Transcribed from the audio
In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today the Church observes All Saints. It’s an important feast day in our Church and observance of it goes back literally centuries. The first public observance of All Saints, that we know, dates back to 835 in the time of Pope Gregory IV. It’s a time for the Body of Christ to gather, to celebrate, and to remember the saints who’ve gone before, saints present, and saints yet to come. And as such, we do several really important things in our worship service this morning. In addition to gathering and worshiping and praising God, which we do every Sunday, today we remember, we initiate, and we renew.
We remember the saints who’ve gone before us and it’s a rather easy thing to do in this Cathedral church because we are literally surrounded in stone and window and song with remembrances of the saints. As you approach the Cathedral from the west front you encounter St. Peter and St. Paul for whom the Cathedral is named. As you come through those front doors and the Human Rights portico, you are reminded of the saints Rosa Parks, Oscar Romero, Eleanor Roosevelt, John Walker, Mother Teresa. Continuing in, you will encounter saints as diverse as Florence Nightingale, St. Teresa of Avila, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Howard Thurman, all saints that we celebrate in the church. But they are united by one thing; they were ordinary people who opened themselves up to God’s leading, direction, and empowerment to do extraordinary things. Mother Teresa said, “God did not call me to be successful; God called me to be faithful.” And so on this day we remember. We remember the saints and we find our place in that great cloud of witnesses and the community of saints.
In this service today we initiate. Victoria, Maddox, Evelyn, and Anna will be initiated into the Body of Christ—that great cloud of witnesses at their baptism which we all have an opportunity to participate in fully and joyfully, welcoming them into this centuries long tradition of the saints. They, too, become the newest saints in the Body of Christ, the Church, and in particular this Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul this morning. So we initiate.
We also renew. Within the baptismal service, we renew our own baptismal vows, reminding ourselves what we committed ourselves to, or someone on our behalf committed ourselves to, what it means to be a follower and a disciple of Christ. Louis Weil and Charles Price have said that “Baptism is not an insurance policy for salvation but rather a commitment to a radical lifestyle that’s different from that of this world.” A radical lifestyle as a follower of Christ. And if you don’t think that’s the case, re-read today’s gospel lesson; that’s radical. It’s known by some as Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain. In the Gospel of Matthew we know it as the Sermon on the Mount and it’s a long series of blessings. And in Luke’s Gospel it’s condensed; it’s also paired with the woes. Now some theologians refer to that as the blessings and the woes, the blessings and the curses. I prefer Barbara Brown Taylor’s characterization as the Beatitudes and the “woeitudes.” And I would have to tell you, dear friends, that most of us probably, in reality, live into needing to hear the “woeitudes.” We are fairly privileged in this life and we are called as followers of Christ to a radical lifestyle that is not of this world.
When we renew our vows we also remember that deep identity and belonging to that glorious Body of Christ. That became really crystal-clear for me a little over twenty years ago. My husband John and I went to the Holy Land on our honeymoon. I’d never been there before and I was so excited about the prospect of being in the land of the Holy One were Jesus was born and lived and moved and had his being—to be there, to touch the ground, to the smell the air, to see all those places that we read about in the Bible. And the second day that I was there a Christian guide from St. George’s College Jerusalem came to meet us. He was going to be our guide on this journey. He knew that I’d never been there before and when he met me he extended his hand, firmly took mine, and said, “Jan, welcome home.”
Welcome home, a place I’d never been. It was a revelatory moment for me: I understood that, in fact, that was my spiritual home. That was my deepest grounding and rootedness as a Christian. That yes, I was a very proud member of the Naylor family; I’d just married into the very proud family of the Cope family. But I am at my core, my deepest sense of identity and belonging, is as a Christian. It is through that lens that I experience everything else in my life. It is through that lens that I’m a Naylor, and a Cope, and whatever else I am—the Beatitudes and the “woeitudes.”
So, this morning, remember, participate in the initiation, renew. And to Victoria, Maddox, Evelyn, and Anna, welcome to this big new family you’re about to enter—the great communion of saints, the Body of Christ. May it be an extraordinary journey and a faithful one. Amen.