made us who we are today. You’ll be hearing stories about personal saints in our worship services throughout this month from members of our parish. And I hope you’ll share yours with each other.

And then let’s connect our individual past to our collective present—and to our future as a parish.

With what we’ve learned and with all that we’ve been given, how can we grow as a communion of saints? How can we do more to lift up those in need, enrich our faith, serve the young, and support the old? How can we use the blessings we’ve been given to generate more?

We build God’s kingdom by bringing together our stories, our talents, our inspiration, our money, our experience in a community of faith. Just as you built this Altar of Remembrance.

Combining our gifts is the essence of stewardship—the way we thank God and the way we support each other and our neighbors. All of us together—all saints.

If you wonder if your contribution will matter, if what you share could make a difference, if you could possibly be a saint, consider the impact of one act of generous stewardship long ago. The story begins with my grandmother, Alice Jane Atkinson Dailey.

Alice’s early life was dark. When she was a teenager, her mother died in childbirth, and her father—in a strange mix of grief and hardness—gradually broke up their family. He pulled Alice out of the convent school where she excelled—even though the nuns begged him to keep this smart, skinny, tall girl in their classes and on their basketball team. He then sent Alice’s newborn sister to another family for adoption.

And soon after, he moved away with his new wife: Alice came home one day from her job at the phone company to find her house locked, the lights off, everyone gone. She was suddenly homeless.

At this point, the story turns. A kind, childless couple took Alice in—a couple who were members of the Episcopal Church.

I do not know the names of these saints. But their generosity is why I am here today, generations later, in St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church. My grandmother, a young girl, said: If this is who Episcopalians are, then that’s who I am, too.

Alice spent the rest of her life as a godly steward in the church, raising my mother and my uncles as Episcopalians, along with me and her other six grandchildren. As life improved for her, she never forgot that early feeling of rejection. But she turned it to compassion.

Alice shared whatever she had. She never saw herself as better than a person who had less. She never saw someone in need as below her: she’d been there too. And she never saw a line between herself and someone with a different skin color, even in the segregated South.

My beloved grandmother—who from that sad, lonely start came to radiate joy—inspires me to this day. Especially as I work to provide our homeless neighbors with shelter, just as two unnamed Episcopal saints helped young abandoned Alice long ago.

Thanks to their small, but life-changing, act, her picture is here, on this altar you created, a saint who changed my life and who pointed me toward a life in God. She stands side by side today with those who led you forward and lifted you up. Who inspired you with love.

I ask you this Stewardship season to take in the power of these saints and use it in the world. To share what you have. To pledge generously to our parish. To advance our ministry goals at St. Patrick’s as the hands and feet of Christ in the world. So that together we become the people God’s light shines through. Amen.

~ Rev. Clare C. Novak, Interfaith Associate for Parish Life

St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church, Incline Village, Nevada

November 2, 2014

 

 



[1] Book of Common Prayer, p. 304.

[2] Rev. Leo Joseph, “Celebrating All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day” [http://www.norcalepiscopal.org/celebrating-all-saints-and-all-souls-day].