Fr. Bill Carroll – All Saints’ Day, November 6, 2022
For the LORD takes pleasure in his People, and adorns the poor with victory.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today, beloved, we celebrate the Feast of All the Saints. And I’d like to begin with an image from the writings of St. Dorotheus of Gaza, a sixth-century Egyptian monk and hermit:
Imagine a circle (he writes), marked out on the ground. Suppose that this circle is the world and that the center of the circle is God. Leading from the edge to the center are a number of lines, representing ways of life. In their desire to draw near to God, the saints advance along these lines to the middle of the circle, so that the further they go, the nearer they approach to one another, as well as to God. The closer they come to God, the closer they come to one another…Such is the nature of love: the nearer we draw to God in love, the more we are united together by love to our neighbor.
I found this quotation in Elizabeth Johnson’s book, Friends of God and Prophets. In that book, Johnson challenges what she calls a “patronage” model of sainthood inherited from pre-modern Catholicism. She wants us instead to move to a model closer to the Bible, where each of us receives grace directly from God. And so, the saints are our friends and companions for the journey. They surround us with their prayers and their love. They bear faithful witness to Jesus. But we, like them, can go directly to God.
For Johnson, the patronage model distorts the biblical teaching about the saints, by picturing a pyramid with the King at the top—and the saints as God’s courtly intermediaries. But this contradicts the Good News of Jesus, “in whom God’s mercy has been poured out on [all flesh directly], so that there is no need [for any] other go-betweens.” Instead of a pyramid, Johnson wants us to imagine a circle, where each of us becomes holy by coming closer to God—and therefore to each other.
In the Bible, the word “saints” is practically a synonym for “believers.” Saints are people who’ve given our lives to Jesus. We have been filled with his Spirit of love. We are still sinners, but we have been redeemed. And we are letting God make us holy.
And so today, writing to the Ephesians, Paul gives thanks for our faith in Jesus and our love for all the saints. He goes on to pray that our hearts may be enlightened, so that we might know the hope to which God calls us—and the power of Christ to save us. The great theme of Ephesians is the victory of Jesus over death—and the mystery of his Body, the Church, in which he reconciles all the warring factions of our world.
Today, beloved, we get a little taste of Easter in November. For today, we celebrate the victory of Jesus. We are his Body and the Temple of his Spirit. We are members of the “great cloud of witnesses”—the fellowship of God’s holy ones, both the living and the dead. And the dearly departed in Christ are all around us today—as they are at every celebration of the Eucharist. (They are here with us this morning. Can you feel their presence?) This includes ALL the “official” saints in our calendar—beginning with Mary, the Mother of God, and including the prophets, the apostles, and the martyrs. It also includes St. Michael and the Holy Angels.
But it includes quite ordinary people as well—all the saints who are letting God make us holy. Sainthood is for everybody. And so, every act of kindness and patience—every act of justice, forgiveness, and love—every human story—all human pain—all of it finds its place in the one victory of Jesus. By drawing near to him, we draw closer to God—and closer to each other.
And the Eucharist—also known as the Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper—is a foretaste of that sacred mystery. And so, we do what Jesus commanded us. We remember his life, death, and resurrection—and we invite his Spirit to fall on us anew. For the Spirit of God rekindles our love—our love for God, our love for other people.
And today, on the day when Jesus rose from the dead, God renews us in the vision of the Kingdom. And so, we remember that, according to the Gospel, the Kingdom belongs to the “poor,” to the “hungry,” and to those who “weep.” “For the LORD takes pleasure in his People, and adorns the poor with victory.”
That Kingdom may come to others (it may come to all of us), but it belongs first and foremost to them. It belongs primarily to those who are hated, excluded, and reviled. It belongs to everyone who cries out to God for help. And it belongs—scandalously—even to our enemies, whom we are called to love.
For the victory of Jesus crucified is the victory of God in our flesh. It is the victory of our Savior, who “humbled himself” and took on the “form of a slave.” It is God’s victory over everything that crushes us or enslaves us or holds us down—over all that divides us, over all that makes us afraid. It is the victory of the Son of God with no place to lay his head.
Jesus was born outside the inn, and he died outside the city gate. And so, when we take our places at his table, we feast at the table of a simple, wandering teacher—whom we confess as our Lord and Savior. We feed together on his Body and Blood. We call upon his Spirit to move among us once more—and we ask him to make us holy. We give thanks for every sinner, who is called to be a saint. We give thanks for the love of God—who is making us holy. We pray for the living and the dead. We pray especially for those who have died, whom we hope to see again. We remember all who follow Jesus in the way of love. And we praise God for those whose “rest is won.”
For today, “with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven,” we give God thanks and praise: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord,” we sing, “God of power and might. Heaven and earth are full of your glory.”
And then, a little later on, we move closer to the table. We meet God there with open hands, and open hearts. “We come with joy to meet our Lord, forgiven, loved, and free.” We come with gratitude to receive God’s holy gifts. And so, with all the saints, we move toward God at the living heart of creation, and we sing together:
O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, They in glory shine.
Yet all are one in thee,
For all are thine.