1 November 2020
Sermon preached by The Rev. 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 Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
How I wish…
How I wish you were here.
I really do. I wish we could all be together…celebrating…as we are used to doing on All Saints day. Easter came and went we were still trying to wrap our heads around what this pandemic really meant. How long it might last…how it was going to upend every aspect of our lives. And as hard as it was, I also experienced a kind of creative rush…figuring out how to stage and film the services here…in the hope that they would sustain us… We all know Christmas is coming…Stephan and Tammy and I are engaged in planning for that…knowing that we will still need to be physically distant…and working on ways for us to still remain spiritually connected. But, see, Easter and Christmas are big cultural events…And truthfully, there is a lot of help from the wider church, and even the wider world, about how to plan…what to think about…what works and what doesn’t…for both Easter and Christmas…
But the feast of All Saints is not something that gets a lot of attention in the wider world…the day before it does…but how many people even know that Halloween is a contraction of All Hallow’s Eve? All Saints is a major feast in some Christian denominations, but not all…and really…unless All Saints also happens to be the name of your church…it doesn’t register all that prominently. But if All Saints is the church you go to…if it’s where your kids grew up…or where your family members have been buried…where you have connections and memories…memories of laughter and tears and joy and pain all shared with people you may not know all that well, but whom you are connected to in ways that are both profound and mysterious…then…then…All Saints is a very big deal. And today I am feeling profoundly the weight of these months that continue to bear down, and stretch and challenge us. And I wish you were here.
If you were here I would invite you to look around…to look at the people sitting near to you…all of us saints in training… and I would encourage you to remember that these are your people…these are the people you can count on…You may or may not like them…you may or may not agree with them all the time…in fact, you’ve probably learned (or are learning) to love them because you don’t agree, to honor one another because of your differences and diversity. So, take a moment and think about the people who would be near you…picture them…and remember you belong to each other.
If you were here, as you processed your pledge cards to the altar, I would invite you to pause at the altar of remembrance…look at the pictures of people who have meant so much to so many here…people who have led and guided…who have taught and sacrificed…people who have given time and talent and treasure to ensure that God’s work of reconciliation continues in the world. So now, take a moment and conjure up some images of your ancestors…or the ancestors of the church…become aware of their ongoing presence…your lingering connection to them.
If you were here, I would ask you to look up…and really take in the stained glass…not just the incredible colors…the amazing Connick blues…the reds and golds…I would ask you to focus on the people…first the names of those who lived and worshiped here and donated so much more than just the windows…the Coreys, the Connors, the Champlains, the Peppers, the Saltonstals, the Ver Planks, the Hotchkins, the Edward’s, the Tylers. The blessed people of our past…who lived and worshipped here…
Then, I’d ask you look at the people in the windows…some who also lived and worked among us…The Tylers (relatives of the second rector of our parish)…John Eliot, the puritan missionary who most certainly spent time in this area, and was instrumental in publishing the Bay Psalm Book, and translating the bible into the language of the Massachusett tribe…Others who could never have imagined a place like All Saints, Brookline could ever exist…Perpetua, and Catherine…Irenaeus, and Stephen…Barbara and Alban…in this space we are literally surrounded by them…saints…ancestors…the great cloud of witnesses. And if you were here it would be easier to get a sense of that…but time and space are no barriers in God’s realm—“For a thousand years in [God’s] sight are like yesterday when it is past and like a watch in the night” [Psalm 90:4]—so no matter where you are…bring to mind these walls…these windows…which are so much more than lovely depictions of the past…they are windows into the divine realm of God…where these faithful souls and blessed saints are waiting…and watching…and urging us on…Connect with them…find the thread that ties you to those who give you strength…who can support you…feel them surrounding you…holding you…feeding you…giving you strength.
If you were here, as you processed your pledge cards up I would encourage you to hold all of these people in your mind…and in your heart…and then to act…to pledge today and every day…to be a good ancestor yourself…to continue growing into the person that the grandchildren and the great grandchildren of today’s children can look up to with gratitude and respect.
We all know that many things are harder this year…going to church being just one of them…but we also know that the church (at its best) operates in a different register than the principalities and powers…and in a church community the connections across time and space should be easier to sense because they are stronger…more tenacious…and so, even though you’re not here…I am encouraging you to reach out and feel that connection…the connection to one another in the present…the connection to those in the past…to really feel the presence of this great cloud of witnesses…the “great multitude from every nation…from every tribe and people and language”… feel yourself—wherever you are—feel yourself surrounded by and connected to that…And then hang on to it…and commit to being part of it…commit to being a good ancestor.
Yes, this is a call to action…it is not—I want to be clear—a call to perfection…Not a single one of the people who is standing around you right now…not a single member of the faithful departed…no saint—no matter how disciplined and godly—was “perfect”. They were all flawed…they all made mistakes…they all did things they did not want to do, and they did things they regretted…They all sinned in thought, word and deed, by things done, and by things left undone…They all fell short of the glory of God…WE all fall short of the glory of God…and yet…they knew that they had others to rely on as well…they knew they had great cloud of supporters…they knew that, to paraphrase the late bishop Barbara Harris, “the God who is behind them, is greater than anything in front of them.”
I do wish you were here…but I give thanks to God that you are where you are…out in the world…being the body of Christ…carrying out the work of reconciliation in the world…being light, and salt, and yeast. And I feel surrounded by you, and surrounded by all the saints. I hope you can feel it too. Hang on to that…and together, joined with them we will follow God into whatever the future holds.