All Saints’ Day
November 1, 2009
All Saints’ is one of my favorite Sundays. I love wearing white after all of those Green Sundays of Summer. I love singing “For All the Saints.” I relish the opportunity to pause and reflect over the past year. All Saints’ is always tinged with grief as I inevitably am put in mind of those people at whose burial services I’ve presided in the last year, but it’s also an opportunity to remember them again, to pause and think of all of those people to whom we’ve said good-bye. It is also a glorious celebration. All Saints is a reminder that the community to which belong, the body of Christ is not confined to the living alone, but rather that we are united with those who have gone before in one communion, one Church.
Traces of those who have gone before us surround us. It was they who built, renovated, and preserved this beautiful building, the women and men who were a part of Grace long ago. There’s a closet that’s full of memorabilia of Grace—photos, records and the like that go back decades. Some of that material is on display in the Guild Hall today. For some of us, as we look around at the various memorials, as we go into the Guild Hall later to enjoy the food prepared for us, some of us will remember the men and women whose names appear in the documentation. Some of us may still grieve their passing.
The legacy of the past is not only something to celebrate and enjoy. It can also be a burden. It is a temptation to live in the past, to remember things as they were and to desire a return to a great golden age. History can be a burden in another way; it can be so oppressive that it prevents us from living in the present, and developing vision for the future.
All Saints’ may be a time when we want to look back, remember, and perhaps become somewhat nostalgic. But that is not the primary purpose of this feast. As a reminder that we belong to a communion that is larger than ourselves, larger than this life, All Saints’ challenges us to remake our lives, our community, our church, in accordance with the divine example.
What that means can be different in different contexts. Given what we are doing today in our worship and at our coffee hour, I would like us to think about our worship and our feasting. You may think it odd that I choose to focus on these things today, but I don’t think it’s obvious, or given, that we worship the way we do. Certainly not in this day and age—when most Christians in America worship in spaces that resemble movie theaters or corporate headquarters rather than the beautiful sanctuary in which we find ourselves.
Some of you may have come because of the Kodaly mass; others may be wishing they hadn’t. After the service, I hope you will join us for the celebration of Grace’s cooks over the last 125 years, the saints who fed Grace all of those years.
It’s fitting given the latter event that our lesson from the Hebrew Bible is a vision of a new day. In fact, the prophet sees a New Jerusalem, a new Zion, but he describes it somewhat differently than does John in the Book of Revelation: “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.” It is a vision of divine hospitality that moves into speaking of a time when there will be nothing dividing God from God’s people, and where there will be no mourning.
Some of that imagery is carried over into the reading from Revelation. It, too is a vision of the New Jerusalem. One thing that distinguishes the new Jerusalem from the old is that God will be dwell there, “The home of God is with mortals.” Later in this same chapter, John will tell us that there is no temple in this new Jerusalem, there is no need of a temple, because God is present everywhere.
In the New Testament, in Revelation and in the Letter to the Hebrews that we’ve been reading this fall, there is a strong connection between the worship that takes place here on earth with that which takes place in the presence of God. But it’s not just the New Testament—in our Eucharist, we sing “with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.” Our worship is an imitation of what takes place in heaven. And that’s why beauty is so important.
It’s been interesting for me to see the reaction of visitors who enter Grace Church on Saturday mornings. We all know that it is a wonderful space, but it is also a holy space, a beautiful space, where people can gain a sense of the divine. It’s clear in watching people as they enter, that they are experiencing something new and different, something quite unlike the rest of their lives.
Of course, for us, we know that and we come for the same reason. But our experience is not limited to the visual, and the aural. We also taste and see that the Lord is Good. At the Eucharistic table, we experience God’s hospitality, bread and wine that become the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
This fall, in our adult formation program, we have been exploring the connections between our faith and food, both the ethics, and the aesthetics. For many of us, it is hard to see a connection between what we do in the Eucharist, indeed, what we do in worship, and the way we eat. That’s largely because the Christian tradition sought to separate the two, but the Eucharist began as a meal, and in early Christianity, one of the most popular forms of devotion was to throw big parties in the places where the saints and martyrs were buried.
“The Lord of Hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines.” It may be difficult to see the connection between the Eucharist and a feast—after all, the wafers that we eat are only distantly related to bread, and the wine, well the wine is not the finest either. But the Eucharist is a feast and it is important that we see the connection between this table, at which our Lord is a host, and the tables around which we serve as hosts. And I mean it, whether those tables are the ones we set for dinner guests in our homes, or the tables on which the food for coffee hour is spread, or the tables for the meal that will be served to our homeless neighbors tomorrow night.
We also say in the Eucharist “give us a foretaste of that heavenly banquet” For us to worship in ways that not only reflect our needs, desires, faith and doubt, but also reflect the glory of the one we worship, everything we do, our music, liturgy, and yes, the food we eat at this table and at every table, should be beautiful, delightful, and glorious. When we do that, we truly are joining with all the company of the saints. Thanks be to God!