All Saints' Day
I'm blogging All Saints' Day instead of Proper 26, as thus far every congregation I've heard about is observing All Saints' Day this Sunday. I'm pleased to say that I'll be worshipping this Saturday and Sunday at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC at the investiture and seating of the 26th Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori. Having served with her both on the expanded 20/20 Task Force for the 2003-2006 triennium and on the Special Commission on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion in this last triennium, I've been able to see her intelligence, compassion, creativity, deep faith, and passion for God's mission in action, and I rejoice that our church and our Communion will benefit from her gifts at this important time in our life together. I'll definitely be praying for her in the months and years to come!
I also want to note that I'm incorporating readings from both the Revised Common Lectionary and the Book of Common Prayer lectionary. The RCL readings for All Saints' are (despite my great love for the Lucan beatitudes and woes from the BCP lectionary for this feast) by far my favorite, and I know many will be using them. Readings listed below are just the ones I refer to directly in this entry. I will be switching wholly over to the RCL starting with the first Sunday of Advent next month.
All Saints' Day
Luke 6:20-26 (27-36) - link to NRSV text
"For all the saints ..."
It's a phrase that evokes Ecclesiasticus 44 for me, with its "Let us now praise famous men" — and women, I'd add — "our ancestors in their generations" and its ensuing catalog of types of heroes: the brave, the wise, the creative, whose names live on long after their death. It's a phrase that has often come to my mind since I first decided to apply to work for The Witness as well. It's such an honor as to be almost intimidating sometimes to see myself as working in a community that has, through the generations, including giants of the faith from Vida Dutton Scudder to Verna Dozier. When I think about "the saints," these great women and men who came before me, and I think of being numbered with them, part of me says, "how could I be in that number?"
Sometimes I feel similarly when I look at the top shelf of the bookcase in my living room:
That huge, well-worn book taking up most of the four-foot shelf is the family bible, which was left to me when my grandmother died. Atop it is an olive wood stand she brought back from the Holy Land. She was a deeply religious and faithful woman. In addition to the family bible, she left behind at least fifteen bibles, I'd say, and each one (besides the family bible) had notes, underlining, and highlighting from cover to cover. She also left behind dozens of people who knew her from bible studies and prayer groups, each of whom was profoundly grateful for my grandmother's patient counsel, powerful testimony, and faithful prayer. I know she prayed a great deal for me. She was especially worried about me when I started my Ph.D. in biblical studies; she wrote several times to exhort me never to let intellectual maneuvering distract me from relationship with the living God. We were so different in so many ways -- but not in love of scripture, and I think on some level I inherited that from her. I suspect that, as much as she worried about the state of my soul and whether the academic vocation that she saw emerging for me would do me harm, she knew on some level that my eagerness from childhood to "read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest" scripture was at least in part her gift to me. My postulancy interviews weren't long after I inherited the family bible from her, and I don't think I'll ever forget the Commission on Ministry member saying to me, "she ordained you." I believe that's true -- even though I wonder how many people who knew the particularities of her faith community and mine would see it.
"For all the saints ..." is for her.
And there are others among "the saints, who from their labors rest," whose memories arouse an even stronger mix of feelings. I think of the son of the priests I worked with in Maryland, who was full of life and purpose. It was just about two months ago that he, at age 33, had a sudden and massive heart attack and was gone. I think of and pray for his parents and family often, and especially this week.
"For all the saints ..." is for him.
We get an eclectic collection of texts for All Saints' Day -- especially true if one takes into account the range of texts across the different lectionaries. They are about bearing persecution. They are about faithfulness. They are about hope. And they are about grief. I particularly love the RCL's reading of the raising of Lazarus for All Saints' Day because in one story it shows nearly the full range of what entering into All Saints' Day can be like for us: The grief and anger of a sister mourning her brother. Asking why. Jesus' tears. A faint hope gradually overtaking fear. New life and freedom.
All Saints' Day is all of these things. We remember just how far the world in which we live is from God's vision for Creation as we remember the prophets, teachers, and healers who stood up for God's justice, and who suffered and died for it. The Book of Common Prayer lectionary exhorts us also to remember and recommit to the radical vision of God's reign encapsulated in the Beatitudes. How can we take it all in?
We can because we're not alone. In the collect for All Saints' Day, we pray:
Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord.
We aren't going to be numbered among the saints whose lives and witness we celebrate because we have done or are doing what they did -- though we may pray for the grace, courage, and compassion to follow their example. Indeed, they are not numbered among the saints because of their talents or personalities made them holy. We are all numbered among the saints through God's action. Through Jesus' ministry, we have been knit in one communion, one fellowship, one Body of Christ. When we ask for grace to follow Jesus in how we live and for whom, we aren't asking for something that is foreign to who we are; we are asking to grow more deeply and experience more fully the identity we have in Christ.
In other words, "For all the saints ..." is for us.
And so when we take in the audacious vision of the Beatitudes, we are not afraid. Living that way can be costly in our world, but it's not all up to us. We are part of one communion of saints with all the heroes of the faith, with our loved ones who have gone before us, and we know that the new Jerusalem, the new Creation that is coming is, as Jesus' Revelation to John teaches, breaking through the old order even now by action of the God who made the world.
That's why we can pray with confidence:
Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting.
We are not alone. With all the saints of God, we are in communion with the God who vindicated Jesus, the Lamb on the throne.
Thanks be to God!
November 2, 2006 | Permalink
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