Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Communion Of Saints

All Saints Service IC2016

Fr. Dale Matson
The Communion Of Saints

My homily today is based on the opening Collect, the Old Testament Lesson and the Epistle Lesson.
Our opening Collect states, “Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.”
From a portion of our reading from Ecclesiasticus we hear these passages, “Let us now sing the praises of famous men, our ancestors in their generations. The Lord apportioned to them great glory, his majesty from the beginning…. these also were godly men, whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten; their offspring will continue forever, and their glory will never be blotted out. Their bodies are buried in peace, but their name lives on generation after generation.”
“The Hallowmas season is the triduum encompassing the Western Christian observances of All Saints' Eve (Halloween), All Saints' Day (All Hallows') and All Souls' Day, which last from October 31 to November 2 annually. Allhallowtide is a "time to remember the dead, including martyrs, saints, and all faithful departed Christians." The present date of Hallowmas (All Saints' Day) and thus also of its vigil (Halloween) was established by Pope Gregory.” Hallowmas season reminds us of the Easter triduum that is also a three-day celebration beginning with Maundy Thursday, Holy Saturday and finishing with Easter Sunday.
Hallowmas season is where the One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church celebrates the eternal and mystical “Now” of God’s Kingdom. We are primarily looking back at brothers and sisters who came before. It is where we remember those who rest in Christ. It was they who handed us the pure and undefiled Gospel by which we too have been saved. They are partly responsible for the faith we hold and defend today. The church has always recognized the importance and celebrated the death of martyrs such as John The Baptist, Steven and Paul. There were so many Christian martyrs however that the church developed a specific day to honor all the saints in addition to those saints who had specific days set aside to honor them in the church year. The church calendar days that honor martyrs are marked in red.
We are the church militant looking back to those whose souls now reside in the church triumphant. We have separated ourselves from deceased ancestors in the modern church and have been the poorer for it. When you think of old churchyards, you think of graves too. Relics of the saints are objects associated with the saints and often displayed in churches. St. Andrews Scotland is said to have the bones of St. Andrews buried in a monastery cemetery. The Shroud of Turin is reported to be the burial cloth of Christ and is located in the Cathedral of John the Baptist. Sometimes the saintly relic is the body of the saint that resides in the church. For example, the remains of St. Francis are buried under the altar. There are also what is called the “Incorruptibles”. The Incorruptibles are saints on full display in churches and remain as they were at the moment of death. Sharon and I saw the ring finger of St. Teresa of Avila on display at her convent with her ring on it. In the Cathedrals of Europe, the red mitres of the past Cardinals are hung from the rotundas.   While we shy away from such veneration of relics today, it occurred to me that we should have a photograph of Bishop Schofield on display when we have our own location. John and Cathy Downing filmed a two-hour interview I conducted with Bishop Schofield available on CD. I guess this is our “digital relic”.
All Souls Day is the final service in the Triduum of Hallowmas. In Anglicanism it is called Commemoration of All Faithful Departed and is an optional celebration; Anglicans view All Souls' Day as an extension of the observance of All Saints' Day and it serves to "remember those who have died", in connection with the theological doctrines of the resurrection of the body and the Communion of Saints. The prayers appointed for that day remind us that we are joined with the Communion of Saints, that great group of Christians who have finished their earthly life and with who we share the hope of resurrection from the dead.
            But Father Dale, when we remember those who have died we don’t pray for them do we? The Protestant reformation focused on the prayer for the church militant and not the church triumphant. Archbishop Cranmer’s first prayer book (1549) contains the following prayer for the dead.  ‘Grant unto them, we beseech thee, thy mercy and everlasting peace’. The 39 articles were not adopted until 1563, the articles served to define the doctrine of the Church of England as it related to Calvinist doctrine and Roman Catholic practice. It is clear that the Calvinists who strongly influenced the 39 articles were against praying for the dead.
            Yet the practice of prayer for the dead is practiced in the Anglican Church. It began to be practiced again as a result of the horrors of WWI. More recently, at the funeral of Princess Diana Archbishop Carey prayed, “May she rest in peace where sorrow and pain are banished, and may the everlasting light of your merciful love shine upon her; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.” The Church of England under Archbishop Rowan Williams on the 10th anniversary of her death issued this same prayer.
