All Saints' Sunday, November 7, 2010, St. Christopher's Episcopal Church, Rev. Paul Moore
Communion of Saints
Never in the history of humanity have we believed seriously that death was the end of significance. A year and two days ago 13 people died and 30 were wounded on Fort Hood. They were victims of an angry man who thought God had sanctioned the killing 1of those who did not follow his religious path. His trial is a high profile case coming up later this month. This week has been a week of remembering the fallen and the heroes of that day. The effect has been one of binding us all together again as a community, one in which we share pain and glory and a common purpose—liberty, and in this case, freedom of religion. Across the span of the last 12 months St. Christopher's has lost 6 of its cherished members. They were not taken prematurely by twisted theology, but passed on into the larger life after a lifetime of love and living. Nonetheless, their loss binds us together in a community of pain and glory, and their memory gives us a common purpose. In fact, in view of these two sets of memories, death is only superficially about loss. The last word in death is not grief, it is community.
The Church has taught ever since the resurrection of Christ that death is the gateway to greater life. Rightly do we draw hope and peace in our loss, so that as Paul says in I Thessalonians that we do not grieve as those who have no hope, but that just as our eternal life begins at the moment of baptism, so the eternal life of those who enjoy it fully is not separated from the shadow that we now live. And so the writer to the Hebrews reminds us that they sit in the grandstands watching us finish our race, cheering us on. Orthodox churches around the world place an iconostasis behind the altar to remind us that they share in our worship of God every Sunday.
For this reason our Hispanic brothers and sisters celebrate this day with special acts of devotion. In the Parish Hall you will find an "ofrenda," an altar to loved ones who have passed on. It is replete with symbols: A cross of dirt reminds us of our own mortality. Photos of deceased loved ones, and food items they enjoyed bring their memory vividly to life, and sugar skulls remind us that death is bitter-sweet, mixing the pangs of a loved one gone with the assurance that the separation is neither complete nor final. Central to that figure is Catrín and Catrina, man and woman skeletons, dressed often in party or even wedding dress, dancing, kissing, partying, always enjoying themselves, the dead defiantly sharing life with the living, powerful cultural symbols of Christ's victory over death and our hope in His resurrection.
Ours is a community of those whose lives testify to the transforming work of the Cross of Christ. Consequently, it has a particular cut and slant, a characteristic that stands it apart from all other communities. The biblical images used to describe that difference are many: temple, body, family, priesthood, nation, wife. I would like to take up one that is perhaps particularly meaningful to a community like ours: We are an army.
As with all armies, we have a hierarchy. We have a Commander, Christ, We have officers (bishops) and sergeants (priests and deacons) and troops (laity) but the hierarchy works differently from that of Fort Hood, one could perhaps more accurately call it a lowerarchy. As Christ taught His disciples the night before He suffered when He washed their feet, the greatest one is the one who most serves.
We have a mission, but our mission is different from that of Fort Hood. It is at once more daring and impossible, yet simple and easy: Take back creation for the Creator, redeem the world from sin. The mission has an eternal dimension to it, but you cannot separate the eternal from the temporal, for we are to bring the temporal into alignment with the eternal. We cannot accomplish this mission on our own, we require the help of every member, and the power of the Holy Spirit; we are not an Army of One.
We have weapons, but our weapons are not like the weapons of Fort Hood. Our weapons are not earthly (II Cor. 10,) but heavenly, and all the more powerful for it. In Ephesians 6 the author describes the armor of God, which are the various practices and articles of our faith. Our weaponry is different not so much in nature as in character. The Cross is the power behind all of our weaponry. As Christ gave Himself on the cross for our redemption, so we give ourselves for the redemption of the world. The conquering force behind our weaponry is not greater strength, but deeper love, the very love of God.
There is much in our world which does not conform to the love of God. There are many ways in which we do not love our neighbors as ourselves. There are inequities related to race, there are injustices perpetrated on foreigners, people of color, people who do not follow our religious path, and people who act differently than we. Much of these injustices are institutionalized in our law...there is a difference between legal and ethical. There is much in our church that does not reflect our love for all God's children. Hierarchy wielded as such rather than lowerarchy, programs that exclude, prejudices that preclude, and those seven deadly words, "We've always done it that way before." There is much in our individual lives that betrays our integrity. We do not love as we are loved. We do not give as we have received. We do not live the world that God designed.
Think of someone in your own life who has passed on whose faith you respect. Now, as they stand in the full presence of God, think how they would conceive of our community, and pledge yourself to live into that reality now.
Father of all, we pray to you for all those whom we love but no longer see. Grant them eternal rest. Let light perpetual shine upon them. May their souls and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.