Sermon: RCL C – “All Saints Sunday”

A picture I took while in Florence, Italy, of the ceiling in The Baptistery of St. John at the Duomo

Irish History: Stingy was a miserable, old drunk who liked to play tricks on everyone: family, friends, his mother, and even the Devil himself.  He once invited the Devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, Stingy didn’t want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin he could use to buy their drinks. Once the Devil did so, Stingy decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form. He eventually freed the Devil under the condition that he would not bother him for one year.

As the story goes, Stingy, one day, tricked the Devil into climbing up an apple tree. Once the Devil climbed up the apple tree, Stingy hurriedly placed crosses around the trunk of the tree. The Devil was then unable to get down the tree. Stingy made the Devil promise not to take his soul when he died. Once the devil promised not to take his soul, Stingy removed the crosses and let the Devil down. 

When Stingy finally died many years later, he went to the pearly gates of Heaven and was told by Saint Peter that he was too mean and cruel and had led a miserable and worthless life on earth. He was not allowed to enter heaven. He then went down to Hell and the Devil. The Devil kept his promise and would not allow him to enter Hell. Stingy was scared and had nowhere to go but to wander about forever in the darkness between heaven and hell. He asked the Devil how he could leave as there was no light. The Devil tossed him an ember from the flames of Hell to help him light his way. Stingy placed the ember in a hollowed-out turnip, one of his favorite foods he always carried around whenever he could steal one. From that day onward, Stingy (a.k.a. Stingy Jack) roamed the earth without a resting place, lighting his way as he went with his “Jack O’Lantern.” 

On all Hallow’s eve, which would have been this past Monday, the Irish hollowed out turnips, rutabagas, gourds, potatoes, and beets. They placed a light in them to ward off evil spirits and to keep Stingy Jack away. These were the original Jack O’Lanterns. In the 1800s, Irish immigrants came to America and quickly discovered that Pumpkins were bigger and easier to carve out.

This past week we celebrated All Saints’/Hallows Eve, All Saints’ Day, and All Soul’s Day. In other words, we celebrated all the saints—capital “S” and lowercase “s”—who carried the bright light of the faith. The idea of caring for the soul is—as you know—one that has been ruminating in my mind for several months now. I suppose it comes with the territory, but this past week I wondered if our souls were happy, content, sad, angry, peaceful, or something else. And, of course, the answer depends on the person, but for all of us, we must consider: is our soul in such a condition to allow us into Heaven or, like Stingy Jack, whether will we be denied admittance? 

The Lord has constantly been providing the information we need to remain on the path that leads to Him, yet no matter how hard he tries, we, as his ultimate creation, have a difficult time staying on that path.

The first attempt was the Garden of Eden: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” One rule: don’t eat the apple. That didn’t work out, so God gave Moses The Law: “Thou shall have none other Gods but me… no graven images… keep the Sabbath Holy… don’t steal or murder or commit adultery.” You know them all. Right?

God provided these laws not to keep us under his thumb but to keep us safe. To protect our souls and to save us from sin, and by golly, we break them at every opportunity. So the condition of our soul comes into question once again. Are we headed to heaven or hell? Yet, out of his great love for us, God makes another way available: Jesus. Romans 10:13—“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” We hear that and think, “That’s the ticket. Bought and paid for.” We respond, “Amen. I’ll take it!” 

No more of the “Thou shall not” business. Instead, we get “blessed are the poor, the meek, the merciful, the peacemaker, and so on.” We think, “It’s all good!” The beatitudes present the very heart of Jesus; however, the catch is that the beatitudes are not an abolishing of the “Thou shall not’s.” Jesus is not making things easier! He is intensifying the Ten Commandments and taking them to their most radical end. How?

“Thou shall not kill.” Fine. I haven’t killed anyone (yet).. but I haven’t! However, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” I thought I was golden with not killing, but as it turns out, I’m not even close.

“Thou shall not steal.” You don’t take from others but go back to what we talked about a few weeks back: things done and left undone. There are sins of commission and sins of omission. “Thou shall not steal.” You did not take when you were not supposed to, but “Thou shall not steal” also means, did you give when you were supposed to give? Not stealing is the bare minimum.

How far would we fall short if we began to analyze, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” in the same manner? I’ll let you do that alone because I’m not brave enough to do it for myself. Yet, even though I am not courageous enough and seem unable to fulfill the calling God places on my life… the calling is still the truth. It is the one path that Christ calls us to in order to be his disciples. Could we soften it? Make it less difficult?

Lee is the cook and housekeeper for the Trask family in John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. In one scene, Lee is talking to Adam Trask and says, my father said, “There’s more beauty in the truth even if it is dreadful beauty. The storytellers at the city gate twist life so that it looks sweet to the lazy and the stupid and the weak, and this only strengthens their infirmities and teaches nothing, cures nothing, nor does it let the heart soar.” The Beatitudes are the path that Christ Jesus has set for us. They are the truth we must come to grips with so that our hearts and souls may soar. So how do we fulfill them?

