For all the saints

A sermon, based on Isaiah 25.6-9, Revelation 21.1-6a, and John 11.32-44, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the Sunday after All Saints’ Day, November 4, 2018

Oft I pray, in the words of the spiritual, “Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart” because, in my life and experience, Lord, it’s hard to be a Christian!

A primary reason? Each of us, as individuals, enters and journeys through this world with a family of origin and upbringing, ongoing life’s experiences, personal observations and opinions, preferences and prejudices, and an inherent predisposition to act, to behave in accord with all of it. And we, living in this world of other individuals, unavoidably engage with folk who say and do what we’d prefer they not and who don’t say and do what we’d prefer. Sometimes, they are one in the same. Sometimes that person is the one reflected in our mirrors. Though I cannot speak for you, whenever I have that experience with another or with myself, it’s hard for me to be a Christian in my heart; loving them, loving me unconditionally and impartially, in my thoughts and feelings, through my intentions and actions.

Nevertheless, on this Sunday after All Saints’ Day (since the 10th century, November 1 being set aside by the church to honor all those through the ages who claim Jesus as Lord), our call is to do, to be as our God who loves all, always and in all ways. This I know, for the Bible tells me so.

Isaiah paints a beatific portrait of a mountaintop banquet prepared for the hungry where the tears of cheerless eyes are dried and the fear of death removed forevermore.

The Prophet Isaiah, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770)

This is a lofty vision for the disenchanted, the disenfranchised. For what is another table of food and wine for the overfed? Or a hand of solace to those who do not weep? Yet who among us, even with full bellies, cannot admit to spaces of emptiness within us? Or, even with courage in the face of difficulty, does not cry for comfort? Or, knowing life in this world is an inherently terminal proposition, sometimes, does not fear dying? Truly, therefore, this is a vision for all! A vision of salvation. From the Latin, salvus. Wholeness. The healing that comes only in the acknowledgement of brokenness. Brokenness that all share with all people, for all people are broken.

Isaiah prophesies and Revelation resoundingly replies with another portrayal of salvation so all-encompassing of heaven, earth, and sea that all is gathered up, mourning, crying, and dying, and life is made new in a holy city, the gates of which are open to all people.

La nouvelle Jérusalem (Tapisserie de l'Apocalypse), The New Jerusalem (Tapestry of the Apocalypse), based on a 14th tapestry

Jesus, in raising Lazarus, neither paints nor portrays, but performs salvation, calling forth new life from death, enlisting the aid of all to help free those who are bound.
Raising of Lazarus, Alessandro Magnasco (1715-1740), Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

These Bible stories, taken together, help me see what the celebration of All Saints’ Day can be. For the Jesus-movement, as any movement, as all movements, o’er time, evolving into institutions, can fall prey to the temptation of losing sight, straying from foundational ideals, thus, needing reform. This is especially true in the case of a Christian history replete with periods of division, bearing countless definitions and disagreements about what it is to be Christian. This need for reformation is most true in our age as we sorrowfully behold the renewal and rise of fighting, mourning, crying, and dying all in the name of partisan and exclusive political and theological ideologies.

So, on this Sunday after All Saints’ Day, let us include ourselves among all the saints –“saints” being a New Testament title for Christians(1) – who love first and most not Episcopalianism or Anglicanism or any other denominational affiliation, not the church, not a particular form or style of worship, and, God forbid, not a given pastor or priest, but rather who first and most love Jesus.

Therefore, let us be as all who follow the Way(2) of Jesus of unconditional and impartial love for all.

Therefore, let us be as all who believe in the word of Jesus that greatness is service.(3)

Therefore, let us be as all who can and will confess their brokenness, their inability and, at times, unwillingness to be of service by loving all always.

Therefore, let us be as all who, in their brokenness, cry for salvation, healing, wholeness: “Lord, by your Spirit, make us Christians in our hearts!”

(1) See, for example, Romans 1.7; 1 Corinthians 1.2; Ephesians 1.1; Philippians 4.21; Colossians 1.2
(2) A reference to Acts 9.2, “the way” being the designation for the earliest followers of Jesus before they became known as Christians (see Acts 11.26); a designation that inferred more a way of life, a way of being than an intellectual assent or adherence to an ideology or, even, theology.
(3) See Mark 9.33-35, 10.42-45

The Prophet Isaiah, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770)
La nouvelle Jérusalem, Tapisserie de l’Apocalypse (The New Jerusalem, Tapestry of the Apocalypse), based on a 14th tapestry
Raising of Lazarus, Alessandro Magnasco (1715-1740)

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