A Sermon for All Saints’ Day
November 7, 2021
Preached at Trinity Episcopal Church
in Easton, Pennsylvania
“You have become a new creation,
and have clothed yourself in Christ.
See in this garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity.
With your family and friends to help you by word and example,
bring that dignity unstained
into the everlasting life of heaven.
You have been enlightened by Christ.
May you walk always as a child of the light.
Keep the flame of faith alive in your heart.
When the Lord comes, may you go out to meet him
with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom.”
Our Book of Common Prayer asks us to regularly renew our Baptismal Promises—and today is one of the days in which it is recommended that we do so. There is an intentional desire to connect two important ideas—the celebration of what it means to be holy, to be a “Saint,” and the reality of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.
On its most basic level, the Feast of All the Holy Ones, or of All Saints challenges us to re-examine our notion of what it means to be holy. It could be easy to think that holiness is a very rare thing indeed. If, for instance, we only imagine that the handful of those who have been canonized, included in a list of those who are considered holy, or placed on the calendar of those who are to be commemorated—we might well be tempted to think that holiness has nothing to do with most of us. This is especially true if we make the mistake of thinking that the call to be holy is primarily connected with miracles, a brutal death, or with a life of profound asceticism and renunciation.
In fact, our celebration today suggests just the opposite. It is a reminder that many who are holy, who are profoundly connected to God, who have lived lives of deep an profound faith will never be formally canonized. Many of these holy ones have lived lives of faith which are “known to God alone.” What a shocking idea! The language which has been used to describe this is the “universal call to holiness.” In other words, each of us—without exception– is called to be a saint!
Has anyone ever told us that we are called, invited, and challenged to be saints—to be holy—to be living icons or witnesses to the loving, healing, emancipating, and transforming presence of God in this world?
—–What might it mean if we chose to accept that invitation?
—–What might it mean if each of us chose to say yes to God in a radical and profound way?
—–What might it mean if we chose to view every event in our lives, and every person that we meet, as an opportunity to seek and find God?
—–What might it mean if we intentionally chose to live out our beautiful Baptismal Covenant every single day—and not only on the days that we repeat it in church?
Our call to holiness, to be saints, began with our own Baptism. It began in that moment in which we were united into the passion, death and resurrection of Christ through the waters of Holy Baptism.
The two prayers which I shared at the beginning of these words today remind us of that. The purity of out baptismal garment, and the light of Christ given to us from the Paschal Candle, the reminder that we are marked, sealed, and claimed as Christ’s own forever give us some explanation of the power that the Sacrament of Holy Baptism offer us—if we choose to embrace that promise and allow it to be active and fruitful in our lives.
My own favorite image, taken from the Twelfth Chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews, is that of the “Great Cloud of Witnesses.” Here is that text: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with endurance the race set out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
One very important way that we see the power of this hopeful promise is found in the image which I asked to have shown on the screen today. It is a photo which I took only a few weeks ago here at Trinity. It shows our Church surrounded by the graves of those who have “gone before us marked with the sign of faith.” It reminds us that we are the heirs of their faithful witness to Christ. It also reminds us that there will come a day when we will join them—wherever we are buried–as a visible part of that Great and Holy Cloud. The practice which our tradition has of using the funeral pall—with its close connection to the baptismal garment–reminds us that “both in life and death, we belong to the Lord.”
May the waters of Holy Baptism continue to empower us live to live holy lives as Children of God. May we become living candles who carry that light of Christ to a dark world so in need of warmth and light.