As we gather once again on this All Saints Sunday, we see the light of these candles and it reminds us of saints not only from this congregation but who have touched our lives. Those God has given us across time. They are on our minds today. Perhaps today more than ever we sense that presence of the communion of the saints. Today we hear words from Revelation, this last book in Scripture intended to be words of hope. At every funeral I preside over I read words from the book of Revelation and say that they are intended to be words of hope and at least half of the faces crinkle up like that is a strange statement. So many are caught up in things like imagining Armageddon, and the Rapture and who’s left behind and who will be in hell. But what we are really given is saints around the throne of God whose struggles are no more. Tears are wiped away and we’re drawn to God.
The Celtic people in Ireland speak of “thin places”- places where worlds come together- the world here and the world beyond. The barriers we normally experience are not there. There are sacred spaces where you can get that sense. There are also events that function that way and for me All Saint’s Sunday feels like that. Being drawn close to God and a longing to be together when all the struggles are done and all the tears are wiped away. And there’s a moment- that’s communion of the saints. Perhaps you experience it this day as well.
I think that’s what we experience at funerals- the thin place where people come who haven’t been here in a while, drawn closer not only by a life lived for which we give thanks to God, but often a time where people speak of a closer sense of God and what the church means- at least for a moment. We forget the things in life our loved one did that weren’t the best- they fall away and we remember the good of people and community. If only those thin places could stay thin and continue to be communion of the saints.
Yesterday I attended the funeral of a colleague, Sadie, who fought the good fight with cancer and we celebrated her life’s work, in particular, her commitment to criminal justice system ministry. Something I know some of you are connected to in different ways. Most recently she worked as a chaplain at a state correctional facility in Camp Hill where she labored tirelessly. But a mentor said she once called him with a question, in the midst of her labors, she aske- “why did some people respond to God and to help and others did not?"
Her mentor suggested that maybe some people are just broken beyond the point of being helped- their souls are just too broken. And at this point Sadie just laughed at him and said,” Why on earth would God give anyone a permanently broken soul?!” Why indeed.
And for her this was, I believe, the vision of communion with God and the saints- a place much broader than our vision. A place where the thin place stayed thin.
That’s what Revelation points to this day. That’s what we say each week in our Creed- that the vision John speaks of is so different. The multitude around the throne- different languages, and races and lives lived- all there.
And it’s so captivating he doesn’t even stop to wonder- why are THOSE people there? He’s in awe of what God is doing, calling us all children of God with a place. It’s not about us and “our” beloved- it’s about God who God loves.
And the number continues to grow and grow and the communion gets ever larger because there are no permanently broken souls beyond help-truly. Communion of the saints means we are given this privilege by God. And we are given a purpose.
We are given this vision and we are given words of faith that include saying we believe in this communion of the saints. The words we say in our Creed- our statement of faith. After speaking of God our Creator, and Christ our Redeemer, and the power and work of the Spirit, we say more. That we believe the church is holy- may it be holy when we are here. We say is it catholic- which is a way of saying united and we say we believe in the communion of the saints. That we are in communion with God in Christ and with the saints who have died and for whom God’s promises are made known. And we are in communion here and now-we are each of us, saints. Sinners to be sure, but also saints claimed as God’s children in our baptism. Given communion- a community, and a promise and a purpose. This too is communion of the saints.
Which is why it makes complete sense that after the funeral of a saint committed to criminal justice ministry, I was meeting with a family whose lives are in another part of the system as their son works and indeed labors to make changes and to be reunited with his loved ones.
I asked him what keeps him focused and helps his work and he of course mentioned his family. But the first word was “God.” And he shared with me that he keeps a tiny Bible in his pocket because it reminds him that God is always with him. And he thinks of his family and of this church. And then he shared the work of one of our saints here who, on her own had asked for his address and without waiting to be asked or seeing if anyone else was doing so, sent him a card and a care package. He was in awe, and I was too.
He received a card of encouragement and support and candy that he could share. Candy that helped him make friends with other boys there- and I imagine them all around that box sharing- and while some might look at them and see a group of sinners- God saw communion of the saints.
The gathering of those in this life around God and community is what we are given now to give us hope. Because in this life we labor and struggle, all of us. But God in Christ Jesus gives us communion and community- may it be what we sense each time we are here. Until that day when the thin places stay thin. We’re given these things so we too can be in awe of what God is doing right now and to not rest until everyone knows it.