All Saints Sunday  /  November 6, 2005

Text:  Revelation 7: 9 – 17;  Matthew 5: 1 – 12

Message by: Rev. Carol Kniseley 

Title:  The Communion of Saints


All Saints Sunday is fast becoming one of my favorite days in the church year.   If for no other reason, All Saints serves as an important marker in time for all of us in the church.    Time past, yes…as we remember all the blessed Saints who have gone before us, that ‘Great Cloud of Witnesses’ who show up at every family reunion.    But also time present, as we are reminded that in order to be a saint…one doesn’t have to be deceased.   We’ll come back to that one in a minute.    First, I want to focus on the past.       


I once heard it said, that to remember the past is always in some measure to encounter ourselves…in other people at other times.     The last time Pastor Jim and I were in California, we visited the city of Los Angeles and treated ourselves to one of the most spectacular cathedrals to be built in the United States: the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.    For nearly a year I have been waiting to tell you about an artistic encounter that absolutely blew my mind.       Artist John Nova has created for the cathedral 25 fresco-like tapestries depicting 136 saints.     The entire work is called ‘The Communion of Saints’.     Each panel rising some 30 feet in the air with each saint depicted being over 10 feet in height.    


What was so memorable to me, aside from the sheer size and incredible mastery of the techniques used to create the images…was the vast array of humanity displayed.   People from all walks of life…different nationalities, ages, occupations, vocations…both from the past as well as from the present…were all there for the viewing.     Some I recognized right away…Peter and Paul… Joseph…Joan of Arc…Mary Magdalene…Saint Francis…Mother Teresa (next to the children, she was among the shortest!).    Yet others, I didn’t have a clue.    I later learned that twelve of the 136 figures were included by the artist as  ‘anonymous and future saints’…many of whom were depicted as children.       


The thing about each saint was, well…they looked so normal.    As if they could have walked right off of the streets here in Fredericksburg, which I found very comforting.    Come to find out that many of those pictured were members of the artist’ family while others were neighbors, friends, even some homeless people he had literally taken right off of the street.       Most were all dressed in the style and clothing of their particular century and yet, the most striking feature was not what each one was wearing.   It was the realization that every single person was turned in the same direction and looking toward the light.    The natural light, that was flooding in through the cross-shaped window high above the altar.


Every single person, it appeared to me, was being drawn to the light in such a way that there was no mistaking their love for Jesus.     Every saint radiated with the love of Christ…which brings me to a really good question for us today:  ‘how does one become a Saint?’


According to Roman Catholic tradition, there are two things necessary for sainthood: 

1)      proof of a good and pious life; 

2) confirmed by evidence of at least 3 miracles after the person’s death.      

Then, there are the Beatitudes.    It is no mistake that they are read every year on All Saints’ Day:  blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who are meek, peacemakers who are persecuted for righteousness sake…for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.       Now I ask you, who could compose a list of more ‘saintly’ virtues, or a list of more impossible ones?    Like the ten commandments, the beatitudes confront us with an ideal vision…God’s vision…of who we can be.     Most of us read them like paragraphs of a job description and decide that it is even futile to apply.    


The truth is, many of us tend to believe that ‘sainthood’ is something we can achieve if we do the Ten Commandments, or if we do the Beatitudes.      The reality is quite different.    The reality is that all of us who have been baptized are already saints…because all it takes to “be a saint” is to belong to God.       It is not a matter of being or doing good or even working three miracles that can be documented by the Vatican.    It is simply a matter of joining up with the body of Christ and for us, we believe that happens at the time of a person’s baptism.


As I stood there in that magnificent cathedral…it began to dawn on me what the artist was trying to say through The Communion of Saints tapestries.    Generally speaking, those whom we call ‘saints’…were just ordinary people like you and me.   They had their good days and they had their bad…but by in large, what distinguished them as saints among us was not their goodness.    What distinguished them was their undeniable, extravagant, all-encompassing love of God.  Everything about them radiated…with the love of Christ.    Which means, by the way, that none of us can ever shrug our shoulders and say…sainthood is beyond our reach.   


The truth is, some of the most saintly people I have ever met, were not those who lives mirrored the rich and the famous.    On the contrary, they were people…who lives often took a turn for the worse but whose trust in God never once wavered.   People like Clay Clark, Elaine Murphy, and Pastor Lois Wooden (all members of the Resurrection family who passed into life eternal this year)…all saints by virtue of their baptism into Christ…yet, remembered by the love that they showered on each one of us who knew them.    


On All Saints’ Day, we in the church make the bold claim that all of these saints are our relatives.   We have the same blood coursing through our veins…Christ’s blood…and the same light we see shining in them…shines in us, too.


All Saint’s Day serves then to remind us that once a person is baptized, they do indeed belong to God.   And all that remains to be seen…is what they will do about it.     Just remember that one does not have to be famous, or perfect, or deceased to be a saint.   You just have to be you…the one-of-a-kind, never-to-be-repeated human being that God created you to be…to love as you are loved, to throw your arms around the world, to shine like the son.


And the most amazing part about all of this is the realization that we do not have to do this all by ourselves.   We have all this company…the saints we can see sitting here today…and those whom we can’t…all cheering us on and shouting themselves hoarse with encouragement.   Because they know all too well…that we are a part of them…and they are a part of us…all knit together in the one communion of saints.    Bound together…by the love of God.      Amen