Fr. Bill Carroll – The Twenty-Fourth Sunday After Pentecost, November 7, 2021
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
On this mountain, the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever.
The prophet Isaiah is speaking about Mt. Zion (the mountain of the Lord), where Jerusalem is found. And he is preaching a message of hope for all people everywhere.
Today, brothers and sisters, we celebrate All Saints’ Day. And we come together, in part, to remember. We remember those we love but see no longer. We remember especially the faithful departed of Trinity.
But we also remember many other losses we’ve recently sustained. We grieve the more than five million people who have died of Covid-19, more than 750,000 of them here in the United States. We grieve our economic losses and our lost opportunities to be together. And we grieve the brokenness and divisions in our nation.
As we approach Veterans’ Day this year, we remember all the veterans of war, including those who gave the “last full measure of devotion.” Today, we remember especially the life and witness of Colin Powell, a soldier’s soldier and a member of the Episcopal Church. By all accounts, General Powell was a decent and honorable man, both a patriot and a faithful Christian. Today, we grieve his loss and that of many, many others. For they show us a path too seldom taken, where we put the lives of other people first and work for the common good.
And yet, on All Saints’ Day, we come more to celebrate than to grieve. We come to claim our hope in the future that God is bringing about, as well as to remember the past. All Saints’ Day is a bit of Easter breaking out in the Fall. And so today, we turn our hearts and minds to Jerusalem—the City of God and the City of Peace, who is our true mother. In that City, neither death nor the ways of death hold sway any longer.
For, in Jesus Christ, God has swallowed up death forever. In the New Jerusalem, the slain Lamb lives and reigns as our King. He is the lamp that lights up the Temple. He is the very life of the saints.
Many of us come from Christian traditions that struggle with the very concept of “saints.” In the New Testament, the word “saint,” which literally means “holy one,” is often just another word for “believer.” But this word draws our attention to the mystery of our salvation: that Jesus is alive in us and making us holy. His Spirit is making us more and more like him. He is calling us back to God, and back to each other.
We see this coming about now in the Holy Eucharist. The Eucharist is a foretaste of that heavenly banquet that Isaiah is talking about, where people of every race and language and nation are gathered around God’s Table. God shows no partiality. He pours his Spirit out on all flesh, uniting people of many tongues in the confession of one Faith. And so, there is “one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all.”
In the Holy Eucharist, we come to Jesus as those who have denied him and betrayed him, and yet he welcomes us as his friends. We come to him as those who have fostered violence and division in our land, and yet he unites us in his peace. We come to Jesus as those who mourn and weep…And, as he did with his friend Lazarus, he has compassion on us. He is troubled in his spirit. He is moved. He groans. He cries. Because the Lord Jesus is God with us in our flesh. He is God’s compassion turned toward us in love—God who comforts us and wipes away our tears…We come to him as those who mourn and weep, and yet Jesus gives us hope that the world can’t take away.
For, whenever we gather in the one Body, Jesus comes among us alive. And, in him, all the saints, living and dead, are present and alive. They are here with us now today. (Can you feel them here?) And they really know what the rest of us have to take on faith. They know the goodness of the Lord. They know the truth of his promises. They know his joy and perfect peace. For they see the face of Jesus forever. And he lives and reigns as their King.
And so today, in the presence of that “great cloud of witnesses,” we renew our Baptismal Covenant together. With all our strength, we recommit ourselves to the Good News of Jesus as the apostles proclaimed him. Let us recommit ourselves today to his Body, the Church—and to its worship, fellowship, and mission. Let us promise to turn back to Jesus as often as we fall, and make things right with other people in the power of his love. Let us renew our commitment to share our faith by word and example. Let us promise to seek and serve Christ in ALL persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves. (The world needs that kind of love today!) Let us promise also to strive for justice and peace and to respect the dignity of every single human being.
I was going to say more to you about Christian stewardship today, but I’ll just say this: Stewardship is about how we use all that we have and all that we are to welcome the coming Kingdom of God. It is how we prepare for the City of God to descend from heaven, so that God’s will might be done here on earth as it is in heaven. It is how we share our faith with the next generation. It’s how we care for our neighbors in need.
Money isn’t the whole of stewardship. In fact, our time and our labor and our other gifts are just as important. But gifts of money are an indispensable part of it, because, like Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” In the end, that’s why we give. We want to put our hearts in the right place. Not because we expect to get something from God. God never gives us a gift in order to get something back. God gives us a gift, because it’s a gift—because God loves us and wants to make us happy and whole. We give not because we expect to get something, but because God has already given us everything. We give in order to grow spiritually. It’s a spiritual discipline, whereby we put God first in our lives. God is generous with all his gifts, and God wants us to be like him.
That’s one thing we should pray about as we celebrate all the saints. They have been faithful in their time. God is calling us to be faithful in ours. Until the whole world and everyone in it is changed by his love. And we see the New Jerusalem, the City of God, coming down from heaven as his Bride.
For “Behold…Behold,” says the LORD. “I am making all things new.”
“I am the Resurrection, and I am the Life,” says the LORD. “I am making all things new.”