All Saints Day (C): The Company of Blessing
By: The Rev. Andrew J. Hege
Could a more appropriate Gospel text be appointed for All Saints Day? These verses from Luke’s Gospel offer us as readers both a lens through which to remember the saints of God of the distant past and a blueprint for identifying the saints living among us in the present day.
“Blessed are those who are poor…”
“Blessed are those who are hungry now…”
“Blessed are you who weep now…”
“Blessed are you when people hate you, when people exclude you…”
The Christian tradition is one filled with individuals who have expressed prodigious and inspiring faith, often when confronted with the direst of circumstances. For each of them, such faith came at a cost; for many, it came at the expense of their lives. Their stories of proclaiming the good news in the midst of poverty and hunger, sorrow and persecution are narratives that can inspire us all, individually and collectively, to be the people God has called us to be in this present moment.
Last year, one individual in my parish remarked that All Saints is a good day to “preach the windows.” Indeed, many of us are blessed with sacred spaces that help us to commemorate the lives of the faithful followers of Jesus who have lived in years now long in the past. All Saints Sunday is the perfect moment to remember the faithful of the generations gone by, those who are known to all and especially those whose stories so often get overlooked.
As an example, it might be helpful for a congregation to hear about a woman named Cecilia of Rome. In the early third century, she was converted to Christianity along with her husband and his brother. Ultimately, the two men were executed for their conversion and while, Cecilia was burying them, she also was killed for her faith. They are saints and martyrs, steadfast in the face of those who treated them and the faith that they had embraced with a fiery hatred.
Or, it might be good for a congregation to consider the life of a man such as Jonathan Myrick Daniels, an Episcopal seminarian who was murdered in Alabama in August 1965. Daniels, a white man, had ventured to Alabama to be a voice for those who were poor and weeping, beaten down by a system that did not value them as fully human because of their race. Daniels gave voice to the voiceless, even as his body was carried to the grave.
Or, a congregation can celebrate the newly canonized Saint Teresa of Calcutta. Sometimes known as the “saint of the gutters,” Teresa devoted her life to the poor who had been cast to the furthest margins of humanity. Her work among the hungry and the weeping has been chronicled across the globe in the second half of the twentieth century with images that give a face to those who might otherwise have been forgotten.
All Saints Sunday might also be a good occasion to remember those more familiar narratives, the stories of the first apostles or patrons of particular denominational identities. Each of these accounts has so much to offer the people of God whose roots are deep and strong.
However, if All Saints Day is nothing more than a remembrance of those blessed ones confined to the distant past, then we miss much of its power. A serious consideration of the saints must invite all of us to look for the holy ones in this present moment.
In many of our faith communities, this day will be one that calls to mind those who have died in recent days, friends and family members and faithful congregants whose lives no longer enrich our daily existence. But, even more, who and where are the living saints in our midst?
Jesus points us toward those among us who are poor, those who are hungry, those who are weeping, and those who have been hated, excluded, reviled, and defamed.
The nameless woman at the busy intersection who greets you each morning with her story written on a torn piece of scrap cardboard. She is a saint.
The young boy living just a few streets over who went to bed with an empty stomach because his family was forced to choose between buying food and paying a bill. He is a saint.
The spouse of fifty years that never imagined her life without her beloved one who died suddenly and without warning last year. She is a saint.
The man who fled his home with his family in search of a land free from war only to be cast aside because of the color of his skin and the name he calls God. He is a saint.
These are the blessed ones in our midst. These are the holy ones who are drawing us forth from the comforts of riches and pleasure to the margins of pain and suffering, to the places where the good news is most readily in need of proclamation. It is in these margins that we discover the heart of holiness, the very core of what it means to be blessed, to live a life of saintly proportion. And it is to these margins that Jesus bids all the people of God.
To go there requires us also to listen intently to the “woes” of this passage and to honestly take stock of our own lives.
“But woe to you who are rich…”
“Woe to you who are full now…”
“Woe to you who are laughing…”
“Woe to you when all speak well of you…”
The treasures and privileges available to some have the potential to so cloud our vision that we fail to see true blessedness, the holiness that hides in the hurts and hunger of this world God has brought into being.
Reading this passage from Luke’s Gospel on All Saints Sunday invites each of us to look deep into the rich heritage of our faith. In that inheritance, we discover again the lives of the faithful who have been bearers of the good news in their own day.
But, even more, this passage opens our eyes to the saints alive and living among us—the poor, the hungry, the sorrowful, and the cast aside—so that we might have the faith to join their company of blessing.
The Rev. Andrew J. Hege serves as the Assistant to the Rector at The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Lexington, Kentucky. Born and raised in Thomasville, North Carolina, he is a graduate of Montreat College, Wake Forest University School of Divinity, and Virginia Theological Seminary. Andrew is an ardent golfer, occasional runner, and an avid reader of historical fiction. Ordained a priest in January 2015, Andrew is married to Amanda Schroeder Hege.