The Blessed Communion of Saints

Lessons for the Feast of All Saints: Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1:11-23; and, Luke 6:20-31.

We profess belief in “the communion of saints” in the Apostle’s Creed. It’s been a mark of the Church’s faith since the beginning, that there exists a communion, a fellowship divine, of believers past, present, and future. Now, I love this idea of the communion of saints because (or at least mainly because) I love the stories that are told about the saints. It is through these stories that we connect with our past, all the way to Jesus and beyond – stories of people who followed Jesus and who still follow Jesus in the way of life and love.

The saints were, of course, a big deal in my Roman Catholic childhood. We had stacks of “Saint Cards.” Saint Cards are like trading cards for Catholic saints, with pictures on the front and a little prayer or biographical narrative on the back. While my collection waned as I grew, I always had a few Saint Cards lying around. In seminary, though, whenever I made pilgrimage to the tomb of a saint, a dedicated chapel, or went to a new region where a saint was venerated, I would collect another Saint Card. My stack was rather large when I left seminary. One of my favorites was acquired during a trip to Ireland, and a stop at a little shrine to little known Irish saint by the name of Dymphna. Saint Dymphna was the daughter of a pagan Irish king and his Christian wife in the 7th century. Dymphna was murdered by her father because Dymnphna fled Ireland, refusing to become Damon’s wife (You read that right!) after the death of her mother. However, before Damon finally caught his daughter and killed her, Dymphna had founded a home for the nervous and mentally ill, and it was reported that many people suffering mental illness became less ill around her.

Saint Dymphna is the patron saint of the nervous, the emotionally troubled, and the mentally ill. She just really seemed like our kind of saint.

When you sang today’s opening hymn, For All the Saints, did you listen to the lyrics: 

For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
who thee by faith before the world confessed,
thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

“For All the Saints” (Hymnal 1982 #287)

Just a few days ago (October 29) the Church set aside a day to celebrate a pair of apostles, Saints Simon and Jude. Simon and Jude are, in some ways, treated as the least of the apostles. Saint Luke names them at the very end of his apostolic list, right before the notorious traitor Judas Iscariot. Indeed, these two of the twelve, these two who witnessed the resurrected Jesus and were sent forth to proclaim the good news, share a feast day. And, if that is not “least” enough, they also share a tomb. Now, one would expect that the tomb of two apostles would be noteworthy, exceptional, and grand. But these two, whose remains were brought by the Knights of Malta to Rome lest their tombs be destroyed, rest quietly in the southern transept of St. Peter’s Basilica, at the altar of St. Joseph, underneath tabernacle of the Blessed Sacrament. Whereas Saint Peter has been honored with a 70-ton bronze baldachino sculpted by Bernini and a massive dome-shamed tiara designed by Michelangelo over his remains, the tomb of Saints Simon and Jude remains unknown to most visitors to St. Peter’s Basilica. There is a beauty here, however, because as disciples and apostles, it was never really about them, but about Jesus and what they could learn from him. And now they lie at rest with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, awaiting their resurrection.

Today the Church sets aside a festal day to remember the saints. And we remember them, Dymphna and Siman and Jude. But, today is not just about the ones who have Saint Cards! Technically, this is All Saints Day, not just Some Saints Day. Indeed, this isn’t some cult of saints, where we call upon superpowers or insist that God listens more closely to them to them than to us because they were perfect and basically better Christians than we are. No! What we celebrate, instead, is faithfulness and forgiveness, and God’s choice to use flawed people to do divine things. We celebrate the mark of our baptism, by which we were called as Christ’s own forever and made members in the household of God, and through which, as Paul says in Ephesians, we “are marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit…the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people” (Ephesians 1:13-14). We celebrate the fact that through the divine gift of faith, the people of God practice ordinary acts of love, building the Kingdom of God and co-creating the new creation. We celebrate that we have “so great a cloud of witnesses” that we can “lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely” and “run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1).

Indeed!! We are connected to so many by so much faith to many stories of such tremendous divine love. This is especially true when current connections seem so insubstantial and tenuous, based on political ideology, theological opinion, denominational affiliation, or even musical taste and Facebook groups. But none of that is what reaaly connects me to the Body of Christ. What really connects me to the body of Christ is God – the God who gathers up all of God’s children into the church eternal.

Today, we remember all the deeply faithful and deeply flawed saints through whom the glory of God has been revealed, is being revealed, and will be revealed. We remember Mary the mother of God and John the disciple whom Jesus loved, entrusted into each other’s care. We remember Mary Magdalena and Peter the fisherman, and all the glorious company of apostles. We remember Micah, Harriet Tubman, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and all the noble fellowship of prophets. We remember Stephen and the Righteous Gentiles, and the white-robed army of martyrs. And we remember Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola, Willaim Wilberforce, and Mother Teresa. 

And today, let us also remember Mary Ann and Molly, and all our mother’s who taught us the faith. Let us remember John, Carolyn, Miguel, Mike, and Paulo, and all the friends who have walked with us on our journey. Let us remember John Caulfield – your own John Caulfields – the mentors who showed you the way. 

And let us remember Angelina’s mom who pulled her from an abusive home; and Franco’s brother who took him in when he was a messed up kid trying to get sober. Let us remember Juan and AnnMarie, Tim and Becky, and the countless others who work for just and equitable systems. Let us remember Frederica and Willie, who will pray outdoors tonight because they have nowhere to lay their heads, but who will comfort their friends with blessing. Let us remember Wilamena, who will go hungry tonight because her grandkids will eat first. 

Today let us thank God for gathering so many into the church eternal, some of whom still light our own paths.

O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, but they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

“For All the Saints” (Hymnal 1982 #287)

Many of you have come here today to honor someone you love who has died. Your hearts are heavy with the loss of someone dear. Many of us have our own beloved dead to remember this day. People who we’d frankly rather still have here in this room, standing behind them in line for communion.

So today, on this Feast of All Saints, let us honor them and begin to live by a different set of standards. Let us live by the standard of those saints who have gone before and those saints still among us, flawed yet forgiven and faithful. Let us live by the standard of the Kingdom of God.

It starts today. It starts by loving our enemies, because if your not rooting for your enemy’s salvation you are not in line with what the Spirit wants. It starts by showing kindness to people who don’t deserve it. It grows into the ability to bless those who curse us and to pray for those who persecute us. It manifests itself in the ability to listen and show honor to those who are forced to beg.

It is lived out, not in the comfort of our homes or our churches or our offices, but among the poor and the hungry and the sorrowful and the hated; because, after all, the Kingdom of God belongs to them.

And when we do that – when we exchange our worldly standards for Kingdom standards – the blessed communion of saints cries out, “Alleluia! Alleluia!”

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