Sermon for All Saints’ Day (observed), November 6, 2022 – the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas

ASEP Sermons

Isaiah 25:1, 4a, 6-10a+Psalm 67+(Romans 15:7-13)+Matthew 27:50-56

I imagine that I am in a significant minority about this, but this time of year may well be my favorite. (I could also say this about a lot of other seasons, but it’s November, and here we are.) I love the encroaching darkness, the bare trees, and clearing out gardens and flower beds in anticipation of a long, cold winter.

I even love how this season – liturgically and otherwise – reminds us that everything dies. On Halloween, all the little ghosts and goblins, if not the princesses and unicorns, are an ancient way of poking fun at death, of telling the Evil One that we are not afraid. Christ has won the victory over the grave, so the Grim Reaper can just take a hike.

The following day, All Saints’ Day, we recall all of those capital “S” saints who have gone before us, including the author of our gospel today, Saint Matthew. Tradition, if not history, tells us that he was martyred in Ethiopia while celebrating Mass. Caravaggio has a pretty gruesome take on that if you’d like to Google it later. This day is a reminder that Matthew and all the saints live on in that great cast of “angels and archangels and all the company of heaven” whose presence we invoke each time we celebrate the Eucharist.

The day after All Saints’ Day, November 2, is either All Souls’ Day (in traditional naming convention) or the Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed. It’s the day when we remember those we have loved but see no more. It’s a day set aside when I spend time thinking about my son, Seth, my parents, and grandparents and those whose love brought me to where I am today. It is not a sad day. It is a day when I know that they are in God’s nearer presence. No, they were not perfect people and may or may not have been all that faithful, but I know that God has them.

Today, we observe All Saints’ Day with baptism. This is one of those days in the church calendar particularly set aside for this sacrament that brings those being baptized into the household of God. It is a tangible reminder that the newly baptized join that long line of named and unnamed people through the centuries who have died in faith. Baptism, symbolically, is about death and resurrection. And so, we revisit the events surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus, and in Matthew’s telling that includes the opening of tombs and people coming back to life, entering the Holy City. It seemed that the ancient prophecy of Isaiah was at least partially fulfilled

And (God) will destroy on this mountain
   the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
   the sheet that is spread over all nations; 
God will swallow up death for ever.
(and) wipe away the tears from all faces…
It will be said on that day,
   Lo, this is the God for whom we have waited that we might be saved.
   …   let us be glad and rejoice in our salvation. 
For the hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain. (Isaiah 25:6-10, NRSV, adapted)

The temple curtain was torn in two. There is no longer a gap between the sacred and the profane, between the living and the dead because all is reconciled and brought together through the power of the resurrection.

These days of All Hallowtide – Halloween, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day – are days of awe and wonder, of fully embracing the fantastical belief that what scripture tells us is true. And in believing this, we can say with confidence to little Liam and to ourselves

Suddenly, all my ancestors are behind me.
‘Be still,’ they say.
‘Watch and listen.
You are the result of the love of thousands.’[1]

The acclamation with which we open every celebration of baptism is taken from the letter to the Ephesians.

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. (4:4-5)

But this 4th chapter begins this way

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (4:1-3)

That worthy life is one that follows in the path of our spiritual ancestors, living out the baptismal promises that we will all reaffirm along with Liam in a little while, and then coming to this table along with all those saints and angels who sing unceasing praises to the God who watches over us.

[1] Source unknown.

ASEPSermon for All Saints’ Day (observed), November 6, 2022 – the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas