ALL SAINTS DAY - B - 15
Today the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church throughout the world skips from Ordinary Time to the celebration of All Saints Day. The Feast of All Saints was first created because the martyrs of the early church overflowed the calendar. There were simply too many of them to name.
In the early church Christians were accustomed to solemnize the anniversary of a martyr’s death for Christ at the place of the martyrdom. It was during the persecution of Diocletian (303)that the number of martyrs became so great that a separate day could not be assigned to each. The church, thus, appointed a common day for all.
The first trace of this is found in Antioch (411). Neighboring dioceses began to interchange and transfer relics and to join in a common feast. Originally, the Feast of All Saints was celebrated on the first Sunday after Pentecost (in the East.) Its current date of November 1 can be traced to Pope Gregory III in the first half of the eighth century (731-741).
November 2, likewise, is celebrated as All Souls Day. The Church, however, combines the two when All Saints falls on a Sunday. Thus, as part of the liturgy, we read the names of our departed love ones before the altar of God that have been submitted by those of us who walk as yet by faith.
In contrast, a tradition of the Eastern Church has the priest praying the names of those that have been written down on small slips of paper and submitted by the congregation before the liturgy begins. He prays the names before the altar of God as part of the intercessions not knowing the living from the departed.
To celebrate All Saints and All Souls, then, demonstrates a fundamental belief that there is a prayerful spiritual bond between those in heaven (The Church Triumphant) and the living (The Church Militant).
You might recognize that today’s first two readings are from the Burial Office. They have to do with those who have died, and yet are alive to God. The first reading from the Wisdom of Solomon, indicates a very early (50BC) doctrine of the immortality of the soul. “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seem to have died…but they are at peace.”
They are not dead but are at peace. They are alive to God who loves them and who will abide with them and they with him enjoying His love forever.
In the second reading God’s eternal Kingdom is revealed as a city. A new heaven and a new earth, the new Jerusalem. The old is not destroyed as some believe, but is a renewed creation freed from corruption, purified, transfigured, glorified, the perfect Church, the Bride of Christ. The New Jerusalem, then, represents a Union of the Glory of Christ and His church where death will be no more, for all live to Him (Lk. 20.38) who is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.
Today’s gospel, on the other hand, may seem a bit out of place with the theme of the Feast of All Saints and in light of the first two readings. But is it? It is the last and climatic sign of death and resurrection in the gospel - the raising of Lazarus. Jesus’ motive in calling his friend out of the tomb was not so much as to restore his life, but to show forth the Glory of God.
The theme of glorification in death and resurrection of Jesus is announced in the raising of Lazarus. The raising of Lazarus looks forward to the death and resurrection of Jesus, as if to prepare the disciples to face it. It is a test of Faith and Hope in Jesus Now. Lazarus, then, represents every believer who loves Jesus and is loved by Him - whom the Lord will raise up at the last day.
The early martyrs, you see, were confident that death of the body did not separate them from the love of God. Through faith in Jesus we are brought into such a relation to God as assures eternal life - physical death does not involve spiritual. The spiritual life is independent of the fact of death. It begins here and continues there.
Thus we pray for those who have died that increasing in knowledge and love of God, they may go from strength to strength in the life of perfect service in God’s heavenly kingdom (BCP 481). It is a spiritual energy of eternal being in knowledge and love that therefore the dead are still living in the presence of the God who created them.
If there is one subject Jesus talked more about than money, it is the Kingdom of God. Every lesson Jesus taught his disciples on the road to Jerusalem and the cross was concerning the kingdom. The kingdom is here and now, Jesus taught, and is yet to come. As mystical as that may sound we can experience a foretaste of God’s kingdom in Church.
Each time we begin the liturgy we do so reminding ourselves of that very fact: “Blessed be God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And blessed be His kingdom NOW and forever. Amen.” In worship we join the heavenly hosts, the saints and the angels and join in their song before the throne of God - “Holy, Holy, Holy…”
In the Eucharist we come liturgically to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly of the church of the firstborn, who are registered in heaven (The Church Triumphant), and to God the judge of all (Heb. 12. 22,23).
With this heavenly vision, each time we celebrate the Holy Eucharist heaven and earth meet and we participate in worshipping God with that “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb.12.1) who in faith have gone on before us to their heavenly rest and abide with Him in Love - The Communion of Saints to which we belong and whom we remember today.
Worship, then, is not a solitary act. Rather it is the Bride of Christ, The One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, those on earth joining with those in heaven, the Saints of God, in giving Thanks to our God and King, who has called us through faith to new life in Him who died and rose again and made us citizens of His magnificent Kingdom, Now, and in the Age to Come. AMEN+