A Sermon for All Saints’ Day, November 4, 2018
St. Dunstan’s Anglican Church, Largo, FL
The Very Reverend J. Michael Strachan
You are not alone. That is the theme of All Saints Day. It is the theme of this mini-season from All Saints Day to Christ the King Sunday. You are not alone.
I know this will sound strange to our Western, post-Enlightenment brains, but we do not approach God as individuals. We approach God as a community. Not as the community of St. Dunstan’s, and not as the community of the Diocese of Quincy, and not as the community of the ACNA or the Anglican communion, but as the community of people who have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah.
Let me try to make the case because I’m sure some of you are sitting there saying, “No, no, no, I’ll stand before God on my own. Thank you very much.” Let me assure you right now; you had better hope that’s not the case. You see, in Jewish theology, God wasn’t expected to act to redeem me or you, one person or the next person. Throughout the Old Testament and into the New Testament the belief is that God was going to act on behalf of the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And the question then becomes: who are the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and how can you tell? This question is why in the New Testament there is so much discussion about circumcision and food laws and cleanliness laws. It’s not because anyone was trying to earn their salvation. It’s because for centuries those had been the markers of the people whom God was going to redeem or justify.
So, the Jewish thought didn’t conceive of salvation as an individual experience, but as a corporate experience. In the end, God would return to people, would set the world right, and he would raise the righteous back to life. Resurrection is supposed to be a corporate event at the end of ordinary history, but then Jesus happens, and the one who was condemned by the Law, who stood under a curse according to the Law, is surprisingly and shockingly the one whom God saved. So, for Paul, the question “Who are the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and how can you tell?” is answered like this: Jesus is the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and you can tell because God raised him from the dead. For Paul, the question has been asked and answered.
And what you need to notice is that Paul doesn’t then say, “Well, if God saved Jesus from the dead, then what you need to do is learn to live exactly like Jesus, and maybe God will raise you too. That would be salvation by works. No, what Paul says over and over in many different ways is that if we want to be saved, we must be in Christ, in the Messiah, and if you ask how we get in the Messiah, Paul’s answer is obvious: by faith and by baptism. Romans 6:3 – “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into the Messiah Jesus were baptized into his death?” 1 Corinthians 12:13 – “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” Do you remember in Galatians when Paul says that there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, no more male and female? Do you remember why he says that? Listen to the full quote.
“For as many of you as were baptized into the Messiah have put on the Messiah. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in the Messiah Jesus. And if you are Messiah’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal 3:27–29). And now you can see how this all comes together. We do not experience salvation as individuals but as the community of people who have been baptized into the death and resurrection of the Messiah.
And here’s what this day celebrates. That community is larger than this church, it’s larger than our diocese, it’s larger than our provenance, it’s larger than our communion, and it’s larger than every single Christian living on the planet right now. It is even larger than life and death. The communion of the saints, of those in the Messiah, not only spans the globe but it extends backward and forward in time and even beyond death itself, and it’s that fact that we celebrate today. And let me say two words about this, and I’ll be done.
First, you are not alone, and so, there is no reason for any of us to go about the task of trying to be faithful followers of Jesus on our own. And I know some of you are thinking, “I don’t go about this alone. I come to church on Sundays,” and of course that’s great. But I tend to think that we need more than that. Some people engage the saints in their prayer life, not because they believe they don’t have direct access to the Father through the Son, but because they believe the saints to be alive, to be able to hear their prayers, and to be able to join in intercessory prayer. If that’s you, that’s great. Even though I don’t do that personally, I would never try to stop someone who wanted to.
For most of us though, or at least for people like me, the communion of the saints needs to be something more tangibly felt. We need to be together, and we need to be together often. We need to be in Bible studies and prayer groups and engaged in spiritual direction. We need to be sharing meals together, laughing together, learning together, growing together, confessing our sins together, and seeking God’s support and direction together. And we need to be doing it often. Certainly more than once per week. So, All Saints Day seems to me like the perfect day to strongly suggest that, whether it’s here or through some organization outside St. Dunstan’s, you find ways to engage in the community of the saints on more than just Sundays. That could be coming to our Wednesday mass. It could be staying for Bible study on Wednesdays or Gospel Project on Sundays. It could be the men’s night out or the ladies lunch out. It could be Wednesday evening catechesis or going with Fr. Luis every other Monday to Vagabond. It could mean coming to Lectio Divina. However you do decide to do it when you go out today, take some time and prayerfully reflect on the different ways that we can all be more intimately and frequently involved with the community of the saints.
Lastly, I mentioned this at the close of the memorial mass yesterday, but if, when the Bishop asked me if I would like to come to Largo in June of year, someone had told me how many funerals or memorials I’d be involved in, I would have just assumed that person was joking. We’ve lost a lot of people in the last year and half, and we’ve lost a lot of loved ones. I lost my dad and so did others. Some lost mothers. Some lost children. Some lost spouses. And we miss them all dearly, and when we miss them, we feel alone. But you are not alone. In Christ, we and the ones we have lost are still one, because we are still members of the body of Christ. Our communion with each other, our relationships with each other, doesn’t end just because one of us has to die first. Our relationship with our loved ones transcends death because the communion of saints transcends death. And while we might be separated from them from a time, and while we might not share in our relationship with them in exactly the same way as we did before, the dead are not gone, they’ve just gone ahead of us. They’re saints now in the presence of God. They still love us. They still pray for us. And like us they still wait in hope for that day when the communion of saints will rise from the dead, and we will enjoy eternal life together, and especially with those whom we love, knowing that because of Jesus we never have been and never will be alone.