            In the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, Rite I Prayers of the People, we pray, “And we also bless thy holy Name for all thy servants departed this life in thy faith and fear beseeching thee to grant them continual growth in thy love and service; and to grant us grace so to follow the good examples of all thy saints, that with them we may be partakers of thy heavenly kingdom. In Rite II we have six different versions of the Prayers of the People and all of them include prayers for the dead. In our Rite II funeral service we pray this prayer. “O God, whose mercies cannot be numbered: Accept our prayers on behalf of your servant and grant him an entrance into the land of light and joy, in the fellowship of your saints; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.”
            We are told that anything we ask in Christ’s name will be granted. We are told to come before the throne of grace boldly. We are told to be intercessors for others. I believe that in this case as Anglicans, we are guided by Tradition and the Church Universal has been praying for the dead for two millennia.  I read this comment regarding an article on prayer for the dead. “If someone has what seems to be a horrible death, I think most of us are moved to pray that God was with them and that their suffering may not have been too great, which is praying for the dead for sure, and even believing God can act in the past, which he can.”
            There is also reciprocity in us interceding for the dead and the Saints interceding for us. How many here remember our use of the Litany of the Saints at Easter Vigil and for All Saints Day when John David was Bishop?
            Some of you may remember an atheist who has been one of my closest friends of over 50 years, Dr. Phil Mariotti.  I have used him in a number of my sermons about evangelism and reconciliation. Phil talked with me two weeks ago and ended by saying, “I love you.” Last week his wife Susan called to say Phil had died from a heart attack. I was his only friend.
Our friendship survived two difficulties. When I came back to Christ and witnessed to him about my need for Christ, I think Phil was disappointed in me. I’m sure he thought it was a weakness and a delusion. Unbelief had been a long shared mutual perspective. Being a Christian created a distance for a time. Being a Christian changes relationships and ended another close friendship. The second crisis was when I quit drinking. I sent him a letter expressing my concern for his drinking. I struggled with sending the letter but finally mailed it. There was a long period with no response. I was concerned that perhaps I had been too confrontational about it. As it turned out, he finally did respond and said he would not allow my letter to threaten a lifelong friendship. In a conversation, I told Phil about a vision of Christ I had experienced at the end of the Eucharist. He remembered and recounted another vision that I had told him about. I said I would take some time to sort this out.
The point of this story is to offer hope to those of you who have a burden on your heart that God has placed there for an individual in your life. I believe that God was involved in preparing Phil’s heart for Christ his whole life. I also believe that Phil was correctly convinced that me, his lifelong friend was not diminished by my relationship to Christ but transcended both a miserable and an ordinary life because of Christ. Like any good scientist, Phil had the longitudinal evidence for this.
Phil was not always good at getting closure on things. God had prepared his heart for reconciliation with his sons Steve and Mike and his brother David and he had intended to do that. I know that Phil’s stony heart had become a heart of flesh and that God would honor this change of heart. His unexpected heart attack was also a metaphor for this.
And from our Epistle lesson we hear, “After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!" And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, singing, "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
There is no shelf life for prayers. Maybe your prayers for the salvation of one of your children will be answered after you have passed on. I would like you to think about someone in your life that God has put on your heart. The time to witness to them is now. Now is the acceptable time. For those who have been witnessing, don’t be discouraged…. persist.  For those you know who have passed, I don’t believe the opportunity is lost either. For those of you who have not reconciled I ask you pray for that person that you may also forgive them. It’s not too late. God’s Kingdom is the eternal now.
Our proper preface today is, “Almighty God, you have surrounded us with a great cloud of witnesses: Grant that we, encouraged by the good example of your servant may persevere in running the race that is set before us, until at last we may with him attain to your eternal joy; through Jesus Christ, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.”


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