All Saints Day
The year 2008. At the time, I was working for the Episcopal Church Center in New York, as part of the staff of Bishop Katharine Jefferts-Schori. It was also the year when the Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops was to gather in Canterbury, England.
Working as Language Services Coordinator for the Episcopal Church, I was asked to serve in the same function but for the Lambeth Conference. I accepted the call, and eventually, I made it to England. After a couple of weeks in London, finally all the staff moved to the University of Kent, next door so to speak to Canterbury Cathedral.
One of the first things we did was to tour the Cathedral. We needed to scout places to set up the booths for the interpreters and start setting up everything. But, for me as for many of the members of my staff it was the first visit to what it is for us the heart of what the Anglican Church is – The place where it all began.
I can’t remember whether it was the first day or second when we were taken to a place that blew off my mind, heart, and soul. We went down to small chapel in the basement. And there it was – the pew where Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered.
The small chapel was almost empty. There was the altar, perhaps a stone table, and the pew. It’s emptiness, if that were to be possible, filled the space. That was the spot where the body of Archbishop Becket was found.
That moment questioned my whole spiritual experience. What was I doing there? How dared to be in such sacred space? As I recall that experience, and as I write these lines, I still wonder, “How dare I?” “How dare to be even here, today?”
I know. It is by God’s love, grace, and compassionate heart. But nevertheless, the experience questioned and still questions everything.
Such, I believe, is what sainthood is all about. Not necessarily to be killed for the faith, like St Stephen or the two French nuns killed by the Argentinian military rulers, or as I said, Archbishop Becket. But to live by that faith, come what may.
Saints are those women and men who have such an impact in the lives of people of faith that after meeting them – be it in person, by their work or their witness, there is always going to be a before and an after. And their impact, is lifelong. Like gravity, it never stops pulling.
Of course, until we cross the river, we will never be able to meet some of those Saints in person. But through their witness, their teaching, their example, their drive and, above all, their integrity, lives are changed.
All along the Summer we had the opportunity of learning a little bit about some saints of which we perhaps had only had a passing recollection. I hope that you were able to profit from their stories.
But the over-reaching theme about sainthood is that it is not reserved to some “special” people, but it is the basic calling of all Christians – To be saints of God.
One of the reasons that we celebrate the life of the Saints, with capital “S”, is to instill hope in us. If they were able to pull it off, so we can.
Thursday, at the Convention, the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt. Rev. John Perumbalath, preached at Evensong. And right off the bat, let me tell you, St David’s was very much at the heart of his sermon. Yes, go and listen. We will find ourselves there.
However, one of the things he said is quite relevant to our theme for today, All Saints Sunday. For we are pilgrims on the journey towards the presence of God.
Hope, the Bishop, said, “is not optimism. Optimism depends on our circumstances and our understanding of progress.”
When the wind blows in our backs and when the pieces begin to fall in their places optimism surges. Whenever we look back and even if still know that we are not there yet, the light at the end of tunnel is tantalizing. That’s optimism, no hope.
For, according to Bishop Perumbalath, hope shines despite the circumstances, “and even when there is no sign of progress. Hope is light in the midst of darkness.”
Hope is like you being stuck in the middle of an ice-storm and checking the bags to make sure you didn’t forget to bring the swimming gear and sunscreen.
For that is the hope of the resurrection. For there cannot be resurrection without death and grief. That is the hope that sustained our brothers and sisters. And that kind of hope is what will help us to graduate from saints into Saints, with a big capital “S”.
“But I cannot have that kind of hope,” you may argue. And you are right. You can’t. We can’t. This is why God is so much willing to pour out the gift of hope abundantly over those who ask Him. A gift “in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over”, and poured on your life.
“Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed,” wrote John. That’s hope. That was the hope of the Saints of old. And it is the hope we will receive for the asking, free and abundant.
Ask and you shall receive,” said Jesus. For if you “know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.”
Paraphrasing Josh Groban’s beautiful song, “Lift me up”,
“Hope raises me up, so that I can stand on mountains,
“Hope raises me up, so that I can walk on stormy seas.
That’s hope. Transforming hope. That was the hope of the Saints of old. And it is the hope we will receive, free and abundant for the asking.
Hope that will help us to continue worshipping faithfully, even if the numbers do go up, and the pieces refuse to find their places. Hope to help us support those who are hurting, minister to those in need, inspire those who are troubled, and to challenge those who are smug and self-righteous. Hope to help us to grow into the fulness of our calling as beloved children of God.
Let us pray,
God of all hope, gracious and loving God – We thank you for the lives of our brothers and sisters, your holy Saints. Even having gone before your presence so long ago, they still inspire us. Pour on us, we pray, the most abundant gift of holy hope, so that we may follow in your Saints’ steps until the day in which with one accord we may worship You in the realms of glory, through the mercies of Jesus Christ, our Lord, and Blessed Redeemer. Amen.