Sermon for All Saints’ Day (observed), November 7, 2021 – the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas

ASEP Sermons

Isaiah 25:6-9+Psalm 24+(Revelation 21:1-6a)+John 11:32-44

There are four days throughout the Church Year on which baptism is considered especially appropriate:

  • The first is on the First Sunday after the Epiphany, on which we also celebrate the Baptism of our Lord. It makes sense to baptize on that day, right?
  • The second date is at the Easter Vigil, either on the eve of Easter or before sunrise on Easter Day. In the earliest days of the church, adult converts would prepare for baptism for a period of two years, observing a particularly penitential final season of Lent, and then receive the sacrament of Baptism at the Vigil, followed by the first Eucharist of Easter. Can you imagine the joy after such an extended period of preparation, longing to be received into the Church?    
  • The third date is on the Feast of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit blew across the people gathered in Jerusalem, with tongues of flame, renewing courage to take the Good News into all the world. It makes sense to offer baptism on what is often called the birthday of the Church.

And then there is today, All Saints’ Day, or at least, the Sunday after November 1 when we all gather to celebrate our feast day as All Saints Parish. So, why baptism today? The answer to that question also answers the question of which is my favorite day to baptize. That would be today.

On All Saints’ Day, a newly baptized person steps into a stream of living water that flows from the resurrection of Jesus through everyone who has ever received the sacrament right down to today when we will baptize little Gemma who then becomes part of that living water that flows into the future, until God’s reign is fully realized.

Whew. That’s a lot to take in.

The Feast of All Saints is the day when the mystical body of Christ, all the faithful people who have lived and died, are remembered, those saints whose names we know and those we don’t. When I stand at this table in a little while and invite you to “join with Saints and Angels in the chorus of praise that rings through eternity,” it is this living stream into which Gemma is being baptized, sealed with the spirit, and marked as Christ’s own forever.  

For rational 21st century intelligent adults, this might be the hardest thing for people to grasp, that we are somehow connected through time with those who came before us, and all who will come after, and that we gather here with all the company of heaven. But it isn’t about the past or the future, it is about now.

The great Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel said: “Eternity is not perpetual future but perpetual presence. God has planted in us the seed of eternal life. The world to come is not only a hereafter but also a here-now.””[1]

That little apocalypse that we heard from the 25th chapter of Isaiah is echoed in the Revelation to John, a new heaven and a new earth where there are no more tears, no more sorrow, not in some far-off heaven, but here. We are the laborers in God’s vineyard, making God’s promises real, not just for ourselves, but for everyone.

Even for Mary and Martha, who were probably more angry than our gospel would have us believe, even for them, the love for their brother did not end in the grave. Jesus’s love did not end in the tomb. All those we have loved who have died live on in love that does not die. That is the promise of the resurrection. That is the promise we enter into in the sacrament of baptism.

If you came here expecting just a little water and oil as we baptize Gemma, buckle your seat belts. As the hymn says

They lived not only in ages past;

there are hundreds of thousands still.

The world is bright with the joyous saints

who love to do Jesus’ will.

You can meet them in school, or in lanes or at sea,

in church, or in trains or in shops or at tea,

for the saints of God are just folk like me,

and I mean to be one too.

A blessed All Saints’ Day to you and to all those you love, whether they are still here in the flesh or not, and all those you continue to hold in your hearts and your prayers.

[1] Bishop Porter Taylor email reflection, Diocese of Virginia.

ASEPSermon for All Saints’ Day (observed), November 7, 2021 – the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas