All Saints Sunday
November 4, 2007
Grace to you and peace, from God our father and the Lord
Jesus Christ. Amen.
When I was in middle school,
my best friend Josh would often start counting down the days
to his birthday
about one hundred days out from the day, May 31.
Think of it.
days of your best friend coming to you in excited fashion,
“guess how long until my birthday,
guess how long to my birthday,
guess how long to my birthday?”
I loved this
guy to death then,
and I love this guy to death now,
but one hundred days of this annoying torture? Yup. It was gruelling.
Just in case you’re trying to keep count,
days before May 31 puts us somewhere in mid February.
We’re still hoping for snow days to cancel school and he’s
talking about his birthday,
which will fall sometime following the Memorial Day Weekend!
Josh just couldn’t wait for his birthday to come.
He was so excited that all he could do for 100 days was to talk
the days until the party,
anxiously anticipate his special day.
He just couldn’t wait.
In Samuel Beckett’s classic play, Waiting for Godot,
characters wait for the arrival of a man named Godot,
who in the course of the play never actually arrives.
It’s a play in which we watch two men wait,
causing in viewers a wonder about the nature of waiting,
and a vicarious yearning that this long-awaited man, Godot,
would simply arrive.
There’s lots of waiting going on in New Orleans,
and as such
it provides the perfect backdrop for a re-staging of Beckett’s play.
Artist and social activist Paul Chan this weekend is staging
Waiting for Godot
Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward, in front of a flooded home,
attention to the waiting that continues more than two years after Katrina.
“The sense of waiting is legion here," Chan said.
"People are waiting to come home.
Waiting for the levee board to OK them to rebuild.
Waiting for relief money.
Waiting for honest construction crews that won’t rip them
Waiting for phone and electric companies."
They are waiting, it seems to me, for justice. Or at least for a place to call home.
Waiting. There’s all
kinds of waiting.
There’s the waiting we do at the DMV,
waiting we do on the phone while on hold with the utility company to complain,
“discuss” a question about our bill.
There’s the waiting for a new child – something my wife is
enduring these days –
waiting for results of a pregnancy test – the longest minute in the world.
We wait at stop lights and we wait for doctor’s
Boston Red Sox fans waited for 86 years to win a World
have won two World Series over the past four seasons.
Chicago Cubs fans, on the other hand, are still waiting for
Yes, some waiting is full of hopeful anticipation,
as the waiting of my friend Josh,
waiting is anxiety producing,
as the waiting of Katrina victims,
waiting is just plain annoying,
such as the waiting on hold to argue a bill.
But why do we wait?
Why not just give up our waiting,
and move on?
Two radio stations in Chicago just shifted to an all-Christmas
gun on the season,
wait for Thanksgiving or the season’s first real blast of cold weather
begin celebrating the Christmas holiday.
There’s no waiting in Chicago. Whether you like it or not,
Sleighbells are ringing, and people are listening.
So again I’ll ask – why not just give up our waiting,
and move on?
Waiting is hard. It
is filled with emotion.
– anticipation, anxiety, annoyance.
Why bother, why torture ourselves with these feelings?
This anxious, annoying, anticipatory place of waiting,
it is the place to which the church calls us.
calls us to that middle place between jumping ahead and jumping ship.
calls us to a waiting place.
The Spanish word for wait – esperar – is helpful here.
Esperar is a rich word, and this word for “wait” is a
layered with another meaning –
Wrapped up in one delightful word – esperar – the Spanish
both waiting and hoping.
And that’s why we wait, isn’t it?
We wait for something because we hope for something,
We wait for the train because we expect, we hope that it
We wait for the light to turn green because we anticipate
that it will indeed turn.
We wait because we have hope.
Moreso than at other times of the year,
we are in a season of waiting,
a time of
We are anticipating the coming holidays.
And what do
we do? We prepare.
My step-mother calls it provisioning.
