Psalm 24; Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9 or Isaiah 25:6-9; Revelation 21:1-6a; John 11:32-44
ALL SAINTS’ DAY
Looking for some All Saints’ art? The Gubser triptych in our parish house entry surrounds Christ with 24 saints of all times and cultures, many of them painted from photos….
I don’t quite grasp what we mean when we stand on Sundays and Feast Days and, in the Nicene Creed, affirm we believe “in the communion of saints.” The people around me here and now praying for me, supporting me, correcting and occasionally chastising me, sure. The memories of individuals, many of them quotidian beyond belief but of fantastic importance to me, light up many a dark day: sure, get that too. But the “saints?” What has Francis of Assisi, dead these 800 years or so, to do with me? Or those obscure Christians whose names and crosses are carved into limestone fragments scattered across the hillsides of the Middle East, which was once a buzzing hive of monks and packed churches and now merely shows that the cities, and the culture they supported, are dust in the wind. Even the big ticket saints I’ve met fleetingly in life–Florence Tim-Oi Li (first woman priest in Anglicanism), John Paul II (no introductions needed, right?), Verna Dozier (18 pounds of spitfire calling everyone in earshot to listen to the Lord’s unrelenting demands to comfort His people, most especially the uncomforted), Hanan Ashrawi (a primary negotiator of the failed Palestinian-Israeli peace accords and fearless critic of corruption even from her own ‘team’). Met ’em, got photos with ’em, would they recognize humble me if they bumped me in the street? Doubt it. Communion with them? Only once or twice, on my knees at a rail.
I believe in it, but I don’t ‘understand’ it. And that, friends, is a lot of what belief is. The longing for something that’s not quite clear. For justice–whatever that looks like, surely more complex than my simple formulations. And mercy. For love, and strength, and compassion, and patience, and acceptance. I believe in those, but I could barely recognize them in the street if they bumped into me. Because they’re bigger, more complex, than I can see and understand. I can long for them and be bedazzled by them once they’ve passed me by, changing me forever. That’s the communion of saints, friends: it passes me by, now and again, and it changes me forever. And half the time I don’t even notice it while it’s doing so.
So yes, I believe in the communion of saints. Whatever that is. I’ll recognize it eventually, I suppose. And be glad it was there. And long for me, when it comes. In the meantime, I rely on memories and lean on dreams. Which aren’t quite communion, but are the building blocks which might, eventually, become communion.