All Saints’ Day(B): Living, Breathing Saints

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By: The Rev. Dr. Lori Walke

The Gospel lesson today is another one of those times where what Jesus does in a story is impossible for us to replicate. It falls under the same category as walking on water, opening the eyes of the blind, and restoring hearing to the deaf. There are just some things that Jesus did that we cannot do. Imagine, for instance, being at a funeral service and attempting to answer the question, “What would Jesus do?” based on this story. Who among us is willing to try to raise the dead? It is likely there would be no volunteers to make the first attempt, much less have a second go at it upon initial failure.

But of course, few (maybe none?) of us have ever witnessed anyone earnestly trying to raise someone from the dead. The dead are dead. We simply cannot do what Jesus did in this situation. Even pastors, who some might think have special training or at least a better chance, do not know these trade secrets. This is not covered in seminary (among other things, like church finances or how to avoid fights over the color of the carpet in the sanctuary).

As we consider this story in the context of All Saints Day, we might admit that we usually feel the same way about those we have named as saints. It is common to understand saints as a “special class of believers.” This is true even for those in traditions that do not award sainthood posthumously, after a formal ecclesiastical process. Saints have an “extra something” that the rest of us are missing. We simply cannot live up to their standard. They are saints, and we are not.

But in the New Testament, we find a different understanding of saints – they are living, breathing, active believers, and sometimes named as whole faith communities (i.e., Acts 9:13, 1 Corinthians 1:2, and Ephesians 4:12). They are ordinary Christians doing the work of building the kingdom of God on earth. Saint comes from the Latin word sanctus or holy. The basic definition of holy is “dedicated to God.” Saints, then, are people dedicated to God.

Even if we were to read the text without layering on developed doctrine, traditional teachings, or creeds regarding divinity, we would likely describe Jesus as a saint. Why? Well, the obvious answer is that he raised Lazarus from the dead.

But it could be for other reasons.  

Leaning into the New Testament’s description of saint(s), we might reread the passage and reconsider what makes Jesus a saint. Perhaps it is because he showed empathy: “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved . . . Jesus began to weep.” In a world where we are taught to keep a stiff upper lip and to “never let ‘em see you cry,” mourning with one another is a radical act.

Study the passage with an eye towards seeing the “ordinary” as “extraordinary.” In doing so, the powerful acts of Jesus expand far beyond raising Lazarus from the dead. When Mary expresses disappointment (and anger?) in Jesus, he does not leave in a huff. He understands she is grieving. Jesus also does not pack up and move out upon hearing that Lazarus is dead. Instead, he moves towards death, closer to people who have big feelings, and nearer to that which was considered unclean and untouchable. These actions are certainly profound, but none of them require divinity or special ecclesiastical dispensation. What else might be included.

Suddenly, in situations that might have before seemed like there was nothing to be done, the act of showing up takes on the quality of remarkable. It may scare us to know that we really can seriously ask, “What would Jesus do?” and be able to realistically model his actions, since they do not necessarily require superpowers. Not all will hear this as good news.

Hopefully, this understanding is also empowering. There is so much more we can do to respond faithfully in any given situation when we stop thinking that we need a superhero cape.

Happy All Saints Day, indeed.

The Rev. Dr. Lori Walke, J.D., is the senior pastor of Mayflower Congregational UCC Church, a graduate of Oklahoma State University, Oklahoma City University School of Law, Phillips Theological Seminary, and Emory University. She was once described as a loose cannon. Lori is married to Collin Walke, an attorney and State Representative for House District 87, and together the “Rev & the Rep” try to make as much trouble in the name of Jesus and justice as they can.

All Saints’ Day(A): Holy! Holy! Holy!

All Saints’ Day(A): Holy! Holy! Holy!

Revelation 7:9 – 17

The Rev. Charles Lane Cowen

There’s a meme going around right now that makes me howl with laughter every time I see it. I feel like this woman and I are kindred spirits trying to figure out just what the heck is going on in the world and when it will be back to a semblance of normalcy.

This year we’ve dealt with a pandemic, hurricanes, wildfires, murder hornets, the death of Justice Ginsburg, political turmoil, economic turmoil, online church, and even the cancelation of our favorite summertime trash tv reality shows (RIP Bachelor in Paradise). Parents and teachers struggle to know how to care for their children, pastors struggle to know how to care for their parishioners, and none of us knows completely what the future holds. This certainly feels like the four horsemen of the apocalypse are riding into town, and we’re all doomed.

