I am guessing everyone
has a favorite holiday — Christmas,
Thanksgiving, Groundhogs day…
Many such holidays link religious
and secular celebrations
like Easter and Spring Break,
Christmas and New Years,
All Saints’ and Halloween.
My two favorites are Thanksgiving
and All Saints’ Day.
Why these two?
Probably for the same reason:
the marriage of grief, nostalgia, and gratitude.
Now admittedly today’s liturgy
is a much subdued All Saints’
since our singing is pared back
and repressed by COVID protocols.
We’ve slowed down “For All the Saints”
and left off “The Saints Go Marching In” and
”Shall We Gather at the River.”
But still, it is All Saints’
and for me
that means ALL saints – with a lower case “s.”
I am grateful that The Episcopal Church
does not have big “S” saints — I said, “Big S” as in capital “S.”
Unlike the Roman and Orthodox traditions,
we have no way to declare
an historic figure as miraculous and spooky.
That is such a political process anyway,
and so absurd when history
begins scrutinizing folks the Church
long declared a special mediator and advocate
with God in heaven.
Look no further than St. Augustine
to embarrass that process.
Anyway, All Saints’ for us
is about ALL the saints with a small “s”
who have populated this earth over time,
and most of whom were never recognized
by history or institutions or anybody
beyond those whom they touched.
I was nurtured by a woman named, Pearl,
when my own mother — for whatever reasons of family,
psychology, or character — was unable to bond with me
the way that Katy and I bonded with our children
and you bonded with yours.
Pearl taught me how to love by loving me.
As I got older there were others who did the same,
taught me how to love by loving me:
Wanda, Stew, Jean (female),
Mary Helen, another Gene (male),
Leroy, Ken, Mike, Jon…
Without them, I would surely not be here
today — figuratively or literally.
Even with them, there were a couple of years
that were touch and go.
The Church itself, in my life,
taught me how to love by loving me.
Community, authentic community, does that —
forms a miasma of love
in which we feel held even though
we do not necessarily know those who are loving us
the way we know family and close friends.
There is something in the wine,
or bread I should say,
that over time creates a palpable sense
of being loved and cared for
by a bunch of people we might not otherwise know.
I feel it and see it here,
at Trinity Place.
There is no particularly rational explanation for it
but a spiritual community
becomes a kind of “sainted” place.
I could go on and on
about the people from whom I learned to love,
those outside the bond of family,
and without whom I would be a lesser person.
Most of them I knew through spiritual communities
but not all of them.
Yet all of them had a spiritual practice
I was able to witness in action,
a practice grounded in loving.
So All Saints’ Day, for me, is just filled with nostalgia
and mingled with grief and gratitude
for the people we love
but see no longer, as it says
in some Book of Common Prayer prayer, somewhere.
So the challenge, of course,
is to think about who and how
we can practice such love with those around us
more and more and more.
I think of it as the All Saints’ Day challenge:
How to grow our hearts at least one size bigger.
Honestly, I do not know how we can do that
without our heart and legs rooted
to a spiritual community.
But this notion of community as an essential ingredient
is so UnAmerican
because it defies the idea of an individual.
The whole is so much greater
than any one of its parts,
and an individual outside of community
begins to lose his or her or their
ability to love robustly.
Loving is a communal practice, it is how we learn.
It starts in the womb of family —
if our family is a loving womb —
and continues in the arms of spiritual community.
But we have to allow ourselves
to become entangled with others
who are seeking God, wisdom, and a practice
to love more and better.
It does not happen because of really good programs,
or really great worship,
or really fantastic preaching,
or really delicious coffee hours.
It happens when our lives touch one another
and we get entangled,
maybe even by accident.
Then we find ourselves caring deeply
about someone’s brother we don’t even know,
or someone’s cancer
that isn’t even talked about,
or someone’s struggle with addiction
that goes on behind public acknowledgment.
Like I said, it defies rationality in some ways,
but over time,
without employing any grand strategy
or planning for it,
we find ourselves thinking about other people
who are not in our family,
and wanting to make sure they are well cared for.
In other words, we find ourselves loving them.
Then something weird happens.
When we are with these people,
somehow we begin to wonder
how we could do more collectively, for others;
we start asking how we could love better
even those outside our spiritual community?
Somehow, without really planning it,
when we are together,
these strange and unrelated people and us,
grow in understanding about things we had wondered secretly.
You know, stuff that before we were too uncomfortable
talking about out loud.
Somehow we start to feel safe
talking out loud
about uncomfortable topics
with these people who are not family
and who we have come to love
and who we are pretty sure, love us.
That is when we know we have become
a sainted community.
It is when we know
we may have been plunged into
a very long and deep river
that travels over time
and that is more consequential
than we can possibly imagine.
If somehow all those saints
who have loved
and loved together
were to disappear from memory
and somehow be eliminated spiritually,
the world of humans being
would immediately fall apart
and become the chaos we fear.
All those saints
and all that sainted community
have done more to form humankind
and done more to protect humankind
and done more to sustain humankind
over time and history
than we can possibly imagine.
But now it has fallen upon us,
those who love
and allow ourselves to be loved
to keep it going.
It has fallen upon us
to grow our hearts a size bigger
and love a little wider
and love a little further
and love a little bolder
and love a little more generously
than we have loved so far.
Mmm. That is the All Saints’ Day challenge:
be a saint
in a sainted community
and keep it moving across time and history
into the future.
The future, according to visions
in Isaiah or the Book of Revelation,
has always been about a time without death.
A time without tears.
A time without the decay of the body
and a time without separation
from those we love and who loved us.
I don’t know that we will ever see such a time
but until we do,
we have All Saints’ Day
to remember the ones who loved us
and whom we love still.
And to more and more and more
be such people of love for one another
and for those who are beyond the bonds
of our spiritual communities.
Happy All Saints’ Day!