This, the Sunday after All Saintsâ Day, in many parishes and missions, holds the place for All Saintsâ Day. Many congregations â and the rubrics â allow for the celebration of All Saintsâ to be transferred to the Sunday following November 1. But why? What is so important about the Feast of All Saintsâ that makes it desirable, acceptable, and correct to move it to a Sunday?
In order to answer that, letâs pay close attention to the lections for today, not paying attention only to their substance, but their tone. As we pray todayâs collect, read or hear read the appointed verses from the second epistle to the Thessalonians and the gospel of Luke, what images come to mind? As we meditate on the reading assigned for this Sunday, this twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost, how are our imaginations guided and excited? How do we experience and see Godâs message for us?
The collect speaks of eternal life and Jesus coming again and our transformation â taking on a fuller likeness of him in the eternal kingdom. The second epistle to the church in Thessalonica begins with: âAs to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to himâ and ends with âNow may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.â The gospel account according to Luke reminds us that God is a living God and is god of the living, not the dead.
Any ideas about what is happening or why these particular references? In an intentional and specific way, the lessons on this Sunday begin to turn attention to the âend timesâ or the eschaton. We are being led, being prepared to travel again, through the season of Advent. We are being reminded of Godâs plan of salvation that reaches its zenith with the promised birth of the Messiah. And even more particularly, we are being encouraged to take heart and trust in the Lord and the promise of his second coming and new and unending life in Godâs eternal kingdom.
This connection, following closely on the heels of the celebration of the Feast of All Saintsâ, brings our understanding of heaven and earth, death and life, hope and despair into proper balance. So often it is very easy for us to spend an inordinate amount of energy and attention on those things that are not right, asking questions about why God is allowing this or that, asking questions about how it is all supposed to work out, asking questions about when it will end, when Christ will return.
Ultimately todayâs collect with the epistle and gospel point us to the reality of our salvation and the importance of our focus on the person of Christ. When we focus on Christ, we are focusing on love and healing, on hope and joy. It seems that our worry is nothing new, for even the members of the Thessalonian church appear to have been concerned about the what and when. The weight of the first paragraph of todayâs epistle lection rests on calming the fears of the faithful and reminding them that they already have enough information about what is to come and how it will happen.
This has particular relevance for us in modern times, as so much seems to be happening that many wonder, âHow much worse can it get?â Within and without our nation, people seem to polarizing along political, theological, economic, and national lines. So much of what is truly good and life-giving and Spirit-filled seems to be drowned out by the cacophony of discontent and vitriol. We, as believers in and followers of Christ, must be ready to remind each other of the promise to which we cling. We must be the ones who look into the difficult situations of our time, our world, our nation, our church and continue to see the promise of our salvation.
We have to be the ones who are comforted and then turn to comfort each other and those we are called to serve, with the message of the gospel and the understanding that even the difficulties of this life, even death itself, cannot change the fact that, as Jesus reminds us, God is the God of the living and not the dead.
We began our discussion with questions about the place of All Saintsâ Day in our collective understanding and practice. The Feast of All Saintsâ drives home the point we have evidence of our hope in the continuing lives of the saints who have gone on before. We acknowledge the memory and impact of those heroes and heroines of the faith who continue to live, not only with God, but in our collective memories. We hold fast to the reality that the path to Heaven has been well-established by our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ and has been followed by countless others â known and unknown â to the everlasting kingdom of the Almighty. We can draw confidence that we are âsurrounded by so great a cloud of witnessesâ and thereby have strength to always look heavenward and rejoice.
As we move through the days to come, especially when we find it difficult to see past the immediate difficulties of the day, we might do well to remember the words of Isaac Watts, known to many as the words to hymn 253:
Give me the wings of faith to rise
Within the veil, and see
The saints above, how great their joys,
How bright their glories be.
Once they were mourning here below,
And wet their couch with tears:
They wrestled hard, as we do now,
With sins, and doubts, and fears.
I ask them whence their victory came:
They, with united breath,
Ascribe their conquest to the Lamb,
Their triumph to His death.
They marked the footsteps that He trod,
His zeal inspired their breast;
And following their incarnate God,
Possess the promised rest.
Our glorious Leader claims our praise
For His own pattern givân;
While the long cloud of witnesses
Show the same path to Heavân.