Revelation 7:9-17; Ephesians 1:11-23; Luke 6:20-26
Today we celebrate the Feast of All Saints’ Day. All Saints’ Day is traditionally celebrated on November 1st, but the Book of Common Prayer does allow for also celebrating it on the first Sunday after November 1st. What we celebrate today is the bond between the church triumphant and the church militant, by which we mean those saints who have already passed from this life and those whose work is still ongoing. But the connection that we share with all the Saints isn’t only vertical. It’s horizontal as well. There is a bond that exists today between all members of the body of Christ, and that bond crosses time, space, artificial lines on maps, and even death itself. To celebrate All Saints’ Day requires us simultaneously to recognize the horizontal and vertical bond that we share with all believers, not just the ones in heaven but also the ones on earth who might not look like us, talk like us, live like us, or think like us but nonetheless just like us participate in the body of Christ by faith.
That horizontal bond is one that we forget more easily than the vertical bond. At least I do. It’s an amazing thing that we live on a sphere and that the sun only shines on half of the planet at a time. When you and I go to bed (well, when you go to bed… I’m probably up for another 4-5 hours, but when you go to bed), someone on the other side of the planet, who looks differently than you, speaks a different language than you, worships Jesus differently than you, and thinks differently than you do about a whole host of topics is waking up, and the first thing she’s going to do is pray to and worship Jesus. And that means that as your “shift” ends, hers begins, and therefore every hour of every day there is someone on this planet worshipping our Lord Jesus Christ. At least I hope that’s the case.
What All Saint’s Day reminds us is that in a real sense you have more in common with that person on the other side of the planet than with someone who roots for the same sports teams, drives the same type of car, lives in the same type of home, or works the same type of job, if that person is not a believer in Jesus Christ. Of all the things that we use in this life to define ourselves and to give our lives shape and meaning, the only ones that are permanent, the only ones that transcend space and time, the only ones that transcend and even conquers death are faith, hope, and love in Jesus Christ. And in faith, hope, and love with Jesus Christ, we share a bond with all believers in heaven and all believers on earth, and we have a name for that bond. We call it the Holy Spirit.
The Church has for a long time considered the Holy Spirit to be the bond of love between the Father and the Son that is so strong that it is its own Person, and when we come to the waters to be baptized, we believe that God pours that Spirit on every one of us. The Holy Spirit is what we share with all believers across time, space, and death, and it is the Holy Spirit who not only unites us to Christ forever but also unites us to each other forever, and that should be the focus of our identity. Too often we identify ourselves by other things. I’m a Dolphins fan. I’m an Apple guy. I’m an American. I’m a Chicagoan or a Floridian. I’m a … and you can fill in the blank. Our first allegiance is always to a king and a kingdom, to a cross and an empty tomb, and everything else is a distant second. Nothing should define us more than who we are in Jesus Christ.
Because not only is everything else in this world transient, but there is also a great reversal coming upon the world. That’s what our Gospel is about. And the thing about the Saints is that many of them, by the definition of the world’s standards, weren’t successful. And by Saints here I don’t just mean the saints that we know and remember, but all the saints: the Sunday school teachers who led us to Christ, the faithful pastors and priests who serve in small churches all their lives, the missionaries who leave everything behind and go off to another country and lose their life on the mission field, and the people who live simple, faithful lives. Those are all saints too, and we honor them today because they model for us lives that are defined not by the world’s definitions of success but by the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ by which God has turned the world upside-down, or even better, by which God has turned the world right-side-up.
The Spirt, Paul says, is our guarantee. We speak so much about being saved now, but salvation is a future event in which God will raise our mortal bodies from the dead to eternal life, and in that time in between when we have crossed through the waters of baptism but have not yet arrived at the Promised Land of that last Easter Day it is the Spirit, poured out on all the saints, which speaks to us, guides us, gifts us, teaches us to pray, and when we can’t find the words cries out to God on our behalf.
So, give thanks today for all the saints. Give thanks for all those unnamed, unknown saints who live lives that say in subtle and not so subtle ways that the way up is the way down and that what it means to be human is different than what the world says it means. Give thanks for the Holy Spirit who brings us all from the waters of baptism to the Promised Land and who unites us and binds us together on our journey, making us one people not only with all the saints in this building but with all the saints across the globe and the saints in heaven who have gone before us. Give thanks for the day in which all the saints will rise from the dead, stand before the throne of God, and worship God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit with one voice in a new heavens and earth forever and ever.
May the Spirit bind us together with all the saints in faith, hope, and love, now and forever.