All Saints Sunday
©Holly Lyman Antolini
Lections: Psalm 149, Ephesians 1:11-23; Luke 6:20-31
I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. Amen.
This prayer from the opening of the Letter to the Ephesians has so much resonance, I’m adopting it as my All Saints Day prayer for all of us. It seems to me that it holds within it all the elements of this mighty feast day, this shining defiance of the increase of darkness that becomes so palpable at this time of year when we go off Daylight Savings and the dark settles in early and we take note of the bare tree limbs and the increasing cold and draw into our warm & lighted indoor spaces, if we have them (and struggle if we don’t).
The Ephesians writer – he (or she) may be Paul, or might just be a follower of Paul, as there are important language differences from Paul’s other letters – the Ephesians writer begins with God, the source of all, and asks God for “a spirit of wisdom and revelation” as we draw closer to God. This spirit of wisdom and revelation, the writer says, is to “enlighten the eyes of our heart.” Our heart, mind you, is not just the seat of emotion we 21st century celebrators of Valentine’s Day regard it. The heart for early Christians like this writer is the seat of reason as well as feeling, whereas the brain is the seat only of factual knowledge. The heart for them is theintegrator of reason and feeling to create moral sensibility and wisdom, the kind of understanding that goes beyond mere information.
It is when our hearts – when our whole equipment for the apprehension of what is true and real and of value – are enlightened, says our Ephesians prayer, that we may “know what is the hope to which God has called us.” And may know how that “hope to which God has called us” has taken root and found expression over and over in the long stretch of history, “the riches of God’s glorious inheritance among the saints:” the long expense of human effort and care, the long turning to God for discernment of good from evil, the long, long history of human decision-making in the light of that God-guided discernment. And, says the prayer, with our enlightened hearts, we will know how out of that wise and time-tested hope, that “hope to which God has called us,” springs also the immeasurable greatness of God’s power for us who believe, according to the working of God’s great power.” THAT is the hope that moves us to action: that we will always be fueled by God’s mighty resurrection power as we carry that history of discernment and decision-making forward into the future. Such is the dynamic hope that we celebrate on All Saints Day.
I’ve been thinking a lot about hope lately, that wise hope of the enlightened heart that Ephesians prays for, that opening through which God’s grace springs up in us as resurrection power, refusing to give in, refusing to give up. I was thinking of it when I was lured by curiosity into reading an opinion piece in last Sunday’s NY Times Sunday Review that tried to explain why our movies and TV have become fascinated with cannibalism. (No, I have NO curiosity to WATCH movies on cannibalism! Those things give me post-traumatic stress!) The article quotes Gunnar Hansen, the famously weapon-wielding star of the horror classic “The Texas Chain-saw Massacre” in 1974. Hansen speculates, “You can look at the economy, and say, the past is about to bite us literally and figuratively… We are at the point where a new generation has nothing to look forward to.” “A generation with nothing to look forward to?” Now THAT is an apocalyptic vision of nightmare proportions, even without chain-saws! [New York Times Sunday Review, Oct. 27th, “They Want to Eat You,” Erik Piepenberg]
But here today we’re not entertaining nightmares; we are celebrating the baptism into Christ of two small proponents of that generation, two very small people, Lincoln & Lucy, in whom we place MUCH hope, whom we are bringing into Christ precisely to HAVE HOPE, to have MUCH to LOOK FORWARD TO, to be filled with “the immeasurable greatness of God’s power for us who believe, according to the working of God’s great power.”
So I feel moved to “account for the hope that is in me,” as another epistle puts it, on this All Saints Day, to lay claim to the hope in Jesus Christ to which God calls meand you, my confidence that even as we mourn and hunger, even as we fall short of the glory of God in uncountable ways, individually, congregationally, nationally, you name it, yet we can be participants in the “communion of saints,” manifesting God’s grand reconciling redeeming vision, joining those who have lived, who DO live, who WILL LIVE INTO the kingdom of God – God’s commonwealth – those who refused and continue to refuse to give up hope, who stepped forward and continue to step forward when others need us to reach out in love.
Kevin Cullen wrote so movingly on the front page of Friday’s Boston Globe about the psychic link between the Red Sox’ World Series victory and our need in Boston to have our hearts enlightened so that we may know hope, those hearts so burdened by the events of the Marathon bombings last spring. “We flirt with cliché when linking this baseball victory to the Marathon bombings,” Cullen wrote. But we do so because we are looking for deeper meaning. We are seeking confirmation that what we just witnessed was not merely Shane Victorino coming through again with the bases loaded, but a sign of something loaded with redemptive symbolism, an elixir that can cure every family that mourned, every person whose body or psyche was wounded, every cop and firefighter who tried to comfort a child whose leg was missing.” And Cullen went on, “For those of us not afflicted with the disease of cynicism, [such deeper meaning] was staring us in the face…Several Red Sox players said they took deep pride in being able to deliver a World Series championship to a community still wincing at physical and psychological scars. Red Sox manager John Farrell described it almost as a civic compact, that this was in fact more than just about proving that a team could go from last to first but that a wounded town and a disparaged baseball team could make each other better.” [Boston Globe front section, Friday, November 1st, 2013]
Of course I’m not just hopeful because of the Sox victory. The apocalyptic nightmares that fuel cannibal movies are too solidly grounded in real reasons to fear for that to be enough. I’m hopeful because I see such examples of “the greatness of God’s immeasurable power” overcoming loss and challenge and pain and injustice not just at Fenway, but all around me, right alongside with the failures and dangers and agonies of our environmental, political and economic troubles. All around me I see people choosing to participate in the energy of blessing, as Luke’s Beatitudes put it, not the energy of woe. All around me I see people stretching to re-weave the torn and tattered fabric of our human and natural community back together.
