by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
TEXTS: Rev. 7:9-17, I John 3:1-13, Matthew 5:1-12
Today is All Saints Sunday, an interesting Holy Day on the Church’s Calendar. It is the Christian equivalent of the Ancient Greek “Altar to an Unknown God” which Paul referred to in Acts.
The Greeks had altars to hundreds of gods. They were afraid they might have left one out, so they built an altar to an “Unknown God” just to make sure they didn’t make some minor, obscure god mad, and thus get punished for failing to worship a god they didn’t know about.
In the early days of the church, people began to remember those who had been especially devout and holy and who had died as martyrs for the faith as “Saints,” persons already in heaven and able to hear prayers and help out those still living.
By medieval times, the church calendar was filled with Saint’s Days honoring all the offici8al Saints of the Church. And ALL Saints Day was an attempt to cover their bets, like the ancient Greeks, by giving a day to ALL SAINTS, to make sure no one was left out.
After the Reformation, Protestant Churches like the Methodists, the Presbyterians and the Lutherans continued to observe the day but changed it’s meaning to one of remembrance and celebration of all Christians, ALL SAINTS, past, present, and future with whom we share communion in the universal, “catholic” church. It is especially a day to remember those in the local parish who have died in the last year.
For me, All Saints is a reminder that; as important as the future is; and as all-consuming as present problems can be; the past is important too. In many important ways, William Faulkner was right when he said, “The past is not dead. It is not even past.” Or as Dr. Bernard Boyd said in New Testament Class at UNC,
“Christianity and Judaism acknowledge the ISNESS of the WAS.”
I am an acknowledged Luddite. Technology befuddles me. I still carry a fountain pen, my watch has a dial with numbers and a big hand and a little hand. I can’t program a VCR or anything else. To me, a computer is a fancy typewriter and I treat it like one. Often times even simple technology defeats me.
For instance, passenger-side rear-view mirrors. I am sure someone will explain this to me after service, but for the life of me I can’t figure out why they put mirrors there designed to deceive us.
It happened again last week. I was rushing up and down the interstates, over a thousand miles in three days. I looked in the outside mirror, plenty of room to move into the right lane. I slide over, horns blare, brakes screech, and I glance back over my right shoulder; there’s a car even with my rear bumper in the right lane. Looking in the mirror, it seemed so very far behind me.
Then I read the fine print, the fateful words. Objects in mirror are closer than they appear. Why do they do that? I fumed.
Since I am stumped by technology I, of course, could not come up with an answer, so I commenced thinking about thinks I do understand, philosophy and theology and such.
“Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.”
“The Past is not dead, it is not even past.”
“The ISNESS of the WAS.”
On All Saints Day, we celebrate the positive side of this truth.
In Spirit, we are as close to the Cross as the Disciples.
In Faith, we are as connected to Jesus as his friends.
In Christ, we are as much a part of the Resurrection as Mary and Martha and Peter and John.
Christianity is an historic religion, rooted in a true story that happened at a particular time in a particular place involving a real Jesus who suffered real torment and died a real death on a real cross.
But Christianity is not just History; it is not yesterday’s news. The Study of Scripture is not the study of Ancient Wisemen in order to learn the wisdom of the past and apply it to the problems of the present. It is partially that, but it is so much more. Christ and the Cross transcend time and place in such a way that when the Bible is read in the midst of believers, Jesus is here speaking to us.
When we celebrate the Sacrament of the Altar, participate in the Eucharistic Assembly, receive the Bread and Wine as his Body and Blood, Christ is really present here with us, and we are really present in the Upper Room at the Last Supper and at the Mountaintop feast where every tear is wiped away and death is swallowed up. We are in Old Palestine and the New Heaven, all at the same time.
Objects in Mirror are closer than they appear.
The Christ of the past is not dead, he is not even past.
He lives, and because he lives, those whom we name here today, all those who have gone before us in the faith, all the Saints live also,
“. . the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
They will hunger no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat;
for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to the springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Amen and amen.