November 4, 2018

2018 Nov4

 
All Saints’ & All Souls’

A Sermon Preached by The Rev Ian M Delinger

 

The readings from Wisdom and Revelation are often used at funerals. So, preparing for All Saints’ Day was a challenge. I was pulled in the direction of death rather than in the direction of those persons who lives reflected a “tradition of sanctity, Christians who were exceptionally moral individual, and who exercised a certain detachment from the society of the day and its values.”

 

But we are also commemorating the Faithful Departed. All Saints’ Day is November 1, and All Souls’ Day follows on November 2. Perhaps these readings that suit a funeral, and the Raising of Lazarus are not completely out of place.

 

We often refer to people in our lives as saints, those who demonstrate exceptional patience and have a seemingly infinite capacity to help others. But they aren’t deceased, so they aren’t really saints. Maybe a person doesn’t have to be dead to be a saint. Anglicanism, including The Episcopal Church, lacks a comprehensive Doctrine of the Faith. We formally rely on the Book of Common Prayer and the Bible. The Roman Catholic Church, on the other hand, has volumes of documents defining every bit of doctrine. So, the glossary on The Episcopal Church’s website will have to suffice. It defines a saint as:

 

A holy person, a faithful Christian, one who shares life in Christ. The term may also indicate one who has been formally canonized or recognized as a saint by church authority. In the NT, the term is applied to all faithful Christians.

 

This suggests that, according to the New Testament, living persons can be saints, too. Though, associating sainthood with those who have gone before did develop over the centuries. “Saint” was soon applied to “elite” Christians whose lives were notable due to self-sacrifice, witness, virtue, or accomplishments. And then, martyrs gained special attention, gaining feast days in the 3C or earlier.

 

The Church soon began a celebration of the heroes of the church as All Saints’ Day in the 9C or earlier. If you go to Europe, you will discover all sorts of obscure, local saints – in every village and town. So, in the 12C, the elaborate and complicated process for canonization developed. Observances of saints’ days and cultish practices around them began to get out of control and slightly dubious, so saints and the remembering of them became a Reformation issue: We do not pray to saints as intermediaries because Jesus is our only Mediator and Advocate.

 

As the Lutheran Church developed out of the Reformation, feasts were restricted to that would could be evidenced in the Bible, such as feasts of our Lord, the days of apostles and evangelists, St. Stephen, the Holy Innocents, St. John the Baptist, St. Michael the Archangel, and All Saints. In England, the Book of Common Prayer followed this example. But as the Church of England developed, and probably due to our status as “catholic but reformed” – one foot in high church sacramental practices, and one foot in Protestant biblically-based practices – observances of the heroes of the church emerged. So, if you look on p19 of the BCP, you will find the list of heroes we commemorate. We have added more since 1979, which are found in “Lesser Feasts & Fasts”, which was then updated to “Holy Women, Holy Men” and the most recent version of commemorations is “A Cloud of Witnesses”. For us, new commemorations may be added to the calendar with the approval of two General Conventions.

 

Saints, though, are not just from centuries gone by. At Westminster Abbey, the façade of the Great West Doors commemorates some of the saintly people of the 20th Century. There is a row of ten niches immediately over the Great West Door. After the massive renovation project in 1995, it was decided to use these niches for two reasons:

  • to commemorate saintly or worthy figures from the past, and
  • to proclaim a message of which too few people are aware: the 20th Century was a century of Christian martyrdom.

The cost of Christian witness, and the number of Christians willing to die for what they believed, was greater in the 20th Century than in any previous period in the history of the church. Those whom the Abbey chose to commemorate in stone are all certainly “elite” in their service to Christ through their lives and actions. You will have heard of most, if not all of them.

•    Maximillian Kolbe, Polish priest who, while in Auschwitz, was known discreetly to give his own food to other prisoners, even as his own health crumbled, to hear confessions and, in the face of stern prohibitions, to celebrate mass.

•    Manche Masemola, a young woman of the Pedi tribe, in the Transvaal in South Africa, who converted to Christianity in the early 20th Century, and was murdered by her parents for doing so.

•    Janani Luwum, a Ugandan bishop who fought against the corrupt Ugandan government, and was eventually murdered by henchmen of Idi Amin.
•    Elizabeth of Russia, a nun who was killed in the Russian Revolution, the night after Tsar Nicholas and the rest of the Romanov family were murdered. She was killed simply for being a nun.
•    Martin Luther King, Jr, who spent his ministry and devoted his life to give black Americans, and all Americans the same civil liberties, and who was shot while actively campaigning for civil rights.
•    Oscar Romero, a priest who fought against the corruption and injustices of the El Salvadoran government, who was suddenly shot dead while celebrating mass.
•    Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German priest and theologian who stood against both the Nazis and the German State Church’s involvement with the Nazis, and was killed in a concentration camp.
•    Esther John, Indian teacher and evangelist among the poor and orphaned, who was suddenly and mysteriously brutally murdered in her bed.
•    Wang Zhiming, a Chinese priest who was known to be a critic of the atheistic campaigns of local Red Guards, and was executed by the anti-religion government of the 1960s and 70s.
•    Lucian Tapiedi, a man from Papua New Guinea, who died with 332 other Christians during the invasion and occupation of the island by the Japanese forces.

 

These are people who lived not long ago, some in our own lifetime. They are people whom the Church reveres as being saintly, though not bearing the title. And this is where I pivot to talk about the dead whom we remember for All Souls’.

 

It is not just the lives of those in the Bible, those after whom churches or cities are named or whose names are internationally known and are immortalized in statuary. So many people we each know personally lived lives which were distinguished and exemplary because of their self-sacrifice, witness, virtue, or accomplishments. We remember the Faithful Departed because we, like Mary and Martha, want to cling to those whom we love.

 

We remember the Faithful
Departed because we, like Jesus,
weep at the loss of those who
influenced our own lives.

 

As we remember the Saints and so many others who are worthy of remembering, worthy of celebration of their lives, and worthy of our respect for them as role models of living a life in the service of Jesus Christ, we should do so with joy. As we remember those closest to us who have died, the memories of whom make us weep, we should do so with joy. That joy is knowing that the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. That joy is knowing that, because of what Jesus Christ has done for them and for us, death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, and God in all glory will be with us.

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