For All the Saints

For All the Saints

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; November 7, 2021

All Saints’ Day Worship Service

Revelation 21:1-6a; John 11:32-44

 

In a blogpost, pastor and professor David Lose wrote about how strange certain children’s songs and prayers are—to our modern way of thinking.[i] For example: “Rock a bye baby on the treetop. When the wind blows the cradle will rock. When the storm rages, the cradle will fall. And down will come baby, cradle and all.” Thinking back, I can’t believe I sang that song to my children. And what about the familiar prayer: “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” What! We have taught our children a prayer that mentions dying in their sleep. Well, that’s comforting.

A modern rendition of the prayer has been altered: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. Guide me safely through this night, and wake me with the morning light.” Well, that does seem a bit more reassuring, doesn’t it? But, on the other hand, is there something deeper going on? Was the change made to protect children or to protect adults? To what degree does the change simply reflect our changing times? Lose notes that while we seem to have an insatiable appetite for graphic images of violence and death when it comes to TV, the news, movies, and video games—as a society we appear to be in a state of denial regarding the everyday common variety of death which will, ultimately, touch us all. I mean—none of us gets out of this alive, right?

The refusal to accept death is all around us. Hospital personnel speak of patients expiring rather than dying. Generals in the armed forces don’t record how many of their solders are killed—they note the number of casualties. In some churches, more contemporary marriage services do not have couples pledge “until death do us part,” but rather something a bit softer, after all, it is a wedding. Yet, here we are, gathered to celebrate All Saints’ Day. It seems an odd affair not at all in keeping with our culture’s insistence that just the right diet or the right pill or the right surgery—will keep us young forever! But on All Saints’ Day, the church has the opportunity to be counter cultural.

Today we recognize the reality of our mortality, and we celebrate those who have died in the faith—not those who have expired. And notice the color of the paraments. They are white—the color of Easter and celebration. Why? Because today we don’t just acknowledge death, we put it in its proper context. For we worship the One who has power over death, the One who raises Lazarus from death, the One who’s own death and resurrection bears witness to the trustworthiness of the promise that one day God will bring an end to death, cause mourning and suffering to cease, and wipe every tear from our eyes.

In March of this year, English singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran lost a mentor and father-figure. While Sheeran was quarantined in Australia for two weeks, awaiting the funeral, he wrote a song entitled, “Visiting Hours.” (Hopefully, you have had a chance to watch the music video that was posted on our Facebook page and sent to you via email.) I invite you to listen to the lyrics:

I wish that Heaven had visiting hours
So I could just show up and bring the news
That she’s gettin’ older and I wish that you’d met her
The things that she’ll learn from me
I got them all from you

Can I just stay a while and we’ll put all the world to rights?
The little ones will grow, and I’ll still drink your favorite wine
And soon they’re goin’ to close, but I’ll see you another day
So much has changed since you’ve been away

I wish that Heaven had visiting hours
So I could just swing by and ask your advice
What would you do in my situation?
I haven’t a clue how I’d even raise them
What would you do?
‘Cause you always do what’s right

Can we just talk a while until my worries disappear?
I’d tell you that I’m scared of turning out a failure
You’d say, “Remember that the answer’s in the love that we create”
So much has changed since you’ve been away

 

I wish that Heaven had visiting hours
And I would ask them if I could take you home
But I know what they’d say, that it’s for the best
So I will live life the way you taught me
And make it on my own

I will close the door, but I will open up my heart
And everyone I love will know exactly who you are
‘Cause this is not goodbye, it is just ’til we meet again
So much has changed since you’ve been away

Sheeran’s song, written during a time of deep sorrow, tenderly demonstrates how losing someone we love rips our hearts asunder. Grief is hard. Where can we turn? As Christians, our faith story reminds us that the darkness of death is to be experienced through the light of Easter morning. Christ’s resurrection gives us courage—not to deny death—but to defy its ability to distort our lives. The Risen Christ has promised that death does not have the last word. Recall the words of the Apostle Paul, “Do you not know that all those who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the power of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 5:3-4).

Hopefully, we have all been blessed by spiritual guides who, while they still walked the earth, showed us how to walk in newness of life. Who comes to mind for you—and why? Who has touched your life, encouraged you, given you strength—and how? (Time to share for those in person and online…)

Followers of Jesus have been promised a share in his resurrection. So, while we mourn the death of our loved ones, we also celebrate their victory, for they now rest from their labors and live with Christ in glory. Also, we give thanks that through Christ, our life is sanctified. We, too, are made holy and given a purpose. For you see, saints are not only those people in the Bible or Church history who did great things. Nor are saints only those who died for their faith or who had extraordinary courage. Rather, saints are also—and especially—those who have been baptized into Christ—and set apart for the Lord’s purpose.

In Holy Baptism, each of us is consecrated, named, called, and commissioned to be God’s co-workers in the world. Therefore, our lives have meaning—all of our lives—and all of the roles we may play in them—parent, spouse, child, citizen, employer, employee, co-worker, volunteer, friend, neighbor, student, teacher, mentor… In endless ways, we are set apart by our Creator to love God, to love ourselves, and to love our neighbors. And if we die before we wake, we know our souls the Lord will take. Amen.

 

[i]http://www.davidlose.net/2015/10/all-saints-sunday-b-look-twice/

*Cover Art by Ira Thomas via Catholic World Art, used by permission