The struggles we are enduring are real, and the emotional, mental, and physical effects of those struggles also are real. I do not in any way want to downplay this reality through humor. I do, however, think that humor offers us a way to see that we are united in our struggles, and we are united in our mutual care for one another as we maneuver the challenges of what often seems like impending doom.

The Revelation to John often gets a bad rap as a book about doom and gloom. Indeed, there are horrific images in this text that are cause for fear. When we read the text as a whole, however, we see that the prevailing image throughout is one of hope—hope for a bright future in the presence of a God who never forsakes us. New Testament scholar Michael Gorman summarizes Revelation as “a theopoetic, theopolitical, pastoral-prophetic writing. It is above all a community-forming document, intended to shape communities of believers in Jesus as the Lamb of God into more faithful and missional communities of uncivil worship and witness.”[1]

Gorman’s focus on the communal and political-boundary-crushing nature of Revelation comes right out of today’s appointed lesson. John has a vision not just of the Johannine community gathered around the throne of God, but of “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Rev 7:9 NRSV). The fullness of God’s kingdom only may be realized when everyone has a seat at the table. The Johannine texts present Jesus as the one who brings the Gentiles into relationship with the God of Israel, and we, as followers of Jesus, are called to proclaim that good news to all the world. Divisions end, and unity is found in God.

This proclamation links us completely to those who have come before. This text becomes appropriate for the feast of All Saints not only because it depicts a life after death, but because it’s fullness hinges upon the Good News of Jesus Christ as it has been handed down to us through the centuries by those who came before us and will continue to be proclaimed by us and those who come after us. Revelation reveals to us a reality beyond ourselves that we are called to share.

John sees this vision of the whole world praising God, and he is unclear exactly who they are. One of the elders provides this description: “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (7:14). The “great ordeal” generally is interpreted to mean persecution and those who have come through it the martyrs. I accept this interpretation fully, and I also think we need not limit the vision only to the martyrs. Martyrdom is the fullest form of following the example of Jesus who “also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God” (Eph 5:2 KJV), but it is not the only form.

For those of us who have led worship in empty churches, for those who have faithfully attended church from their living rooms, to those who have kept daily prayers, to those who have lost jobs, freedoms, and loved ones to the pandemic, to all of those who go through our own great ordeal in 2020, God offers a vision and promise of community where no one is left out.

The woman in the meme looking to see what chapter of Revelation we’re doing today understands that the fullness of God’s kingdom only comes after many trials and tribulations. Jesus himself cried out from the cross the words of Psalm 22: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Out of that anguish and feeling of abandonment, Jesus suffered death, descended to the dead, was resurrected on the third day, and now sits at the right hand of God.

It is easy to live through this time of great suffering and feel like God has abandoned us. What today’s lesson can teach us is that suffering and death are not the end. They are symptoms of a sinful world crying out for healing. When we look to the wisdom of the saints in glory, we see the great cloud of witnesses who also suffered and now rally around the throne of God crying out, “Holy, holy, holy!” And that’s a vision worth sharing.

The Rev. Charles Lane Cowen is Associate Rector of Trinity Episcopal Parish (Trinity and Old Swedes) in Wilmington, Delaware. He has a passion for studying feminist and queer readings of the Bible with a particular interest in the Pauline epistles. Charles spent over a decade as a professional actor, puppeteer, and director before completing his M.Div. at Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas. He loves being in nature and learning new cooking techniques.

[1] Gorman, Michael J.. Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb into the New Creation (Kindle Locations 4211-4214). Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.

All Saints’ Day (C): Blessed Are You, Holy and Living One

All Saints’ Day (C): Blessed Are You, Holy and Living One

Luke 6:20-31

By: The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews

At the time of writing, our Jewish siblings are celebrating the High Holidays. They’ve welcomed the New Year by lighting candles saying, “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to kindle the Yom Tov light.” They’ve given thanks that they’ve again made it to this season, “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has kept us alive and sustained us and brought us to this holiday season.”[1]

Weekly at Shabbat they pray, “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has brought forth bread from the earth.” This may be familiar to Christians from certain traditions, “Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this bread to offer, which earth has given and human hands have made. It will become for us the bread of life.” In my tradition, Eucharistic Prayer 1 from Enriching Our Worship reads (after the Sanctus), “Blessed are you, gracious God, creator of the universe and giver of life. You formed us in your own image and called us to dwell in your infinite love.” Throughout Judaism and Christianity, humankind looks at ways of blessing God for what God has done — but the blessing is active. “Blessed are you…”

This is the language Jesus uses in the beatitudes: Blessed are you who are poor, hungry, weeping, and hated. In these conditions, the ones who are wearied by the changes and chances of life are currently being blessed. As a comfort to them, Jesus makes promises to them: you will be filled, you will have God’s reign, you will laugh, you will be rewarded in heaven. There is waiting to be done, but the blessing is active and present, like God’s commands at creation.

