All Saints, Year B, 2009 St James Episcopal Church, St James NY The Rev. Dr. Raewynne J. Whiteley

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1 !1 All Saints, Year B, 2009 St James Episcopal Church, St James NY The Rev. Dr. Raewynne J. Whiteley Today is All Saints Day, the feast of All Saints, or All Hallows, which means the same thing. it s a day when we celebrate the people of faith who have gone before us; we rejoice in their place in heaven, and we look to them as examples for our lives and faith. But it wasn t always exactly like this. Originally All Saints Day was held in May, and was a kind of catch all for all the saints whose saints day hadn t been properly celebrated and those more obscure saints who had someone been overlooked when it came to handing out saints days. Some time around the eighth century for a reason long lost to history the celebration of All Saints, at least in the Western Church migrated to the first day of November. And that date was particularly useful in places like England and Scotland and Ireland, where the church was struggling to hold its own against traditional religions. All Saints fell right in the middle of Celtic new year. And it wasn t just the time of year that they had in common; the pagan Celts believed that at this time of the year, the veil between this world and the next was very thin and that the dead came through to confront the living for good, or for evil. All Saints, by contrast, was the day when all the triumphant dead in Christ would be commemorated and celebrated. No longer would the time be one of fear of death and the dead but one of "rejoicing with the Saints in Light". The day after All Saints was the feast of All Souls, when we remember all those who have died. And the night before All Saints became a time when secure in the promise of resurrection, Christians could participate in the festivities

2 !2 as a way of laughing at death and evil. And so these three days are a time when we claim once again the power of the resurrection over death, when we remember those who have died, when we look to the examples of the saints as examples of faith for all of us, and when we remind ourselves of the promise of heaven. And the three days are united in our readings, though I m not sure how deliberate that was on the part of the people who put our lectionary together. It begins with the gospel reading. I have to admit that my first thought when I read it was to wonder if the people who chose our readings really thought about what they were doing when they chose the story of Lazarus for the morning after Halloween. There we are at the side of a grave of a man; the grave is new, just four days old. The man s sisters are there, still not quite believing that their brother is dead, and family and friends to support them. And Jesus, who has only just arrived, too late to help their brother when he was sick, too late, even, for the funeral. And now he is here, and for some unknown reason he tells them to move away the stone that is closing the tomb.

3 !3 Well, you know what happens to a body that hasn t been embalmed. Four days is more than long enough for decomposition to begin. And so the man s sister says to Jesus, But it s going to smell bad - really bad. But Jesus doesn t seem to listen, and instead begins to pray. and then suddenly shouts, Lazarus, come out! And from the tomb lurches Lazarus still wrapped in the cloths that had shrouded his body. I m guessing that whoever chose this reading for All Saints was thinking that this would remind us of Jesus power over death... not of zombies or mummies - though if you re stuck for a costume for our All Saints celebration tonight, St Lazarus would be a good one! And what the reading set for today doesn t tell us is that Lazarus was no zombie Lazarus was no mummy. After they unwrapped him, he went on to live a normal life. Just a few verses later he s hosting dinner for Jesus the next time Jesus comes to town. And as far as we know,

4 !4 at a good age Lazarus died like anyone else. What happened to Lazarus looks like resurrection, but it s not permanent. What is really important is not Lazarus, but Jesus. Jesus is the one who has power over death. Right there and then, as a temporary measure. But after his own resurrection it s permanent. Jesus has power over death for all time. And that s why we can hope for resurrection, not as a temporary measure but for all of eternity. That s the hope of heaven. And it s the hope that our other readings point to today. The bible doesn t say a whole lot about heaven, I guess, because it s something that none of us has ever seen. And so it always feels just a little bit out of our grasp. Our language can t quite catch hold of it. And that s why most of the time when the bible speaks of heaven it speaks in metaphor. It s like being on a mountain, the sort of holy place like Mount Moriah, where Abraham went to sacrifice his son and God provided an alternative sacrifice and Isaac was saved; like Mount Horeb, where God appeared in a burning bush and commissioned Moses; like Mount Sinai where God gave Moses

5 !5 the Ten Commandments; like the Temple Mount where God appeared year by year in the holiest of Holies; like the mountains that Jesus so often climbed to find a quiet place to pray; like Mount where God appeared at the Transfiguration and blessed his son; like the hill of Gethsemane where God reached out and somehow, through the death of his son, reconciled us to himself. Heaven is like a mountain, a place to meet with God. And there, there we will find a feast, a feast more lavish than we ve ever tasted, a feast with fabulous vintage wines and richly spiced food. And over the meal we will talk and laugh and it will be like the best of Easter and Thanksgiving and Christmas rolled into one, and there will be no room for anger or sorrow or sadness. Heaven will be like that. And it will be like a city, glorious and wealthy, with the finest of architecture, metal and stone, carved and gilded, a city where there is no poverty or homelessness, no fear or misery. Like a city dressed up, decorated for the holidays, elaborately ornamented as a bride

6 !6 dresses for her wedding. Heaven will be like that. But most of all, the most important thing about heaven, is that God will be there. Not just in the kind of nebulous, spiritual presence that we experience here on earth, but God will be there, hovering round, making sure we have everything we need. Wiping away any tears that we have left with the corner of a handkerchief. That s the vision of heaven, the hope of heaven. the promise of heaven. But this is the Feast of All Saints, not the Feast of Heaven. Because heaven is nothing without the people of God, those people who to quote the hymn have been patient and brave and true, who toiled and fought and lived and died for the Lord they loved and knew. They have gone before us, and today we celebrate their lives, and seek inspiration from them for our own lives of faith. We are the people of God and we follow in the footsteps of the saints, follow them all the way to heaven. And so I now invite you to follow in the faith of the saints as we stand and reaffirm our faith and theirs, on page 304 of the Book of Common Prayer. Do you believe in God the Father? People I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

7 !7 Celebrant Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God? People I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. Celebrant Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit? People I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Celebrant Will you continue in the apostles teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers? Celebrant Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? Celebrant Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? Celebrant Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Celebrant Will you strive for justice and peace among all dignity of every human being? people, and respect the

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