A year ago a young hotel clerk showed up at an All Saintsâ Day service. He told the priest as he left that it was the one day he felt obligated to be in church. âI never miss All Saintsâ Day,â he said. True to his word, he hasnât been back since.
The Feast of All Saints has a particular appeal to Anglicans. It is one of the seven principal feasts of the church, originally observed in Rome from the ninth century, but there are references to a feast of All Martyrs from the third century. All Saints is understood as a âcelebration of Christ and his whole Mystical Body â the âelectâ and the âsaints,ââ according to Marion Hatchett, author of the Commentary on the American Prayer Book.
The readings from scripture and the glorious hymns we sing make this feast one anticipated by many. The calendar allows it to be observed the Sunday after November 1 when All Saintsâ Day falls on a weekday.
So, why the popularity? Why would a young man make this his one day of observance each year instead of Christmas or Easter?
The readings point us to some answers. First, we read in Daniel of an apocalyptic vision, the end of things as we know it. Today for all people of intelligent reflection there can be no doubt that we are rapidly depleting the resources of our planet. Our own greed and accumulation of material wealth has an apocalyptic consequence. It cannot go on for ever while the gap between rich and poor grows greater with each year. Something has to change, just as it did in Danielâs time when Israel had lost her bearings and was under foreign domination. But Danielâs vision includes âone like a human being coming with the clouds of heavenâ and later, in todayâs reading, Daniel receives assurance that all shall receive the kingdom and possess it forever. An apocalyptic vision is followed by a vision of hope, something we need to hear in a time of anxiety.
The majesty of Psalm 149 brings all of creation together and all of humanity in a joyous hymn of adulation at the triumph of goodness and justice â a vision that many wait for in a time of short-term solutions and quick fixes that only postpone the inevitable day when the poor receive justice and the faithful who have served them are rewarded.
The passage from Ephesians celebrates the life of the church as a unique institution that is part of Godâs eternal purpose where believers live in unity with God, one another, and those who have gone before, confident of the life to come where full union with those who have gone before us will be restored.
The Revised Common Lectionary offers the Lucan version of the beatitudes that are usually read from Matthew. The Lucan version uses the pronoun âyouâ rather than âthey,â which make Jesusâ words focused on us. We hear the words of blessing as we are, poor or rich, hungry or satisfied; then we hear the woes for the part of us that has only heeded false prophets and gods of wealth and privilege.
Being a saint has never been understood as being just kind to your grandmother and not kicking the dog. Being a saint has meant hurting for and with a world in pain. Being a saint has meant being misunderstood for taking a stand for justice and against short-term self-interest. Being a saint has meant caring for the least and the lost. A struggling parishioner recently wrote: âI donât know what God wants for me; I feel paralyzed and overwhelmed. Then I spoke with my spiritual director and she simply said to stop whining and jump into the whirlwind. I did that and now think Iâm on the right path, but it wasnât what I expected.â
The saints have always been the people who preached by their lives and words what the world did not wish to hear. The saints have usually been people who were born into ordinary circumstances but achieved extraordinary things because they followed Godâs call, struggling and wrestling with God all the way. And many of them were folks just like you and me.
Recently a pastor presided at an interment in a rural cemetery. Many of the family of the deceased who had been in the diplomatic service came to the service. As they walked among the graves, some dating back to the early nineteenth century, they commented about the lives of the departed; they pointed to where they would one day be buried and talked about lying next to Aunt Ethel or cousin Fred. What moved the priest the most was their simple faith, their devotion to each other, and the way they cared for each other. In the midst of all the cacophony of election campaigns and the threats of a planet in turmoil, here were good people who went to church, said their prayers, and hoped for things to come.
While the young man might not say it in these words, he stands as a beacon for all of us who live with watchful purpose, praying that one day all of our hope will be fulfilled. He is one of the quiet faithful who see in life the connection with those who have gone before and those yet to come.
May that be the faith with which we all live on this feast of All Saints.