All Saints’ Sunday November 7, 2010

Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18                                                            

Ephesians 1:11-23                                                             

Luke 6:20-31

For the last three weeks or so, I’ve been dragging around with a cold. Nothing serious enough to ground me, but enough to make me feel tired and subpar. I was almost back to health last weekend, but then the runny nose and achy muscles and exhausted feeling returned with a vengeance. The reason: standing out in the cold and wind at the Weare polling place all day Tuesday on behalf of a couple of candidates I cared about.

Why does anyone do this? Well, maybe because the “other side” does it and you don’t want them to be the only ones out there – and, of course, they do it because you do it. There was some talk on “the line” as the day wore on and we got colder and colder that we make a pact and next year no one would stand out there! But we stand because we believe in what we stand for. We’re witnesses to something we believe in – passionately enough to risk our health. Moreover, as I discover anew every time I do this, it’s also fun to see and greet all the people in town you know. You end up feeling a sense of solidarity and community: despite differences of opinion, we’re all out there exercising our responsibility as citizens and when it’s all over and the votes counted, we come together as one country, one people.

Finally, and to me most rewarding, it’s a time to talk with people you disagree with – discover what is motivating them, what their vision is, and at a deeper level who they are. Early in the day at the polls, the Republicans were at one end of the line by the door, the Democrats at the other. The Republicans were talking with one another about their beliefs: there were people who believed that roads and highways should be privatized, that churches should take care of all the welfare needs of society, that Obama was born in Nigeria and was bent on making America socialist.

The Democrats listening to this were rolling their eyes. But of course the Democrats were sharing their vision – an income tax, more aid to education and social services – and talking about how awful Andy Sanborn and John Stephen were, while the Republicans rolled their eyes. But late in the day, when the sun was going down and the cold getting more intense, when most of the line-standers had gone home, those of us who remained began to talk with each other, across party lines. What we discovered, of course, was that we shared many of the same concerns. Moreover, there was much we could agree on about how to approach problems, how to work together. And we learned that the “other side” were really decent human beings, with good hearts and minds, who cared just as intensely as we did about our country, our state and our community. So when the day was finally over, we went home – winners and losers – feeling somehow more deeply connected to one another.

I share all this because today we celebrate the feast of All Saints’, and this annual ritual of “working the polls” is very much a celebration of what it means when we say each week in the Creed that we believe in the communion of saints.

 

The word “saint” means holy, which simply means “other” or “apart.” St. Paul addressed his letters to the little house churches he founded “to the saints in such-and-such a city.” He was reminding them that they were set apart from others, with a different vision, a different mission, a different set of values. All the baptized were saints in those days. Baptism was a big thing, performed for adults or whole families after a year or more of preparation. The preparation had little to do with teaching about worship – that came after baptism. It was about forming people for a particular lifestyle, a “set apart” way of living, having to do both with one’s personal moral code and also with one’s public duty to others, particularly the poor and needy.

As Christianity spread, this idea of “differentness” got diluted. Whole tribes, whole communities and countries, were baptized en masse. No one was set apart. Sainthood then became something reserved for the special heroes of the faith, particularly martyrs. The saints were those who had the ear of God. Ordinary folks had to approach God through the saints. That’s when All Saints’ Day began to be celebrated as a feast in the Church Year. Ordinary people got relegated to All Souls’ Day, the day after All Saints’.

But now again those of us who are baptized, who are connected with a community of faith like Holy Cross, find ourselves a minority in society. The latest figures I’ve seen are that in New Hampshire only seven percent of the population has a church connection. As many of you know, worship on Sunday morning competes with dozens of secular options. There is no support for our children’s religious beliefs in their schools and little among their friends. Even some of you adults tell me stories of being mocked at work when you say you go to church or take religion seriously.

So we are moving back to the original meaning of sainthood: you and I being faithful, standing in the wind and cold to witness for what we believe in, speaking out for a set of values and a vision that may be mocked and will at least be mostly ignored, setting our course by stars that other folks don’t see. All that, but also always searching out others, people we don’t agree with, engaging with them because they too are children of God, they too are struggling to find a way forward in life. Saints are never saints apart from the larger community. We are saints in the world, just not of the world.

What sustains us as saints? Part of it is supporting one another, being a family. But part of it is also the promise of reward in the kingdom of God. Sainthood is acted out here on earth, but like all things connected to Christ, it has an added dimension: it extends into eternity. The saints are those who stand on the farther shore, robed in white, palm branches in their hands. The saints are those who see then in full the glory they only glimpse here and now.

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