SERMON All Saints 2017
By Pastor Leo E. Longan
Today of all days in the calendar is OUR day, a day to celebrate who WE are. Every day in the church year is FOR us, but today is ABOUT us. By US, of course, I mean God’s saints. God is holy. The holy God is in us; we are in the holy God. That makes us holy; makes us God’s saints. That’s all that “saint” means.
The ALL in ALL SAINTS refers to Christ’s triumph over death in the resurrection he has promised to share with us. Because Christ has triumphed and death is dead, all who have gone before us in the faith are as alive today as they ever were; they have moved to a foreign country where they are at last free from sin, sickness and death. We are refugees from this broken and troubled world seeking asylum there. Unlike many countries in the world today, including our own, refugees in that heavenly country are welcomed joyfully and full citizenship is freely offered to all.
All Saints are those with whom we pray every time we gather around the table in God’s church: therefore with angels and archangels, with the church on earth and all the company of heaven … we offer the great prayer of thanksgiving before we share what is sometimes called the panis angelicus, the bread of angels. When we sing the praises of God together, the angels and saints sing with us. Someday we will hear them, when God gives us our new resurrection ears.
God loaned me those resurrection ears once: years ago, on the upper West Side, there lived a tiny Armenian lady named Vanui. The whole neighborhood knew her as a saint. I could tell you lots of stories about her. When she died, we discovered that three churches thought she belonged to them: Holy Name Catholic Church, St. Michael’s Episcopal, and Trinity Lutheran, where I was a member. Well, something quite wonderful happened at her funeral, at St. Michael’s, the largest of the churches. The church was fairly full – it probably seats 1000 – and the singing was strong, supported by a wonderful organ on which I took lessons for a while. So I was quite familiar with the sound of music in that room.
When we got to the Sanctus, the hymn HOLY, HOLY, HOLY that all Christians everywhere sing just before the communion, suddenly the sound of the music seemed to change. It was fuller and richer and stronger, and the full harmony could be heard. I thought, “The choir has finally arrived. About time.” St. Michael’s has an excellent professional choir. It was like standing under a waterfall, letting that wonderful music pour out over me as we moved through the communion service.
So I was very surprised and puzzled, when I was coming back from communion, to look up and see that the choir loft was entirely empty except for the organist. I asked about it later. There was no choir.
What did I hear? I heard something glorious at Vanui’s funeral. We know by our faith that the angels and saints sing with us when we gather; did I actually hear them that day? Whatever it was, it fed my faith and prompted me to praise God, so grace had to be involved in it somehow. Grace is always a gift.
That is never more true than it is today, on OUR day, this feast of All Saints. The holiness that makes us saints is a gift of God, given to us who are by every other measure nothing more or less than mangy, useless sinners who go around believing lies all the time and acting them out. Luther understood this in a way nobody had done before him, and it is one of his greatest contributions to our understanding of ourselves as Christians. He made up a Latin tag line for it: simul justus et peccator, we are saints and sinners at the same time. We are sinners. We can barely take a breath or have a thought without sinning somehow. There is nothing holy about us that does not come directly and immediately from God. As St. Paul teaches (Ephesians 2:8-9) we are saved by grace, through faith, and both the grace God gives and the faith that receives it are God’s gifts. God said to Paul, My grace is sufficient for you. Grace is all we need.
Today is a day ABOUT us, but, as I say, every Sunday is FOR us, because every Sunday we reach into the most important truth ever told, the truth of what Christ as done for us in the resurrection from the dead. Every Sunday Jesus climbs into us, climbs into our bodies in the holy communion and feeds that truth to us with the body that was broken on the cross for us. The truth that we shall not die, but live, and live forever. Not as ghosts drifting through a grey, featureless underworld as ancient people thought, but fully alive in the fullness of God’s love for us and for all that God has made. God is love. That’s where we’re going. We can see it with our resurrection eyes; hear it with our resurrection ears. It’s where we’re going. It’s who we are.
Happy All Saints Day, saints. Today it’s all about us.
Let us pray.