Lectionary blog for Nov. 4, 2012
All Saints Sunday
Texts: Isaiah 25:6-9, Psalm 24,
Revelation 21:1-6a, John 11:32-44
This coming Sunday 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” to which Paul referred 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,” individuals already in heaven and able to hear prayers and help out those still living.
By medieval times, the church calendar was filled with saints’ days honoring all the official 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 the saints, to make sure no one was left out.
After the Reformation, the Protestant churches gradually changed it into a remembrance and celebration of all Christians — past, present and future — with whom we share communion in the universal, catholic church. For most, 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 Bernard Boyd said in New Testament class at the University of North Carolina, “Christianity and Judaism acknowledge the ‘is-ness’ 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. Oftentimes even simple technology defeats me.
For instance, passenger-side rear-view mirrors. I am sure someone will explain this to my satisfaction someday, but for the life of me I can’t figure out why they put mirrors there designed to deceive us.
It happens to me frequently. Rushing up and down the interstate, I look 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 is a car, even with my rear bumper in the right lane. Looking in the mirror, it seemed 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 fume.
Since I am stumped by technology I, of course, could not come up with an answer, so I commenced thinking about things 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 is-ness of the was.”
On All Saints Day, we celebrate the positive side of this truth.
Christianity is a 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 writings 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, all the saints live also.
“And he will destroy on this mountain,
The shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations,
he will swallow up death forever” (Isaiah 25:7).
Amen and amen.
- Can you recall a time when events of the past played an important part in a current situation?
- How has Christ and the cross transcended time in your life?
Delmer Chilton is originally from North Carolina and received his education at the University of North Carolina, Duke Divinity School and the Graduate Theological Foundation. He received his Lutheran training at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, S.C. Ordained in 1977, Delmer has served parishes in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.