Saturday, November 3, 2018

The Communion Of Saints: The Mystical Church

All Saints Service Year B 2018

Fr. Dale Matson
The Communion Of Saints: The Mystical Church

My homily today is based on the opening Collect and the First 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.”
There is also a Collect for All Souls Day or as we Anglicans call it, “Commemoration of the Faithful Departed”. “O God, the Maker and Redeemer of all believers: Grant to the faithful departed the unsearchable benefits of the passion of your Son; that on the day of his appearing they may be manifested as your children; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever. Amen.
I think there is a God inspired example of the eternal now of God’s Kingdom that we will celebrate a baptism on All Saints Day since it is one of the four days of the church year most appropriate for baptism. We are celebrating both the Saints of the church over 2,000 years with “All Saints Day”, We are including the faithful departed Christians and we are celebrating Caleb as he is baptized into the body of Christ, the church. We say prayers of intersession for both the departed Christians and those who are just arriving through baptism. The African proverb states, “It takes a village to raise a child.” I would add that it takes a church to raise a saint. Later, during the baptism, we in the congregation will answer this question from Fr. Carlos. “The Celebrant then addresses the congregation, first inviting them to stand. ‘Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support Caleb in his life in Christ?’ Answer, We will.”
“Masses are said for those ‘who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith.’ The sign, of course, is the sign of the Cross, marked on a child’s head by parents and godparents as each new Christian is welcomed into the Church. That sign is marked one last time as the priest anoints a departing soul ready to meet his or her Maker when He calls.”
“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."
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.
However, the modern church has separated itself from deceased ancestors and has 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. Sharon and I saw the robe, full of patches worn by St. Francis on display in the Basilica of St. Clare in Assisi. Sometimes the saintly relic is the body or a part of the body of the saint that resides in the church. For example, the remains of St. Francis are buried under the altar in the Assisi Cathedral. 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 miters 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”.
            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. While it is clear that the Calvinists who strongly influenced the 39 articles were against praying for the dead., the practice of prayer for the dead is practiced in the Anglican Church.
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.”
            I also want to include this passage from the Apocrypha. We sometimes include passages from the apocrypha in our lectionary readings.
[2 Maccabees 12:44-46 (DRA)]
44 “(For if he had not hoped that they that were slain should rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead,) 45 And because he considered that they who had fallen asleep with godliness, had great grace laid up for them. 46 It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.” This passage is important for two reasons. Many of the Jews other than the Sadducees, believed in the resurrection of the dead. They believed it was good to pray for their dead.
            During the Great Thanksgiving in our liturgy, the Priest states, “…And at the last day, bring us with all your saints into the joy of your eternal kingdom.” As I say these words, I often think particularly of my beloved parents who I hope to see again and it is a powerful moment for me. My sole inheritance from my mother is her red leather-bound Schofield Bible. Her notes in the margin were a testament to her studies.  As I think about it, most everyone here has lost someone close to them whether this is a personal friend, parent, grandparent, sibling, cousin, spouse, child or mentor. One of them is probably the reason you are here today. You are their Christian legacy. They were what St. Paul called “Living letters” (2 Corinthians 3:3).
            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?
             And from our First 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 to 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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