All Saint’s Day November 5, 2017
The United Churches
On March 20th of 2015, after attending a meeting of the Olympia Presbytery, I drove out to Montesano to officiate at a grave side service. It was one of those miserable rainy, muddy days at the cemetery. The service got off to a rough start as the cemetery staff had dug the grave in the wrong place. We went through the service in the wrong spot huddled together under a rain fly that was too small. Cold and dripping, we sought to honor the woman who had died. Following the service, we were all to meet up at a restaurant in Olympia. We didn’t linger too long because of the driving rain. When I got into my car, I saw that I had a number of phone calls and texts from my husband with frantic messages that boiled down to “call me!” Sitting in my window steamed car in the rain, I called him. He told me that our best friends, Bob and Jane Jones, had died in a drowning accident in Hawaii. These were young vibrant people, not the kind of people who would die snorkeling. I was out of my mind. I had all of the thoughts that people receiving shocking news probably have…this is a huge mistake, this could not be true. Driving back to Olympia I called Bob and Jane’s daughter Katie. She had only known for a very short time herself and was distressed beyond words, but confirmed the news. She was on her way to the airport to fly to Olympia. This death hit me harder than my own family members who have died, though I’m not sure why, except that we were close and had plans the following week.
I bring them up today, not to process my unfinished grief work around this…though perhaps I am, but because they are the perfect people to remember on All Saints Day. I loved them both dearly, and I have loved our own Saints here at the United Churches who have died since we last celebrated our Saints…Joyce, Edith, Karen, Don, Coke, Jo, Margaret, Sandra, Sid, Barbara, Jessamine and Evelyn. When I look at you in this room, I also see your dad, your brother, your daughter-in-law, your sister, your mother, your grandmother, and the many people each of us hold dear on this day. All of these are saints.
In the early church, people were honored with the title “saint” if they had been a martyr. Later, when the persecution of Christians slowed down and there were fewer Christians being put to death, and when the church got more organized, it had to be proven that you had performed a miracle or two to be identified as a saint. Certainly, we can think of many people whose lives have inspired us with their bold and risky acts to bring peace and end oppression and we think of them as saints. Post the reformation, we recognize that God inhabits each one of us, we are all saints. To me this is the message of today’s reading.
This text from the Revelation to John, widens the aperture of those gathered beyond this veil with God to “multitudes.” It describes a great multitude that is countless, numbering those from every tribe and people and language. There is no limit to the scope of this multitude, be it geographic, ethnic, numeric, linguistic or economic. This is a “blow your mind” kind of multitude that no one can fully grasp. First we start with the 144,000. That refers to the twelve tribes of Israel, times 12, times 1000. This is strongly Jewish imagery starting with the people of Israel but then including countless others. Perhaps these are the Jewish people who have suffered and the Christ followers who were at the time of this writing suffering as well. What unites all of these multitudes of people is their suffering. The Christians in Asia Minor were facing terrible threats and they believed that the faithful all over the world would suffer. The prospect of suffering connected people. Our connecting through suffering unites us despite differences in ethnicity, language or economic status. Suffering knows no race or class. Just think of people gathered in grief groups, twelve step groups or cancer support groups.
In the midst of suffering, God is seen as the great deliverer, the purveyor of hope and healing. In John’s dream, we see an active people who are celebrating with palm branches, worshipping God, and serving each other. They have washed their garments of suffering with sacrifice and have entered a place of healing, and eternal hope and peace. It is a beautiful picture of completeness and healing, a place where no one will ever be hungry or thirsty or find any reason for tears.
This is the hope of our faith. One thing that I know from being a pastor is that everyone suffers. We in this room may suffer from chronic illness, addiction, grief, anxiety or depression. We might be experiencing deep pain from wounds that no one else can see. Perhaps we are hurting in our relationships, or we have lost hope. When it was snowing on Friday, I thought of the suffering of those in our community that are homeless. I think of those that suffer physical violence, those who are victims of wars, who are refugees, those incarcerated. I think of those who are hungry and those who have jobs that bring them trauma every day. We all suffer and we all have the opportunity for hope. Hope in the here and now is the good news of the gospel. Suffering has been redeemed and we are free to live into this new reality.
What if, instead of letting yourself be overcome with the fear, anxiety and the sense of scarcity being promulgated by our culture, you remind yourself that you are a saint. You are a saint, your suffering has already been redeemed and you can look at your world and your particular situation through the eyes of hope. What if you could bring a hopeful curiosity to your day to day life? What if you could approach every situation with the very simple process of looking for something new, for signs of hope? This is totally the faith filled thing to do, but for those of you who prefer science over faith, it is the scientific thing to do as well. Ellen Langer who has studied mindfulness for decades reminds us that being on the lookout for new things in our everyday routines promotes health, happiness and general effectiveness. Being on the lookout for new things is energizing!
Take a pen out and write this on your hand: I am a Saint. I am surrounded by a great multitude of saints. I will be curious and hopeful about my life.
We owe that much to those who have gone on before us. My friends Bob and Jane were constantly reinventing themselves. Bob was a soldier, who became an officer, who became a teacher, then a school administrator, then on to helping soldiers. My friend Jane was a social worker, who worked with teen agers, who became a supervisor, who became a farmer, who started a free clinic, who helped many other groups start free clinics. They both demonstrated that hopeful curiosity about their day to day lives. They also lived every day like it was their last. They helped anyone with anything. They never missed an opportunity to tell people that they loved them. They didn’t waste anything. They demonstrated the power of transformation that some call resurrection.
You Saints each have a job now. Go through the moments and routines of your days noticing things that are new. And remember that we stand shoulder to shoulder, surrounded by one another at this font and table, packed tightly enough together that we can hold one another up. And we are also surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses