November 6, The Feast of All Saints

Luke 6:20-31

Kristin White


Blessed are you.

Blessed are you.

Blessed are you.

Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, brand-new bishop-elect of the Diocese of Indianapolis, preached at our friend Amity’s installation as rector of Grace Church, Chicago, last Tuesday. She talked about the walls of St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco. Now, those walls are painted with icons of saint upon saint upon saint – 90 of them – people both new and ancient, whose lives showed forth God’s glory: King David and Teresa of Avila and Francis of Assisi…Margaret Meade and Thurgood Marshall and Desmond Tutu. There are even some who would not claim the Christian faith – Gandhi and Macolm X, Anne Frank and Martha Graham, Abraham Joshua Heschel.

They’re all up there on the walls of St. Gregory’s Church, now; and they’re dancing – one hand on another shoulder, a foot lifted and ready to take the next step, hands clasped to join.

But they weren’t always there. In fact, it took a long time for them to be written into that space the saints now hold. In the time before, for the years and months that led up to their completion in 2009, those saints existed in blank space at St. Gregory’s, and then only as outlines. It took time for them all, the known and the less-well-known, to be written into that dance.

Today is the day, in the life of the church, that we set aside to give thanks for the lives of all the saints – those known and the less-well-known – who are written into the dance of our faith. You can see some of them here, drawn into our memory in glass that is both etched and stained: Augustine and his mother, Monica, who prayed for her son’s conversion a long, long time before it happened. Margaret of Scotland, and Polycarp; Andrew, and Anne.

Our saints will be spoken into our midst today as well, as we receive the bread and wine of communion, we will hear the names of those we love but see no longer, whose lives are imprinted on our own: mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers, grandparents…children…friends.

And with the reading of their names, the memory of their lives etches itself in color among us once more.

“Blessed are you,” Jesus says, in the gospel passage appointed for our celebration of all the saints today. “Blessed are you. Blessed are you. Blessed are you.”

He comes down to the people, scripture tells us in the verses leading up to today’s lesson. This is not the Sermon on the Mount, as Matthew’s gospel tells the story of the beatitudes. Luke tells this story another way. He tells us that Jesus comes down from the mountain, comes down to the people and stands with them on a level place. They’re sick, after all, and hurting, and troubled by unclean spirits. And they try to touch him, because they know that he has the power to heal them. And he does. He heals them all.

Then he looks up.

“Blessed are you,” he says. “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom. Blessed are you who are hungry, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, exclude you, revile you, defame you because of the Son of Man. For that is what they did to the prophets.”

And correspondingly, “Woe to you who are rich, and full, and laughing, and well-regarded.”

Finally, this last piece: “But I say to you that listen: Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Pray for those who abuse you. Offer your cheek and your coat and your things.”

Is that what our saints have done?

We all have stories of the ways they are written into our lives – in lightly chalked outline, or etched in color and glass and gold. And on this feast when maybe not so very much would separate us between the living and the dead, we remember their dance in our lives.

Blessed are you.

Blessed are you.

Blessed are you.

Blessed are you, Augustine, who sought and sought and sought after truth, with your restless heart and your brilliant mind.

Blessed are you, Julian of Norwich, who promises us still that all manner of things shall be well.

Blessed are you, Patrick of Ireland, who bridged ancient mysticism and Christian faith to exalt God in the midst of our natural world.

Blessed are you, Elizabeth the First, who held the people of England together and forged religious peace by way of Common Prayer.

Blessed are you.

Blessed are you.

Blessed are you.

Blessed are you, Marjorie and Thomas, whose team that saw a dream made manifest after 108 years of waiting, the celebration adorning your resting place outside in our columbarium.

Blessed are you, Kathie, who knew that it was good.

Blessed are you, Pieter, now rejoined to your beloved Miepje.

Blessed are you, beloved Caroline.

Blessed are you, Jim, your name written in chalk on the wall at Wrigley Field.

Blessed are you, Roy, and Georgia, and Fritz, and Brett, and George, and Rodney, and John, and Alfred.

Blessed are you.

Blessed are you.

Blessed are you.

Their names are written onto our hearts, and their dance illumines our lives. And by the gift of faith, by the icons of their lives and witness, we are reminded again: Jesus comes to the people. He stands with them on a level place. The people are sick and troubled and hurting. And Jesus comes to be with them.

“But I say to you that listen,” Jesus says to the crowds: “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Pray for those who abuse you. Offer your cheek and your coat and your things.”

We need those saints, all of them. The ancient and the new, the familiar and the less-well-known. We need their chalked outlines, their images etched in color and glass and gold. We need them written into our lives as they are. We need their light – maybe now as much as we ever have. We need their light and their dance.

And so today, let us pray those saints, every one of them, into our midst. Let us clasp hands and remember that we are not alone. And let us be the ones who listen to what Jesus says to the people as he stands with them there, on that level place: “Blessed are you. Blessed are you. Blessed are you.”