Sermon for All Saints Sunday
November 7th, 2021
Given at St. John’s Church, Decatur Alabama
And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”
+In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In last week’s gospel reading, we heard Jesus give the great commandment. That is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and love our neighbor as ourselves. In her sermon, Deacon Sarah reminded us that this work is essential for those of us who are baptized, and she reminded us that it is hard work. So, she invited us to take some time and to reflect on where we were with that. Where were the places in our lives that we were already living out that great commandment? where were the areas where we were failing? The places we could strive to do better? When she challenged us to do that, it caught my attention because we rarely have time to just sit and reflect in our busy lives. So I set aside some time to think and really take stock. (Surprisingly, seminary doesn’t give you much time to think) and when I did, I realized I’m not doing so hot. The places I fail are honestly a lot more in number than the places where I succeed, and as I sat with that, I have to admit I started to get a little discouraged. I got discouraged because, honestly, I’ve been trying my best, and my best isn’t cutting it. I mess up. I do the wrong thing. Even when I try to do the right thing, things don’t always go to plan.
The good news is that’s OK. I’m human, and I am going to mess up. We all are. We are going to fail in some places and get it right in others. God knows that. God knows that, and He doesn’t leave us all alone in this endeavor. We are not left to our own devices in learning how to follow Jesus. Today’s feast of All Saints reminds us that in following Christ, we are never alone because we are united to a great cloud of witnesses in baptism. Today’s feast reminds us that when we struggle to live up to the life Jesus calls us to, we can look back to the lives of Christians who persevered and were shining examples of what it looks like to live the great commandment.
Christians like Luke, the doctor who wrote down the story of Jesus and spread it throughout the world. Like Marget the Queen, a wife and mother who loved her family and used her gifts to care for the sick and needy. Or Joan, the shepherdess who heard God’s call and fought for her people’s freedom. Like Martin the Solider, who risked his life to clothe a beggar and ended up clothing Christ. John the priest who was faithful in the care of his flock or Ignatius, slain by a fierce wild beast for refusing to put the emperor in place of God. The stories of these Saints and countless others known and unknown from every generation inspire us, give us something to strive for, and remind us what is possible with God’s grace. As we try time and time again to live into that grace, the Saints are right there with us, walking alongside us to cheer us on and to lift us up in prayer.
But we do not look back only to recount the lives the Saints lived on earth. We look back to be reminded of the lives they live now in the very place we also long to be: resting in the light of the One we strive to serve. We look back to remember the hope that beckons us forward: God’s promise of eternal life. Because as the hymn we just sang reminds us, the saints of God are just folk like us. Folk like us who united themselves to Christ in baptism. Folk like us who allowed the Holy Spirit to work in their lives. Folk like us who failed and kept trying followed the call to repent, return, and remember that those struggles do not define them. We, like them, are defined by something much greater: God’s grace.1
God’s grace which does not depend on where we fail for where we get things right. God’s grace which does not depend on how often we fall. It is grace that calls us to strive after the great commandment and allows us to try. It is grace which unites us in one communion and fellowship with the Saints, and grace which is making us -and the world- new until one day we come to that heavenly city where there are no tears, no pain, or sighing and where the Home of God is among mortals. We are all intimately united in the eternal life God promises to those who love Him.
The grace given to us in baptism is strengthened each time we come to this table to receive Holy Communion and feast on the Lord’s Body and Blood. And it is here at this table where we unite our voices with angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven that our bond with all the Saints who have gone before us known and unknown is the strongest on this side of eternity. So come, come to this table for the grace you need and to meet the Saints, the friends who are always with you cheering you on.
- The Rev’d. Warren Swenson, “Baptized into Eternal Life”