All Saints Day Sermon

All Saints Day
North Shore Baptist Church
1 November, 2009
Isiah 25: 6-9

Memory Eternal

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou’art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy’or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die. – John Donne (Holy Sonnet X)

Let us pray:  Oh God of our ancestors: the Patriarchs and Matriarchs of our faith, the saints before us; be with us and among us this day and everyday.  May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to your purposes of grace.  Amen.

***

Today we celebrate the feast of All Saints.  It is the day in which the church universal gathers together to remember the saints gone before us:  St. Francis, St. Clare, St. Columba, St. John Chrysostom, St. Theresa of Avila…

As Baptists we tend to shy away from the words saint.  In fact when it was mentioned that we were going to be celebrating All Saints Day someone said, “but we don’t believe in saints.”  Maybe we don’t venerate a special class of people like some on other traditions do, but we do honor our saints in our own ways.  Kraft Chapel?  Howel Hall?  Starett Library? Schreiber Choir Room?

The word saint come from the greek a”gioV meaning holy.  The plural of which a]gioi is the basis for our modern meaning of saints.  The term saints, a]gioi, occurs 62 times in the New Testament (according to the NRSV translation) mostly in the Pauline Epistles.  This is a term used for all those who believe in the saving power of Jesus Christ; for only God is Holy, but we are, as Romans states, “called to be saints” stressing our vocation to be like Christ.  We call each other saint as a reminder that we are called to share in God’s witness.

Throughout the history of the Church, saints have been remembered.  Since the days of the martyrs, saints have been venerated.  The first noted All Saints commemoration in the west happened when Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon at Rome to the Blessed Virgin and all of the martyrs.  On November 1, the year is uncertain,  during the Pontificate of Gregory III a chapel in St. Peter’s Basilica was consecrated in memory of all martyrs AND saints.  This was mainly celebrated by people in Rome until Pope Gregory IV opened the feast day to the whole of the Church.    This feast day was originally created to correct any discrepancies in the calendar of saint feast days.

Today, we join the church universal in remembering the saints.  Those holy ones gone on before us.

***

One of my professors when asked why we, who do not venerate the saints, should celebrate All Saints day told the following story.  He was in Germany in November of 1963.  He and some friends were excited to be going to hear a lecture by a famed theologian.  At the lecture they were given the news that President Kennedy had been murdered by an assassins bullet.  Obviously in a stated of shock they did not know what to do, or how to mourn.  The following Sunday, two days later, was what is know as Totensontag or Dead Sunday.  It is when many of the reformation churches in Germany celebrate the commemoration of All Saints by going to the cemetery and decorating graves.  Dr, Krentz and his friends decided to go to the local cemetery and participate in the remembrances.  When they got to the cemetery, everyone there formed a kind of receiving line and embraced die Amerikaner and comforted them in their loss.  All present has lost someone, and now, as a community they were embracing those for whom loss was the most fresh.  Community gathered.

We gather together to remember All Saints because it strengthens us as a community.  We need this community to gather as we mourn.  This community is what will help to hold us together until that day when we will have no more tears.

According to Isiah in today’s reading the LORD of hosts will prepare a feast for all   peoples.  A meal of rich food and wine.  God will gather together the community of saints and host a meal of reconciliation and commemoration.  A meal is the sign of a treaty or agreement in the ancient near east.  The meal talked about in this passage is one in which God will “destroy the should that is cast over all peoples…and swallow up death forever.”  The image of swallowing up death is a vivid one for the ancient Israelites.  Baal, the god of the oppressors, would swallow Yam and Mat every year as part of a fertility rite.  The fact that YHWH will swallow death is a single act that defines a new age.  The age in which YHWH will wipe the tears from all faces.  God, in this moment, is acting for the living.  God is making a promise that there will be an end to our mourning.  This passage is written for the living.  The gathered community in the sharing of a meal will see the coming of a new age.  We have to remember that during this time there was not belief in an afterlife.  God is promising the living community an end to their suffering.

In the reading that Pastor Carol used for the Call to worship we are given a vision of  the saints gathered around the throne of God and the Lamb.  They are waving palm branches in worship and adoration reminiscent of the entry into Jerusalem.   They are gathered, from every nation, in the presence of God and the Lamb.  The are the beneficiaries of the new age.  Their tears are gone.  Their hunger and thirst have vanished.  This gathering of people will not abandon their messiah as the one in Jerusalem did.  Instead they cry out “Blessing and Glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever!”