Speaking on The Beatitudes in a 2015 sermon, Pope Francis said, “This is the way of holiness, and it is the very way of happiness. It is the way that Jesus traveled. Indeed, He himself is the Way: those who walk with Him and proceed through Him enter into life, into eternal life. Let us ask the Lord for the grace to be simple and humble people, the grace to be able to weep, the grace to be meek, the grace to work for justice and peace, and above all the grace to let ourselves be forgiven by God so as to become instruments of his mercy.

“This is what the Saints did, those who have preceded us to our heavenly home. They accompany us on our earthly pilgrimage, they encourage us to go forward. May their intercession help us to walk on Jesus’ path, and to obtain eternal happiness.” (Source)

The Beatitudes are beauty, but they are Steinbeck’s “dreadful beauty” in that they are the truth and path of our life with God, but the truth and path that we fall so dreadfully short of. However, failure does not mean we quit. As Francis encouraged us, we pray for the grace to follow the path and the grace of forgiveness when we fail. As my friend, St. Josemaría Escrivá, said, “You — be convinced of it — cannot fail. You haven’t failed; you have gained experience. On you go!” Guided by the Saints, get back to the path lit—not by some ember in a gourd, but by the very light of Christ, so… On you go! We have work to do.

Let us pray: Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

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Sermon: All Saints Day

Photo by Gianni Scognamiglio on Unsplash

A doctor was lecturing on the subject of nutrition. He said, “What we put into our stomachs is enough to have killed most of us sitting here, years ago. Red meat is terrible. Soft drinks eat away at your stomach lining. Chinese cooking is loaded with MSG. High-fat diets can be very risky. But there’s one thing that’s more dangerous than all of these, and we’ve all eaten it, or will eat it. Would anyone like to guess what food causes the most grief and suffering for years after eating it?” After a few seconds of silence, a small, hunched 80-year-old man in the front row raised his hand timidly and said: “Wedding cake.”

Today’s service is a combination of Halloween—which was originally known as All Saints Eve—All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Just to make it interesting, we’ve also decided to throw in a wedding. Remember that song from Sesame Street: “One of these things is not like the other….” Well, it may seem like it, but as it turns out, these events are all closely related. Let’s start with the wedding.

Since we are combining the wedding with our Sunday service, we’re doing things just a bit differently, but during the normal wedding liturgy, the bride and groom would stand down here. While here the bride and groom give and receive consent from one another, agreeing to be husband and wife. They also receive the consent and assurances of the congregation that they will be supported in their life together. It is also the time when they hear the reading of the word and a teaching or sermon, expanding on their life together. This first part then, which takes place down here, is about their common life and ours and instruction. Once this portion of the liturgy is completed, the bride and groom take a step up.

It is here that they make their vows to one another. Vows that bind them together as one. Here we also have the giving and the receiving of rings: a symbol of those vows they have taken. A symbol, not only to one another, but to the world. A symbol that states, I have given myself to another and no other. Next, it is here that the couple also receives the blessing of the Church and the pronouncement that they are now husband and wife (but Nick, you don’t get to kiss her yet!), because these vows are followed by a time of prayer for the life together, and then we make the final progression forward to the altar.
At the altar, the bride and groom, now truly husband and wife, through the office of the priest, receive the blessing of God.

There is the work of the people, there is the blessing of the church, and here is the blessing of God. And the entire ceremony is not only a progression of two lives being joined together as one, but of two lives being joined together as one and bound together by Christ Jesus. As husband and wife, they are joined together in a pilgrimage that is designed to draw them ever nearer to God.

How are All Souls Day and All Saints Day so closely related to a wedding: because following the wedding, we celebrate the Holy Eucharist, which is truly the wedding banquet and representative of the wedding banquet to come. Today in our lesson from Revelation, we heard St. John say, “And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” And a few chapters earlier John also used the imagery of the wedding:

“Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come,    and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”

Today, we the Church and all the souls and all the saints are the bride and Christ Jesus is the groom. All the souls and all the saints are the ones who have already washed their robes in the blood of the lamb and have entered into the banquet hall and it is they that we celebrate today for their great works and examples of righteousness that they provide for us. As they await our arrival to the feast, they do not simply mingle about, but are actively engage in prayer and intercession on our behalf. Through this wedding today, we are provided a vision of our future glory in that New Jerusalem, where we, with all the other souls and all the other saints enter the Kingdom that has been prepared for us from the foundation of the world.

As we celebrate all these great events today, it may at first seem that one is not like the other, but as it turns out, the wedding is at the heart of them all.

Let us pray: O God, you have so consecrated the covenant of marriage that in it is represented the spiritual unity between Christ and his Church: send forth therefore your word and your Spirit into our souls, that we might all be conformed into your image and be made holy and righteous in your sight, that we may be found worthy to enter the banquet you have prepared for all those who love you. Amen.

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