I’m hopeful because Charlie Allen, restorer of our historic slate roof and father of our Greenleaf Choir member Gwei-Gwei Strong-Allen, in the wake of his beloved wife Anne Strong’s death from lung cancer this spring, didn’t just curl up in his grief but instead signed right up to walk yesterday as “Annie’s Avenger” in the LUNGevity Foundation's Breathe Deep Boston 5K Walk. And yes, you can STILL support him and make a contribution to the campaign, if you see him after church! Charlie’s walk makes sense of the battle imagery in Psalm 149 today, praise of God in his throat and a two-edged sword in his hand, doing battle with the disease that claimed Annie.
I’m hopeful because even as I see the plaster visibly sifting out of our beloved walls at this very minute, I know that when neighboring nay-sayers did vituperative battle against our new parish house project, ignoring its “smart-growth” contribution to green housing in Cambridge and our need to secure the long-term sustainability of our historic St. James’s Church, they DID NOT WIN their appeals, but instead our steady faithfulness to the vision – our abiding HOPE over the whole three years we’ve been waiting since the permits came through – is PAYING OFF as we move toward construction!
I’m hopeful because our own priest associate Bob Massie, with our own Nicholas Hayes as his intern, is heading the New Economics Institute and demanding that weview our environmental woes and depredations as ECONOMIC phenomena, undermining our global economic well-being. I’m hopeful because our Greater Boston Interfaith Organization is forming advocacy coalitions to fight gun violence and our Episcopal City Mission is working hard to raise the minimum wage. I’m hopeful because with our up-close and personal connection with the hungry in our Food Pantry, we are positioned to go into combat against the 5 billion dollars of cuts the food stamp benefits that went into effect Friday, sending the poor into the holidays with just $1.40 to spend per meal, with further, far-deeper cuts envisioned in the sequester’s future.
I’m hopeful because when Bishop Gayle preached at Diocesan Convention yesterday from the depths of her experience of the persistence of racism, calling us to address our own racism and that of our society, I knew that as hard as it is to talk about the many issues that divide us as a society into silos of race & culture & class & age & orientation, we in the St. James’s congregation not only worship, serve, and reach out to know and love each other as a church family across all those differences, but we do so intentionally in our commitment to anti-oppression work, seeing each other with the eyes of our enlightened hearts; acting on “the hope to which God has called us.”
I’m hopeful because this morning, we’re off-setting whatever burden of grief or fear each of us may have brought into this church by coming together to light a great communion of candles in a moment to signify our abiding love and connection to all whom we have lost this year, and by inducting two new saints, Lucy & Lincoln, into our ministry of reconciliation in baptism into the Body of Christ here at St. James’s, making them one as we are all one in the immeasurable greatness of God’s power for us.
In a sense, Luke’s Jesus, in preaching the Beatitudes in our Gospel today, is trying to detach us from measuring our cause for hope by our material well-being alone, whether fraught by poverty or grief or enjoying our comforts. Jesus is trying to remind us that when we are laughing and full, we still share the human vulnerability of the poor and mournful. When he then flies off the handle and asks us to “Love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us,” even to “pray for those who abuse us,” he’s trying to weave us back together into a whole social fabric, not rent by economic or environmental or racial inequality but united into ONE BODY, a LOVING BODY in which EVERY MEMBER has a unique and critically important PART TO PLAY, Lincoln and Lucy and all of us. Jesus is trying to call us back into the MINISTRY OF RECONCILIATION in which we can see everything with our hearts’ enlightened eyes, from a God’s-eye-view, a BLESSING view. He’s trying to help us to see that our own concerns – important as they are – are shared by all others, and that all of us prosper as we share each other’s concerns. Jesus in his Beatitudes is trying to lift us out of our ideological foxholes – national and international – so that we can see our common needs and share in addressing them coherently.
That’s where we stand out, we who, whatever our many failings, belong to God’s great communion of saints past, present & future. We stand out by refusing to be atomized into our little individual concerns and stop caring about the blessings & woes of others. We stand out by refusing cynicism and despair. It’s not that we don’t mourn & weep, with good reason; it’s not that we don’t struggle with poverty of all kinds, literal and spiritual; it’s not that we don’t hunger, whether for food or for justice (or both). We suffer all these things. But we DO NOT BUY INTO OUR OWN ANXIETY. We “hang it on the Cross,” as my dear friend Ginny, stuck in a wheelchair with Parkinsons, used to say. We turn it over. We give our fears and our despair to God. Sometimes that’s ALL we have to give! And in the great paradox of faith, that giving-over of fear enlightens our hearts so that we know the hope to which we are called, weaves us together with others who suffer, enables us to act for justice. Such hope, such faith, such handing-over of fear and despair to the only One who can carry such weight – to God – and stepping forward in the light and energy and invitation that flow in where the shadows used to be – is the life into which we are baptizing Lincoln and Lucy today, the baptismal life. It’s not a life without darkness, without fear, without death. It IS a life in which those things are turned over to the immeasurable greatness of God’s power, a life of hope, the hope to which we are called: the abiding confidence that the working of God’s great power can energize and re-energize our souls and bodies into love.