The church, full of beloved saints, is the living body of Christ, called to God’s mission in the world.
Vicar Bristol Reading
All Saints Day
Texts: Ephesians 1:11-23; Luke 6:20-31
Beloved saints of God, grace to you and peace, in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The closest I have ever been to the body of Christ was at the place where that body died, Calvary, the site of Jesus’ crucifixion.
In Jesus’ day, Calvary was a rocky hill just outside the city gates of Jerusalem, where criminals were put to death. Today, it’s buried underneath an enormous, ornate church in the Old City. When you visit Calvary, you wait inside that church for hours alongside hundreds other religious pilgrims from all over the world. One by one, you kneel beneath the lavish gold altar that has been constructed over the spot. You have to get down on your hands and knees and actually crawl underneath it, and then you reach your hand into a hole in the floor under the altar, and at the bottom of the hole, you can touch stone, the ground that was beneath the cross of Christ.
You have traveled for days and waited for hours, but your chance to touch this particular stone lasts for only a few seconds. And, if you’re like me, you spend those few seconds trying to imagine that this very stone that you are touching with your body was once touched by the body of Jesus. You try to feel some kind of physical closeness to Christ, to reach underneath everything that humans have piled on over the years. And you think, “Maybe Jesus was here, right here. Maybe his feet, his hands, his blood touched this stone. Maybe this is the closest I’ll ever be to the real body of Christ.” And then your turn is over and you move on so another pilgrim can reach the very ground touched by God.
While I was away visiting the place where Jesus died, back home in Chicago my seminary advisor died.
Gordon was my wise teacher and trusted friend, an encourager and confidant in my journey as a ministerial leader. His death was unexpected, and it was jarring to receive this news on the other side of the world. The last time we’d spoken, neither of us had known he was sick, so we hadn’t said goodbye. For months after, it felt surreal that he was really gone, and I struggled to say out loud that he had died. But this morning, almost exactly ten months since his passing, I am ready to hear it out loud. I added Gordon’s name to the Book of Saints, so he will be lifted up in prayer, alongside all the precious ones we remember today.
There are countless stories about who these saints were and the impact they had on your lives. There are countless memories – of joy and sorrow – that fill this room as their names are read. We speak their names because there is power in naming. There is power in remembering. We remember the saints who have gone before us because their faithfulness inspires us to live faithfully. The way they embodied Christ to us, moves us to embody Christ in the world now.
We call these departed siblings in faith “saints,” not because their lives were flawless but because their lives were beloved.
They were – and are – loved by you, and they were and are infinitely loved by God. Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that one has to earn the designation of “saint,” by living a perfect life of selfless service. But in our tradition we name all the faithful as saints, knowing that we are all imperfect and we are all forgiven. Certainly we should do our very best to embody God’s compassion in our actions. Jesus tells us more than once that we are all called to care for any who are in need and to love even our enemies. But – it is not human actions that make saints. It is God’s action: God’s boundless love, God’s unlimited mercy, that’s what makes saints of us all. Each life, marked by both weeping and laughter, is seen and valued by God. Every person, simultaneously saint and sinner, is held in God’s grace forever. No life is too broken, too painful, too sinful for God to be fully present. Everyone, no matter their circumstances, can be transformed by the Spirit for the sake of the Gospel.
Jesus’s words in Luke are a reminder of this; Jesus says that those who suffer are the inheritors of the riches of God’s kingdom.
Those who are poor, hungry, and excluded are called “blessed” in God’s reign. Blessing, then, doesn’t always entail feeling good or avoiding struggle. Blessing doesn’t equate to worldly success. If you measure the value of a life by what the world considers successful, you will miss the ways God’s spirit is at work in all people, no matter how successful they look according to the world’s standards. When we name and remember the saints who have gone before, we don’t remember their worldly success, we remember their faithfulness to God. Likewise, when we name and celebrate the saints who are newly baptized, we don’t claim for them the gift of wealth or comfort, but the gift of God’s Spirit and the call to God’s mission. The true blessing that is given to all the saints is the gracious love of God, abundant in this life and the next. An inheritance that is sure. A treasure that is eternal. It cannot be undone or taken away, not by hunger, not by poverty, not by suffering, not by death – thanks be to God!
And because that inheritance is sure and that treasure is eternal, you are freed.
You are freed by love of God, and freed to love your neighbor. You are sent out to proclaim the Gospel, the good news, with your words and with your deeds. And the good news is this: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. Resurrection is the good news! God makes life possible where life seemed impossible. Christ’s death on the cross at Calvary was not the final word.
So the place where Jesus died was not the closest I’ve ever been to the body of Christ, because Christ’s body is not there on that rock of Calvary, because Christ’s body is not dead.
God’s resurrecting power is stronger than death, and has redeemed all of creation. And Paul tells us that the very same power that raised Christ from the dead is still at work in the world… in you. You are the living body of Christ. You, the saints of God, the ones marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit, the ones sent into the world to serve, you are Christ’s body. The body of Christ is here, right here, alive in the faithful saints of God: saints that have passed into eternal life, saints that are living out the mission of the Gospel right now, and saints that are being baptized into new life every day. The church, full of beloved saints, is the body of Christ that is being made new again and again. That is the power of resurrection, and that is the power of God in you.