But this passage, too, is written to the living and the suffering.  It is a promise that the Christians in the Roman Empire, being persecuted for their faith, suffering for their Messiah will one day have their tears wiped and their bodies restored.  It promises a community, a community of saints that they, will one day join in the unending song.

***

In a little bit we will be joining together in the act of Holy Communion.  I use this phrase on purpose.  What we will be doing in an act of community.  We will be participating in the act that unites us with all of our sisters and brothers from around the world.  We will be gathering at the table to eat a meal.

This meal is an act of Holy Memory.  We are called by Jesus to remember.  To gather as community and remember the promise given to us in the Messiah.  We are to remember.  This act of remembrance and celebration is the act that gives us our identity.  This meal is the one in which we are reminded that God has and will continue to destroy the shroud and swallow up death forever.

This meal is what joins us with all the saints.  It is the meal that St. John of Patmos shared with the persecuted in the rest of the empire.  It is the meal that St. Francis shared with St. Clare.  It is the meal that the immigrant shares with the native.  The refugee and the free.  It is the meal that is shared by a soldier and her mother on the other side of the world.  It is the meal that we share with those from our past.

A couple of days ago I got to my school’s daily chapel service early.  We change the seating arrangement in the space, but presently the seating faces south.  The south side of Augustana Chapel is a bank of windows.  In the center is a beautiful triptych of stained glass, but on either side of that we can see through to 55th Street and on to the campus of the University of Chicago.  Across the street I saw a maple tree shedding her leaves.  If you remember form my sermon in July, I mentioned how much I love trees.  I kept watching this tree throughout the entire service, and I began to think about what was happening.  I was witnessing, in this literal rain of leaves, hundreds falling in the course of 20 minutes; I was witnessing the life of the church.  This church and the church universal.  Each leaf was a saint which fulfilled its purpose.  It gave the proper nourishment.  Protected the seeds.  Housed the birds.  Each a different part of the whole.  When its time came and its purpose completed it let go.  It offered itself to the ruach that is the breath of God and was sent off that tree.  Now the tree is bare.  Its life force slowed.  The tree is the church.  There are some think she is dying or is dead; she is really rejuvenating.  She is gaining strength.  Being fed by the new gift of the saints.  The leaves that left her are now feeding her roots as they begin to compost and return their essences to the earth.  They may no longer be a part of the bright and flouishing tree, but the are giving her the strength she needs to begin to bloom again.  Sisters and brothers, the church is that tree.  There is power in that tree and she is preparing to bloom again.  We have had our saints and they have left us, but they are still with us.  Nourishing us.  Providing us with a life force to get through the winter.  We remember them for this reason.  As an act of thanksgiving.  As an act of sustenance.

We remember St. Andrew the Mailman.

We remember St. C.S. Terry who offered his home for the organizing meeting of North Shore Baptist.

We remember St. W.C. “Daddy” Brown one of the first six deacons.

We remember St. J.L. Kraft defender of Dr. Virgin.

We remember St. S.M. Steator architect and visionary and St. Lourie Larson because of whom we have an educational AND recreation wing.

We remember St. Evelyn Tannenhill now leading the choir of angels accomanied by St. Lucille Ingebretsen.

We gather as community to remember the saints who have gotten us here.

We gather at the table to join the saints in unending song.

We are promised a new age.

We are promised “Death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.”

We are called to move on.

We are called to remember.

We are called to Memory Eternal.

In the name of the Creator, Christ and Holy Spirit:  We remember.

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2 responses to “All Saints Day Sermon

  • Joe Thompson

    Hi there

    I just want to say thank you for your very thought provoking sermon! I am an Anglican School Chaplain in South Africa, and I often use the web to search for ideas to use with my school children. Your analogy of the autumn tree losing its leaves is such a powerful one to describe the lives of the Saints – well done. Please forgive me if I “borrow” the idea for one of my services.

    May God bless you in your ministry.
    Thanks again
    Fr Joe Thompson
    St Dunstan’s College Chaplain

  • celticwander

    Fr. Joe,

    You are more than welcome to use the idea. Thank you for checking in.

    Blessings
    cw

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