The Episcopal Church I first attended regularly was St. Paul’s, Newburyport, Massachusetts. It was constructed in the early 20th century, on the site of an earlier building that had been destroyed by fire. As was the custom in England, and in many colonial towns, St. Paul’s churchyard was also a graveyard. To enter the building, you walked along a sidewalk that cut through a jumble of old headstones, some of which dated back to the late 18th century. It was a reminder of the church’s history, of all those who had worshiped there over the centuries. Continue reading
Today is All Saints’ Sunday. In the life of Grace Church, it’s a day full of opportunities to reflect on who we are as a community and who we are becoming, and called to become. We are baptizing a baby today. We commemorate those who have died from our congregation and our loved ones, in the last year and distant past. We welcome new members into our community, and finally, we gather up our pledges of financial commitment to the ministry and mission of Grace for the coming year. Continue reading
Today is All Saints’ Sunday. It’s a Sunday that is jam-packed liturgically as we will baptize an infant and an adult and commemorate those from our parish and our loved ones who have died, especially in the past year. We will also recognize new members today and we’ve set this day as our ingathering of pledges for our annual stewardship campaign. This evening we will gather again for Choral Evensong. Continue reading
There’s something about our commemoration of All the Saints each year that appeals to historical sensibilities. Each year, as I reflect on the day and prepare my sermon, I find myself drawn to the stories of Christians who lived in the past. Usually my focus is not on the famous saints, the ones we remember in our calendar of commemorations, but on ordinary men and women who lived out lives of faithfulness in obscurity. Continue reading
Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
Three of the images that are at the forefront of my mind today:
The marvelous and awe-inspiring procession of martyrs that grace the walls of S. Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna:
And from a very different historical period, and a radically different expression of the communion of saints (the 16th century Anabaptist Dirk Willems, who after breaking free from his captors, went back to save one who had fallen through the ice. Willems was executed):
To those who know a little of christian history probably the most moving of all the reflections it brings is not the thought of the great events and the well-remembered saints, but of those innumerable millions of entirely obscure faithful men and women, every one with his or her own individual hopes and fears and joys and sorrows and loves — and sins and temptations and prayers — once every whit as vivid and alive as mine are now. They have left no slightest trace in this world, not even a name, but have passed to God utterly forgotten by men. Yet each one of them once believed and prayed as I believe and pray, and found it hard and grew slack and sinned and repented and fell again. Each of them worshipped at the eucharist, and found their thoughts wandering and tried again, and felt heavy and unresponsive and yet knew — just as really and pathetically as I do these things. There is a little ill-spelled ill-carved rustic epitaph of the fourth century from Asia Minor: — ‘Here sleeps the blessed Chione, who has found Jerusalem for she prayed much’. Not another word is known of Chione, some peasant woman who lived in that vanished world of christian Anatolia. But how lovely if all that should survive after sixteen centuries were that one had prayed much, so that the neighbours who saw all one’s life were sure one must have found Jerusalem! What did the Sunday eucharist in her village church every week for a life-time mean to the blessed Chione — and to the millions like her then, and every year since then? The sheer stupendous quantity of the love of God which this ever-repeated action has drawn from the obscure Christian multitudes through the centuries is in itself an overwhelming thought.
Dom Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy (1945).
h/t Wesley Hill
There’s something of a confusion in our commemoration of All Saints. We’re not quite sure what we should be doing today in our worship. Our lessons, all of them, are among the lessons chosen for the burial service. We are worshiping as the choir sings Faure’s Requiem, and later in our service, we will remember the faithful departed, those of our congregation who have died in the past years, and others, our loved ones, who have died in the past year or before. So, what we really seem to be doing is celebrating what used to be called All Souls’ Day, or what in our calendar appears on November 2, the commemoration of all the faithful departed. Continue reading