2016.10.30 - All Saints Sunday
Scripture - Luke 6:20-31New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
24 “But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
25 “Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
27 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
There’s a tablecloth in Ben’s family. When Ben and I started dating, his parents were living in Amesbury, MA, and this tablecloth adorned the formal dining room table – the one that was only used for dinner on Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was a white tablecloth – a bit fancier than what you might but on your kitchen table with some lace on the edges, but it was otherwise unremarkable…except for these names and pictures on it – some embroidered, some still in pencil. I never noticed these names until we were having dinner around the table on Thanksgiving. I learned that this tablecloth belonged to his great-grandmother on his mother’s side, and every time someone joined the family – through birth or through marriage – the person would write their name on the fabric and draw a picture of something that represents them and it would be embroidered on to this tablecloth. Every time the family came together to eat – whether it was a small number or a great big holiday meal – these names were part of the gathering. Many of the names on the tablecloth have long since passed on – but they are present with us when we eat – and it is a reminder of the family that we have that stretches beyond those physically gathered around the table and reaches into the past and looks toward the future.
Today is All Saints Sunday. It is a day that is set aside to remember the saints - particularly those who have gone before us. It started in the ancient church as a festival to remember the martyrs who suffered and died under persecution whose names were never recorded, so that their sacrifice and their memory would not be lost to time. Through the centuries this celebration evolved to include all who lived and died in faith and now rest from their labors and live eternally in the fullness of God’s glorious presence.
We also recognize on this day that all of us, by virtue of our baptism into Christ, are among the saints of God. The New Testament declares this time and time again when the Apostle Paul writes to the early churches and refers to them by name --- the saints living in Corinth or the saints in Thessalonica. We acknowledge that it is by God’s grace that we are among the living saints – not because of anything we’ve done or because of our own merit -- but simply because Christ made each of us a part of God’s family. And so All Saints day isn’t just a remembrance of our departed saints – it’s a celebration of God’s larger Family – our union with those who have gone before, those who are still living, and those generations yet to come – because Christ’s life, death, and resurrection unites all of us in every time and every place – a union that celebrated in our common baptism, nurtured in our life together, and ultimately fulfilled in the age yet to come.
Today is a reminder that we’re all one family in Christ, those who have gone before us, those who are here with us, and those who are yet to come.
The passage we heard from Luke earlier this morning may be an unusual one for All Saints Day. This version of the Beatitudes doesn’t seem to easily lend itself to remembering that great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us. Yet it does illuminate how we as the living saints should be trying to live – call this passage a description of the family values. Blessed are those who don’t quite have it all together – because the kingdom of God is coming, and all will be made right. Love everyone – especially those people who get under your skin. Take the high road when someone tries to bring you down. Give to everyone – no questions asked. Treat others like you want to be treated.
It’s a good way to try to live in God’s family. It’s true that none of us gets this down perfectly – but aren’t these the lessons we’ve learned from many who have gone before us? Aren’t these the lessons we hope to pass on to future generations? Isn’t this our hope for all people, everywhere?
It’s important for us to take the time to remember that Christ makes us into one family – but especially important to remember this during a time when we are all still grieving so many losses. We still mourn the deaths in our community, the people who friends and neighbors have lost, as well as the deaths in our own families. We all carry with us people who we love that are no longer physically present with us – some of them may be biologically related to us, some of them we have chosen to call family, some of them may have been family to those we know – yet all of them are part of God’s larger family.
On All Saints Sunday, we have an opportunity to name the saints – to name those who are part of God’s family and to be the ones who remember – as one day we will be remembered. We stand in the ever-flowing stream of Saints as the ones who honor the past and to give to the future. We name the saints because their story should not be forgotten. We name the saints to affirm that they are part of God’s family – our family – and that they are present with us whenever we gather together.
This morning, I have here some white fabric that we’ll be turning into a tablecloth. Who do you find yourself carrying with you in your memories? Who, when you gather around the dinner table, do you wish was still here to sit down with you? We’ll name the saints who are no longer physically with us by writing their names onto this sheet with pencil and you are invited to draw a small symbol of something that represents them if you wish. You can write and draw as many names as you feel led to do so – names of people in the community or names of people in your own family or names of those who are important to you. It’s OK if a name is on there more than once! You can name them aloud as you write, or name them silently. We have room for two or three people at a time to do this, so I invite you to come forward as you are moved to do so.
This is our new Communion parament. These names and pictures will be embroidered on the fabric – and we will use this tablecloth whenever we gather together for Communion, whenever we gather together for a potluck, whenever we celebrate a birth or mourn a death because these lives are inextricably bound with ours – they are always present with us as part of the mystical body of Christ that we, too, are a part of. Anyone will be free to add names to it whenever they would like – to remember those who pass from us during the year.
The beauty of a day like All Saints is this: it is a reminder to us that death is never the final word. Both in life and in death, we are connected to God and to one another. We are one body in Christ – those that we have named here today, those who will come after us, those names that we pull from history like Mother Theresa or John Wesley or Saint Paul, and even those names that are eventually forgotten. We are all held together in God’s glorious light and bound together both now and in the life to come.
For this we give God thanks and praise – that we are one family together, throughout all of time, throughout all of space, throughout all of history. Thanks be to God. Amen.
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Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and five year old son and 2 year old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.