In this text, Luke does a few things differently than the beatitudes from Matthew that are on bookmarks and plastered on children’s Sunday school walls. Luke’s beatitudes, like much of his Gospel, are earthy. These aren’t the poor in spirit; these are the poor. These aren’t those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; these are those who are hungry. While Matthew’s beatitudes can easily read as a list of things to strive for (peacemaking, meekness, showing mercy), Luke’s speak to the reality of the human condition on the margins of society: hungry, poor, weeping, and persecuted.

Luke doesn’t stop at offering blessings for those society despises. Jesus in this passage continues his message of justice — divine, cosmic justice against agents of empire and oppression, those who puff themselves up and enable income inequality. During Jesus’ Discourse on a Plain (versus the Sermon on the Mount), Jesus offers woes. “Woe to you who are rich, hungry, and laughing! This won’t last!”

The contrast between the blessings and the woes reiterates that Jesus has come into the world to cast down the mighty from their thrones and to lift up the lowly. This has been one of Luke’s messages since Chapter 1. Not only are the afflicted comforted during this Discourse on the Plain, Jesus warns of affliction for the comfortable. When embracing any narrative about the goodness of wealth — from religious or political leaders — Jesus’ warning of woe could not be clearer: “woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.”

The Matthean Beatitudes are the history text for All Saints’ Day. The Revised Common Lectionary maintains that for Year A, and Luke’s for Year C. In Year B, the gospel text for All Saints’ Day is the raising of Lazarus. All three texts speak to God’s command over death and what is to come — from giving the earth to the meek to commanding Lazarus to come out to proclaiming that the full will be hungry later on. They also speak to the lives of the saints. Historically, All Saints’ Day commemorates those whom the Church has set aside for looking to as exemplars of the faith — those who hungered and thirsted (sometimes for righteousness sake, sometimes not) and have now, in God’s hand, gotten their fill.

All Saints’ Sunday celebrations often merge together All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. A friend likes to quip that All Saints celebrates Mary of Bethany and All Souls celebrates Great Aunt Mary, a True Christian. Although this distinction is often elided — particularly in traditions who understand sainthood coming by virtue of baptism — the Gospel texts for all three years speak of God’s salvation for God’s saints, especially those on the margins and with little control of their lives. The gospel texts for All Saints’ Day gives at least an eschatological hope to the hungry, the poor, the weeping, and the persecuted.

This may be an important them to highlight on All Saints’ Sunday because of how it serves as a hinge in the liturgical year. Although there are still three Sundays before Advent, the intervening texts’ themes are apocalyptic. At All Saints, the church starts proclaiming God’s restoration for all creation, which it will begin to actively emphasize in Advent.

The Gospel text for All Saints’ Day is one that speaks of blessings and woes, themes that will continue for the rest of the month until some in my tradition, on the first Sunday of Advent, begin their services again with blessing God: Blessed are you, holy and living One. You come to your people and set them free.


The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews (@josephpmathews) is the vicar of St. Hilda-St. Patrick Episcopal Church in Edmonds, Washington. He is an avid trivia goer and reader of both novels and non-fiction and subscribes to over 20 podcasts — which he tries to keep up on. He and his husband Brandon welcomed their first child, Christopher Brandon, on October 18, so he is currently on family leave. All Saints Sunday is his favorite Principal Feast.

All Saints’ Day (B): Love Stronger Than Death

All Saints’ Day (B): Love Stronger Than Death

John 11:32-44

By: Ryan Young

The story of Jesus raising Lazarus is, I think, one of the most difficult pieces of scripture in the context of All Saints’ Sunday. It is the story of Jesus raising one of his friends from the dead, and we are supposed to preach this to a congregation, many of whom are dealing with the recent passing of loved ones who will not be returning any time soon. I will never forget the intense anger at God almost universally voiced by patients with whom I spent sleepless nights as a chaplain at Emory Hospital (to be sure, members of my current congregation experience the same, but it seems that people are more apt to voice those thoughts to a stranger). In the face of that anger, hurt, and confusion I am supposed to offer a story wherein Jesus overcame Lazarus’ death in a way that he did not for their loved ones?


