Listen to the sermon here.
Today we celebrate All Saints’ Day. And when we say All Saints’ Day, we mean Allll Saints’ Day. We don’t just celebrate Mother Theresa and Hildegard, we celebrate all those Christians who have lived and died before us, and who now have—in the words of our Ephesians reading today—received their inheritance and have been redeemed by God.
All Saints Day can be a sad day, as we remember people we dearly loved who have died in the last year. We read their names and we think of them fondly and wish they were still with us, but that grief is just the beginning of what God has for us on this day. This day is a celebratory, victorious day that reminds us of who God is and who we are.
The book of Ephesians reminds us that God has adopted us as his children. Not only has he adopted us as his children, but he also gives us an inheritance. Now, usually, inheritance is where grief gets really tricky. Usually the person who has died has set aside some money for the people he or she loves, but in the worst case scenarios, there is a real sense of competition, as if the inheritance was a prize. People sue each other, even commit murder, all in an attempt to get what they think of as theirs. More than one family has fallen apart for a time over hurt feelings related to an inheritance.
Well, in New Testament times, inheritance worked a little differently. Generally only one child was chosen to receive the family inheritance and that child was almost always a son, and usually the elder son. Other children had to hope their older sibling was generous and would look after them.
So, when early Christians read this passage in Ephesians, they were blown away! God doesn’t just choose Jesus to receive his inheritance. In fact, God doesn’t just choose the best or the oldest believers to receive his inheritance. Nope, God offers all of us his inheritance.
And while a parent may offer us a trust fund or a house or a beloved piece of furniture as an inheritance, God offers us redemption as our inheritance. We become God’s people, we go from being estranged to being in relationship. And when we die, we don’t just die, we join other saints and angels and archangels in the very presence of God.
So yes, on All Saints’ Day we mourn those who have gone before us, but we also celebrate that they have moved on to a new stage in their journey, where they are at one with the God who created them and who loves them.
The Saints who have gone on before us were specific individuals who we knew and loved, but they also become symbols for us. They remind us of the meaning that can be found mixed in with the struggle of life. They remind us that we share in the same inheritance. That we, too, are claimed by God.
They also remind us that we don’t have to wait until we die to start behaving like we’re God’s children. The moment we are baptized we become part of the community of Saints. We become people who belong to God’s family and God invites us to help make his Kingdom apparent not just in the metaphysical realm, but right here on earth, too.
In the Kingdom of God the poor rule, the meek inherit, the weeping laugh. We are called to start making the Kingdom a reality as we go about our own lives. The saints urge us onward as we live lives oriented to the reality that God is real and makes a difference in the world.
The saints offer us hope that when the world seems ugly and corrupt and filled with violence, God is still at work in the midst of the darkness, using members of his Kingdom to bring beauty and justice and peace.
When you teach a child about God, when you participate in a Done in a Day project, or help with Rummage, or give glory to God by singing in the choir, you help build the Kingdom of God. When you serve God by loving your coworkers, being kind to outsiders, welcoming newcomers, you help build the Kingdom of God. When you support Housing Initiatives of Princeton, and Trenton After School Program and the Crisis Ministry, you help build the Kingdom of God.
The Saints who have gone before us were not superheroes. When you look at the list in our bulletin today, none of our parish family that died this year ever miraculously healed someone or raised anyone from the dead. But they were people of faith, and many of them showed us what it means to live the quiet life of a saint through their dedication to God, love for their families and communities, generosity of spirit and dignity and determination through adversity and illness.
Today we give thanks for them, and we honor their memory by trying to walk in their shoes. Amen.