Yesterday, I started my morning by checking my calendar. Now I’m pretty bad at reaching out to people on their birthdays, but I’m trying to get better. I have started adding birthdays to contact information, and I’m trying to reach out to people on their special day. I’m still awful at it, but I’m trying to improve. Yesterday, my phone alerted me of a birthday. It was Chuck Jaeger’s birthday. He would have been 72.
Every death we’ve had at this church since I started here has been hard for me, but some more than others. I took Chuck’s particularly hard. He was kind, loving, never asked for anything, and as generous as he could be.
I’ve been thinking about my dad a lot too. None of you got a chance to know him at all. He moved down here shortly after we did, but he was in rehab or the hospital until he passed away. My dad loved the Miami Dolphins. We had season tickets for as long as I could remember, and even if I had upset him and he was angry with me, I always knew I could get him to talk to me if I just started talking about the Dolphins. The reason I’ve been thinking about him lately is because the Dolphins are doing well, and for most of my life, even after I left home, if there was news about the Fins or something going on, he’d be the first person I’d call. And then, five years ago, that stopped. I couldn’t call him anymore.
I don’t understand how people can go through life thinking that this is all there is, that people who are of infinite value to us (how do I put a value on my father, my mother, my wife, my kids?) can be here one day and gone the next, and that’s it.
Truthfully, most people don’t actually believe that. Modern philosophers talk about the haunting of our world. We thought we closed off the roof and could make sense of the world purely in terms of immanence. We thought we had cut off transcendence, but now we’ve found that the space is haunted. That voices call out to us from the dark. That we can feel a presence there that we can’t explain.
All Saints’ Day
In Christian theology, we have a term for this: it’s called the Communion of Saints, and it’s what we celebrate today on All Saints’ Day.
Those who have died are not gone, and we’ve had many pass away in the past five years. The collect begins: “Almighty God, you have knit together your elect into one communion and fellowship in the mystical Body of your Son.”
I love that language. We have been knit together, we who are alive today and the saints who have preceded us. We have been knit together in the body of Christ.
We are one in Christ with all those who have gone before us. My dad is not gone. Chuck is not gone. The others we have lost this year and in previous years are not gone. We are still knit together with them in the body of Christ. We are still one with them. They are not far from us. They’re very near.
The Body of Christ
But, of course, All Saints’ Day is about more than merely being united with those who have gone before us. Sometimes Paul’s language can be a little difficult to unravel, but I want us to look at what he says in our reading from Ephesians this morning.
having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great mightEphesians 1:18–19 (ESV)
He speaks in verse 18 of “the hope to which he has called you, that is, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and the immeasurable greatness of his power towards us who believe.”
Paul’s not listing different things. They’re all the same. Our hope, the riches of his inheritance, and the greatness of his power are all the same thing, and Paul says that they are going to happen according to the working of his great might
that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.Ephesians 1:20–23
There’s so much theology here it’s difficult to untangle it all, but what Paul is saying is that the hope of all the saints is that on the last day, God will do for us what he has already done for Jesus Christ. But this is our hope, not merely because God has said it is, but because with all the saints, we are one with Christ in his body, his resurrected body.
When Paul says that the church, with saints past and saints present, is the body of Christ, he isn’t speaking merely metaphorically. This is why the collect speaks of the body of Christ as “mystical.” When Paul speaks of the body of Christ, he isn’t saying merely, “the church is like a body.” He’s saying, “the church is spiritually and mystically connected with Christ in such a way that we are his physical presence here on earth, and though, like his body, we may be broke, God will raise us up by the same power by which he raised Jesus from the dead, seated him at his right hand, and gave him the name that is above every name. It is by that same power that he will raise us up, and not just us, but us with all the saints, with Chuck, with my Dad, with all the saints who have gone before us, and he will do this because we are Christ’s body, and the Gospel says that God raised Christ’s body from the dead. He did this for Christ on the first Easter morning, and he will do this again for all the saints on that last great day.