6 November, 2022 – Feast of All Saints (observed)
by The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
Sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
This service has everything! Doesn’t it?
Baptisms…celebrating new life…a next generation…a new and renewed commitment to Christ…
And then, in a little bit, we have our commemoration of the faithful departed, where we remember those who have recently left this plane and entered into newer and greater life with God.
It’s very “circle of life.” Isn’t it?
We also have our altar of remembrance, and the names in the book of remembrance…our parents…our siblings…our relatives…our friends…even some of our children…who are all, in effect, ancestors now…forebears in the faith…people who—whatever their relationship to us us while they were alive—are now further along than us…in their journey…their journey with—and to God—the source and ground of all life….
What we do today honors the people of our past whom we love but see no longer…and we need to also be aware of the future generations whom we also cannot…may never have an opportunity to see…the children of these kids…the generations for whom we are the ancestors. They are here with us as well… They are all with us today.
And even further back, we can look up at the walls, and the windows in this beautiful place, and give thanks to all the individuals in the generations before us who lived, and loved, probably argued, and got hurt…cried and were comforted…who gave. Who gave time, and talent, and treasure to build and sustain this community that we are so blessed with. Who—just like us—were inspired by God in this place, supported by the community in this place, and went out to be Christ’s body in the world. Just as we are…and have just promised to be.
And again, we also need to be able to cast our vision not only back, but forward as well. And not just one, or two, but three, five, seven generations into our future. We need to honor our descendants by what we do here today…We need to be good and faithful ancestors ourselves.
We must be aware of them all—those generations who have come before and the generations yet to come—they need to be in our hearts when we do this other thing that’s part of this service…making our financial commitments, and processing our pledges to the altar…Because the decisions we make…because the things we do or don’t do…the paths we choose and the paths we refuse…all of that honors the generations past and impacts the generations yet to come.
And then there are the people depicted in the windows…the so-called saints of the church. Our most distant ancestors in the faith…there is much to admire in them…much to aspire to…There is also much to be questioned. None of them lived lives that were unimpeachable (none of us do…thank God for forgiveness), and many of them made choices that we can now celebrate…and they also made choices we now wish now they hadn’t made…
Choices that negatively impacted—and in many cases deeply damaged—the people Tammy mentioned last week, the ones who have been forgotten, or erased…the enslaved, the dispossessed, the colonized…many of those forgotten were not doubt prophets…many were certainly no less disciples than any of the people in these windows …many of the forgotten—far too many—were martyrs. They are with us too…the saints, the apostles, the martyrs. These watchers and these holy ones…They are here as well…
And there are still others…watching…bearing witness to our choices…The birds of the air, the beasts of the field, the fish, the trees, the water, the land itself… Remember, when God makes the covenant with Moses, God calls heaven and earth to bear witness (Deuteronomy 30:19) to it. Heaven and earth bear witness to how we treat them…how we treat one another…how we honor and sustain the whole web of relationships we are part of. This web of relationships that extends from nanoparticles to supernovas. They are all here…past, present, future…near and far…micro and macro…they are all here.…In a great cloud of witness…Can you feel them…with us?
The blessed and the woeful…the hungry and the fed…the weeping and the laughing…
I told you this service has everything. What we know as “the present” is really just a thin space…a sliver of eternity…between past and future. And too often we get pulled into rumination about the past, or concern about the future, and we forget about this thin space where it all coexists…This thin space is eternity. It’s God’s realm…where no one has too much…and no one has too little…where those who are feasting feed those who are hungry, and where those who are in good spirits comfort those who are down…and no one is hated or despised, because everyone recognizes the inherent worth and dignity of every other thing…recognizes…and honors…and sustains…the unbreakable bonds within this web of relational creation.
That’s the world we are called to…that’s the world we are building…that’s the world we are promising to be a part of with everything we do here today. Amen.