For All the Saints

All Saints’s Day (November 1, 2020)

Lessons for the Feast of All Saints: Revelation 7:9-17; Psalm 34:1-10, 22; 1 John 3:1-3; and, Matthew 5:1-12.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Los Angeles started construction on their new cathedral in 1999, after the previous cathedral was badly damaged in the Northridge earthquake of 1996. The new cathedral, called Our Lady of the Angels, would be noted for its very tall sanctuary walls, on which the design team wanted to hang unique works of art that would speak to the character and mission of the church. The artist commissioned for the work was John Nava who designed what came to be “The Communion of Saints Tapestries.” The tapestries picture one-hundred, thirty-five saints from various times and places in Christian history. 

In designing and creating the tapestries, the artist used a few death masks and some earlier artwork, but he didn’t have any definitive depictions of the saints he was portraying. So, for models, Nava went to the streets and gathered people whose visage, manner, and bearing reminded him of the saints he was trying to depict. He saw people at coffee shops and restaurants, people at the beach, a homeless woman and her child, and a couple walking a dog.  – people he saw at coffee shops and restaurants, people at the beach, people walking the dog, people like you and me.

Most people were flattered to be models. Some were believers, others were not, but when they were interviewed about the process, they almost all said the same thing: being a saint, being dressed in the clothes, and learning about their saint’s story, made them want to act like the saint they were modeling. They felt better about life and felt connected to the world in a deeper way than ever before. And the fact is, they are. They are connected to the saints they modeled and they are connected to us and to Christ, as is seen when you enter the Cathedral’s sanctuary. The saints line the walls and they are all gazing toward the cross above the altar, marching toward it, just as the real saints did before them, and as we continue to do each week, including today, when we come to the altar at Eucharist, and as the next generations will do in the future. It is a powerful vision.

I love this Feast of All Saints. I think it is a day saturated with meaning, in no small part, because it is a day saturated with stories, begging to be dusted off, read and reread. These stories are chock full of curious and complex characters who have been blinded or startled or warmed or provoked by God’s grace—each noteworthy in their own regard. 

Some of the stories are well worn, and maybe we at least know the framework of their lives with Christ: Mary, the God-bearer; John the baptizer; Peter and Paul; our beloved patron, Stephen; Augustine; Clare and Francis of Assisi; Teresa; John; Joan; and, so many others. And then there are some whose stories are less well-known, or who don’t bear the title Saint, with a capital S, but maybe they should: There’s Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin; the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and Claudette Colvin; Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. And there are the less than famous but deeply held in our hearts: There is Priscilla – who made sure that everyone here stayed on track. There is Scott – who had such a love for the praising God as he strummed away on that bass and sang of God’s love and  There is Anna – who loved to teach and help young people grow

Over the centuries, the church has identified the lives of the saints as tangible expressions of the beatitudes, of bodies who are poor in spirit, who mourn, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who pursue peace. And yet, for all their diversity, these stories are sheltered under the same roof, protected by the same walls, confirmed and strengthened by the same divine love.

Now, we may not know each saint’s story, but we do know Jesus’ story, just as they did, and that is a powerful connector. It is a connection that is never lost or weakened, even though they are not present on earth with us. The gospel accounts tell us about Jesus, so we know of him in the historic sense, but our faith is what connects us with the mystery of life in Jesus. We hear the gospel stories about Him and stories of the saints’ encounters of Him and know our own stories, all of which are part of this greater story of life. We remember Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection each week at the Eucharist, and in turn, are “re-membered,” brought together, united in the Body of Christ. United in our common faith and story. And this re-membering, this unity, transforms us, so that we may go out renewed and strengthened by the knowledge of our belonging to God and of those who came before us and will come after us, belonging to God, too.

As Christians, we carry on Jesus’ mission of transforming the world by spreading the kingdom of God in our daily lives. And in a way, isn’t that what we do with any loved one not among us? Many times, we carry on their vision and make it ours so it will continue to be carried into the future. By living out the Christian mission, we honor God, we honor each other, and we honor the lives of those who came before us, who also held that same mission. Like them, once we have come to Jesus Christ, we are His own and remain that way, and will join the great multitude that was talked about in our scripture from Revelation, worshiping God and singing: “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever!”

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