Sunday, November 2, 2008

All Saints Sunday, 2008

November 2, 2008 All Saints Sunday 1 John 3: 1-3

One of the great days of the Church Year, All Saints Sunday, and certainly here at St. Andrew’s, always a festival of celebration, such wonderful music, and enjoying a glimpse of the future as we celebrate with Ian Denshaw and Nikolas Schunn and Maeve Southard-Wray and Zach Spondike and their families on First Communion Sunday.

And remembering All Saints and heroes of ancient days and All Souls as we more immediately are remembering in our thoughts and prayers those whom we have known and loved but now see no longer, reminding ourselves of the challenges and opportunities of life and ministry that God sets before us, and aware even in the faces of our children that the intentions of God stretch out beyond all the boundaries of time and space that we can even begin to imagine. This mystery of community, of the Christian family, the Church, the Body of Christ.

There’s a poster you often find in locker rooms and I think also in some business and corporate offices with the saying, kind of a cliché, “THERE IS NO “I” in “TEAM.” The idea that the objective is to score the goal, win the game, complete the project, not to bring glory to any one individual—and especially not if, as so often happens, that one member’s drive and desire to be the Star of the Show ends up undermining the quality and effectiveness of the group effort. “I scored three runs, but we lost the game.” In the same way I’ve heard it said that there can be no such thing as a solitary Christian. That there is something essential to the foundation of our faith about life in community.

St. Benedict held that for the monk Christian life in the monastery was in many ways superior to Christian life as an anchorite or hermit, because, he said, it is only in community that we truly can learn and practice obedience to the Great Commandment that Jesus gave to his friends on that Holy Thursday evening, when as he washed their feet in such compassionate humility he said, “Love one another, as I have loved you.”

Obedience, humility, and compassion are just hard things to practice in a room by yourself—and those are for any Christian the chief signposts on the way of Spiritual life, of growth in faith and in relationship to Christ, as we come to know him together, with one another. So All Saints and All Souls not minor observances in the calendar, but essential and at the core of who we are and what our Christian life is all about, on a direct line with Christmas and Easter and Pentecost, and certainly a festival worthy of orchestral celebration. This vast community, across time and space.

Certainly a day when as with Ian and Nikolas and Maeve and Zach we would come to the altar this morning to receive what we are, and what we are becoming, the Body of Christ, to meet the One in whom we become more and more perfectly who we are in the eyes of our Heavenly Father, and to grow more deeply in companionship one with another. As that very word “companion” reflects relationship in and through the sharing of bread.

All that, then, and this wonderful, brief passage from First John, the opening sentences of the third chapter, in a kind of anthem of deepest feeling of that relationship grounded in Christ’s living presence. No “I” in this paragraph, almost as if the Apostle doesn’t know that word—it’s all “we.” “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God.” It is this fellowship, all of us together, this communication, this living together in one holy family, brothers and sisters, in the miracle of heavenly life, that brings the fulfillment of our life together.

Not to negate or diminish our individuality, but to see that individuality lifted up into a greater identity, a life of more complete fullness and perfection. A transformation in Christ. “What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”

I can almost hear rumbling underneath an echo of Henry Wadsworth Lowry’s much loved 19th century hymn, “How can I keep from singing?” In a moment in the life of the wider church which sometimes seems to be more about conflict and division and separation in all sorts of ways, to be called back on this Sunday to the first principle of our life, and of our life together. “Beloved, we are God’s children now.” And that is then manifest in us as his life overflows the boundaries of our lives and fills the world.

Not just some joy, not just joy here and there, but in fullness, in perfection. That we will be like him.

As what we have seen in him, in his life, his death, his resurrection, and his glory, now we see as well: All Saints, All Souls—Ian, Nikolas, Maeve, and Zach, and all of you, all of us. Complete joy. The vision of the great All Saints Day hymn, as it echoes around us all this morning: From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast, through gates of pearl streams in the countless host, singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Alleluia. Alleluia.

Bruce Robison

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