Yes, because this story offers us the identity of Jesus. Just prior to this snippet, in verse 25, Jesus claims, “I am the resurrection and the life.” In raising Lazarus, that identity is fully revealed. It is God alone who holds power over life and death, and by exhibiting that power, Jesus is shown to be God incarnate.

By raising Lazarus, Jesus exhibits his power over death. By being raised himself, he will exhibit his victory over it. These two events cannot be separated in the Fourth Gospel. It is in fact Jesus’ raising of Lazarus that precipitated the final decision to kill Jesus (vv. 45-53). Jesus’ death is an expression of the measure of love that God has for creation, and his resurrection should convince us that the love of God will not be overcome. Moreover, this love leads Jesus to extend power over death to all who choose to accept it, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” (vv.24-26) In other words, because of Jesus’ power expressed both in raising Lazarus and in his own resurrection, Christians are able to experience death differently.

Two years ago, I broke down during an Ash Wednesday service. The youth from the church had been sitting together and had all just come forward together to receive the imposition of ashes and to kneel for prayer at the altar. As our senior pastor proclaimed with each child, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you will return,” the truth of the service weighed heavily upon me—each of these children would die. My own child, with whom my wife was pregnant at the time, would also die one day. It is a truth that I could not bear then, and if I am honest it is a thought that I still have trouble entertaining for long. I think that is a sign that the Church has failed in one of its tasks. In my experience we do not talk much about death outside of a few special days each year, indeed unless you came to a Good Friday or All Saints’ service you may wonder what, if anything, Christians have to say about dying. In avoiding the subject of death, perhaps the Church has given the perception that the power of death is indeed stronger than God’s love.

Perhaps one of the reasons we are reluctant to talk about death is that we grasp so little about resurrection. Death seems to final and resurrection so ambiguous. Is it a bodily resurrection? Spiritual? Is it an eschatological hope, or might some on odd occasion share in Lazarus’ experience? If I’m being completely honest, I can’t tell you with any certainty. I’ve recently been listening to the audiobook version of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. To be clear, I am not intelligent enough to understand a third of the book, however I have always found Dr. Tyson to be a fascinating and engaging personality—as an added bonus, his voice puts my fussy one-year-old right to sleep. Near the beginning of the book, Tyson says that, “The universe is under no obligation to make sense to you.” This simple pronouncement recalled a truth I have always known. Mystery is baked into the fabric of existence. While not a theist, Tyson’s words served as a reminder that God is under no obligation to make sense to me.

We ought to talk about the raising of Lazarus, and not only on All Saints’ Day, but as often as we can because it points to the truth revealed in Jesus’ own resurrection—that death does not have the final word on human existence, but has been overcome by the love of God. God’s love for creation is so strong, so final, that it is present even in that of which we are most frightened. In Christ we hold to the mysterious promise of resurrection. Maybe it’s a promise that we can’t fully understand or explain, but it is nevertheless a promise to which we can cling.


In our lives we hunger for those we cannot touch.
All the thoughts unuttered & all the feelings unexpressed
Play upon our hearts like the mist upon our breath.
But, awoken by grief, our spirits speak
“How could you believe that the life within the seed
that grew arms that reached
And a heart that beat.
And lips that smiled
And eyes that cried.
Could ever die?”
Here come the blue skies Here comes springtime.
When the rivers run high & the tears run dry.
When everything that dies.
Shall rise.
Love Love Love is stronger than death.
Love Love Love is stronger than death.

-from the song “Love is Stronger Than Death” written by Matt Johnson

Ryan Young with his wife, Rachael, and daughter, Iris

Ryan Young currently serves as the Director of Adult Discipleship and Missions at Northbrook United Methodist Church in Roswell, Georgia. He earned his BA in Psychology from Clemson University and his Master of Divinity from Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. Ryan, his wife Rachael, and their dog Zooey, are thrilled to all be adjusting to the birth of their daughter, Iris.


All Saints Day (C): The Company of Blessing

All Saints Day (C): The Company of Blessing

Luke 6:20-31

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

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.