November 1, 2020 Devotional

Today is a different kind of day, at the time that I was beginning to put this
service together I didn’t know we would have people here, but that’s not what makes it
different. Yes, most of us may feel a little bit of extra energy because we got an extra hour
of sleep- but that’s not what makes it different. Yes, it is the day after Halloween and so
maybe some of us are still on a bit of a sugar high having eaten the candy we had planned
to share with children. But, Halloween exists in some fashion because of today. This is a
day that is traditionally called All Saints Day. In the early church it was known as All
Hallow’s Day, hallow meaning a person who has been made holy or a saint. Part of the
original celebration included vespers on Oct. 31st and ended with All Soul’s day on Nov. 2nd which commemorated everyone who had died. Perhaps some of you are familiar with
the traditions associated with this season in Latin America often called Dia de los
Muertos- the Day of the Dead. For us in the Reformed tradition All Saints Day is not
something we are used to celebrating or honouring. Yet, in one of my commentaries it
said, “All Saints Sunday is one of the most important of the special days in the Sundays
after Pentecost, but it may also be the most misunderstood.” For so many reasons, from the
fact that Nov. 1st falls on a Sunday this year, to the reality that many of us have grieved the
loss of a loved one during the pandemic but it has all been in private, without the usual personal and public supports and commemorations, to the fact that this is the first in-
person worship we have had since March 8th. I felt we needed to give space to recognize that today is All Saints Day. In the Roman Catholic tradition this is a day that
commemorates those who have attained sainthood or been canonized. But for us, we
believe in the sainthood of all believers, meaning that anyone who calls themselves a
Christian is a saint. And so today is a chance for us to acknowledge that we are saints but
also that we have lost some wonderful saints this year. Today’s service may involve some
emotion- give yourself permission to grieve.

This day also acknowledges that we believe that there is a powerful, even
spiritual, bond between those who have died and those who are living. Today is about
understanding the doctrine of the communion of saints. This is the idea that we are bound
together in a kind of spiritual union with one another. Both those of us living today and
those who have died are united to and in Christ forever. This is meant to bring us comfort
in the idea that time is an imperfect construct and in God’s perfect presence we are
surrounded by all those saints- our loved ones, our husbands and wives, our parents and grandparents, our ancestors, our friends, our classmates, our colleagues, our congregation
members from years gone by. We are surrounded in this ever present communion, a
sharing in common, with those who have gone before us. And we remember that we are
bound together with those who will come after us.

Paul often referred to those who were receiving his letters as “saints”. As I
mentioned, essentially a saint is a Christian. There certainly have been many outstanding
Christians over the millennia and often they receive the title of Saint- but within the
reformed tradition we are all saints. That’s a bit of a daunting thought, isn’t it- that we are
saints. Nancy Cocks in her all-ages service for All Saint’s Sunday suggests passing out
mirrors and asking those gathered, “Where would you look for a saint?” and then directs
them to look in the mirror and says, “You are looking at a saint! Everyone who follows
Jesus can look in a mirror and see a saint!” I grew up with the TV show Romper Room
and at the end of each episode Miss Betty would pull out the magic mirror and start to say
the names of those who were watching. It was always a glorious moment when every once
in awhile you heard your own name. Strangely, that’s kind of how I feel about the word
saint, both nervous and excited.

In the portion from the First letter of John that we heard this morning we hear
words of encouragement to a community that has been challenged by a split. We don’t
know the details as to why a schism has taken place but the disagreement has caused some
people to leave the church. So, the primary aim of this letter is to persuade the remaining
community that they can not give up. They must hold fast to their faith and the glue that
will hold the church together is God’s love which has bound them together into one family
as children of God. The author will use the title children of God six more times in this
book. What God has in mind for these children is not completely known, but the author is
sure that we who have God’s love will in the end become more like Christ. As children of
God we are all saints and we are bound together with those witnesses, those saints, that
have come before us and will come after us.
This is another aspect of understanding the communion of saints. It reminds us
that we have a continued relationship, a continued connectedness, with those who have
died. Rev. Tom Gordon actually ties that into grief, stating that essentially one of the
reasons we feel a loss is because we are inextricably linked with those who have died. In
the loss and separation of a death we also feel a continued union and influence with those
who have died.
Every time I walk past her former house I think of Jean Stamm’s wit and
ingenuity. I think of the visits we had and how she told me she had fixed the bumper of her
car with a blow drier after looking up the solution on Youtube, not bad for a woman in her 90s. I have thought often of Des Hagarty’s laughter and grace. He would share insights
from his experience in the Moravian church and I often used liturgy in our services that he
had shared with me. David Friesen and I would often read the psalms together and he
shared how it was the psalms that helped him through some tough times. Week after week
I miss the thumbs up I would receive from Bob Taylor after every service as I processed
down the aisle. He was always generous in his words of encouragement. Every summer I
enjoyed a visit over homegrown and homemade blueberry scones with June McLeod. I
tried to make my own this year and they were a disaster. She had an incredible knack for
hospitality. And Bob Cunningham had a smile that would make anyone feel welcome. It
was amazing how he could minister to the care aids and nurses even when he could no
longer put a sentence together. And I know that many of us have lost other family
members and friends during this challenging year, some where expected and others just
shocked us- regardless we have not been able to honour them as we would like- we haven’t
even been able to hug one another for support. And yet, through the communion of saints
we are bound together. God’s love surpasses the restrictions of time and space.
I once read that the Book of Revelation is like an epic poem and like most poetry
it is not easy to interpret.

We heard one of the more accessible passages in Revelation as the sixth seal is opened and there is a great multitude of people- from every nation, tribe, and language and they are worshipping together. It is this incredible image of a heavenly community gathered around God and free to be who they are that helps me understand the communion of saints. But notice that it says that the multitude was so great that it could not be counted. This suggests that this gathering is incomplete, in that it is waiting for all the saints. Rev. Gordon says, “God’s grace and mercy is still calling God’s own to God.”

The story is not over yet- even in the Book of Revelation. This means again that we are
drawn into this connection with our friends and family that have gone before us.
It may feel like our grief is on hold. We hope that some day we can come together and
mark how the lives of those who died have touched our lives. But know that in this great
communion of saints we are interconnected, woven together in an unfinished tapestry,
because just as they have been saints in our lives, we are called to be saints in the lives of
those around us.

I want to close with a poem by Ruth Burgess entitled, ‘We Are Part of Each other,’

Those who have died live in their friends and families;
those who have died live in you;
those who have died live in me.
Living and dying we are part of each other,
touched by eternity,
circled in love.