All Saints/All Souls Sunday November 6, 2016
In an essay for All Saints Day in 2014, Edwina Gateley wrote: “The human race is facing a darkness that is pervasive and frightening…endless wars, climate change, rampant disease, corporate power, increasing poverty and natural disaster.” (http://www.journeywithjesus.net/Essays/20141027JJ.shtml) She said that it seemed to her that “we are…in the midst of a global ‘dark night.’”
Many people see visions of disaster based on the coming election, climate change, the spread of ISIS, violence in our cities. It is difficult to keep our spirits from being deeply troubled or our visions of the future from terrifying us as Daniel’s did in captivity in Bablylon. This recent election cycle has created so much fear that it is easy to fall into terror about the future.
In the midst of this global dark night and national uncertainty, Christians set aside this Sunday to commemorate the saints, both extraordinary and ordinary, who have gone before us. The first All Saints day was celebrated in the early fourth century after early Christians had endured 300 years of persecution. Gateley believes that the intention of the feast was intended originally “to remember and celebrate those Christians who had remained faithful in spite of the fear, the hostility and the very real danger of their witness to Christ.”
Remembering those who have gone before us encourages us to remember the hope we are promised and to look for the light of Christ that continues to shine in every age, no matter how thick the darkness. The feast reminds us that the Spirit works through ordinary people like us to manifest the light into the world. We celebrate this feast to move us to be that light in a frightening and uncertain world. We take courage and strength from the quiet witnesses who have lived among us and gone before us. This year we especially remember Joe Niebauer, Richard and Phyllis Pelkey and Jeanne Burger who were members of this assembly and Sandra Foley Gaylord, who was an oblate. Each of us also has our own store of saints whom we hold in our hearts who encourage us to be faithful. Take a moment and bring to mind those whom you hold dear who have died. (pause)
What does it take to be a saint – not a spectacular saint, but a quiet, everyday saint? Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” And in a verse following our reading this morning “Be merciful even as God is merciful.” (Lk. 6:36)
Edwina Gateley lifts up two characteristics of saints. They are “rooted in Christ” and they are “countercultural –seeing beyond and beneath the externals.” The writer of the Letter to the Ephesians prays that “the eyes of your hearts may be enlightened.” This could mean nurturing the ability to see what God is doing in the world, to see and encourage what is good and beautiful and true, to nurture the vision of hope that has been promised us.
The Feast of All Saints and All Souls is a witness to the fact that light and hope can be found around us in spite of and in the midst of the darkness. Light and hope are hidden in the lives of ordinary people and in everyday events when people go beyond themselves to care for and respect one another.