The grocery store announces that, in due time,
we can make purchases to accumulate points redeemable for a
and on the
day after Thanksgiving,
if we buy
enough other stuff,
that same program will allow us to collect points for a
Well just on Friday I received an email from my
our family, strewn from Fairfax to Boston and points in between,
connect over the coming holidays.
In late October and early November we’re less concerned with
today, with the present.
Rather, it’s an anticipatory time.
In September nobody looks forward to early November.
happens in early November?
Rather, our eyes are focused on the holidays.
These ordinary days of early November are days of
a time of waiting,
a preparation for the feasts – Thanksgiving and Christmas –
So too, the church calls us to prepare.
In a few weeks it will be Christ the King Sunday,
Sunday of the Church Year,
that turns us to the cross and the promise that Christ will return
judge all the earth and inaugurate his Kingdom.
As we approach the end of the Church Year, our readings
become a bit more sharp.
Old Testament reading
Daniel speaks of his apocalyptic and troubling visions of
beasts and judgement,
to set a
world gone astray to rights.
Paul, in our New Testament reading,
God’s power and dominion are given to the saints,
not only in this age, but in the age to come.
Gospel Jesus challenges us with words of blessings and woes,
for us the way of the Christian life,
foreshadowing the priorities of the coming Kingdom,
Kingdom that often stands in contrast and opposition
our way of life.
These are preparatory readings for us, dear friends,
and equipping us to expect and look for the coming of God into our midst.
“Your Kingdom come,” we pray each week.
“He will come again in glory,” we profess in the Nicene
Just as we prepare for the season with our turkeys and hams
and pre-season seasonal music,
so too does
the church prepare us for the season of Christ’s Kingdom.
We don’t accumulate points at church in preparation for the
Kingdom of God.
The church doesn’t prepare us the way Giant or Bloom might.
But in its wisdom the church has given us this day,
Festival of All Saints,
as an opportunity to prepare by looking back and to looking
journey forward toward the coming of Christ’s Kingdom.
We look back with love and gratitude for the saints of old,
and with love and gratitude – and yes, some pain –
for our loved ones who are no longer with us.
Yet this day, this Festival of All Saints,
is the day
that we recall this whole company of saints –
deceased, ordinary and extraordinary,
enshrined in stained glass as exemplars in the faith
and enshrined in our hearts as one-time companions along the
On this day we remember saints of all kinds,
those who constitute the Kingdom of God.
I was a hospital chaplain last year,
and I recall spending time with John’s family,
in the final hours of his life.
A victim of brain cancer,
his months in the hospital was a time of great pain, anger,
suffering and loss.
At some point the family and medical staff accepted that
John was dying,
was nothing no doctor, no loved one, no caregiver could do
the disease, to bring him back to health.
In the moments when John – husband, father, friend to many –
was fading from their midst,
reached out to God and to the saints,
reached out in desperation, in hope, in faith, in an anxious plea –
what else could they do?
They hoped for something better than what they saw –
for John’s comfort, for his peace, for his seamless journey to the afterlife.
So they called the priest.
John was Roman Catholic,
and a priest came and administered to John the Anointing of
(what we used to call "Last Rites").
During the prayers the priest called on various saints to
pray for John –
from Abraham and David, to Mary and Peter, to John of the
Cross and Francis of Assisi.
After the priest named each saint
the family responded with this plea: "Pray for
At least 10 times the priest called out to different saints,
and the family cried out to those saints, "pray for
I was amazed by the way in which this Mass-attending,
holding family found comfort in these prayers,
ritual of the church.
They prayed to God and called on the saints with a
familiarity and ease,
seemed as if that room was filled with those saints
the Bible and the Church’s tradition,
standing alongside John, his wife and children,
calling out together to God for mercy and peace. Amazing.
Today, as we gather around this altar to receive the
sacrament of Christ’s body and blood,
gather around what some Christians refer to as a love feast,
here in this place, at this table,
feast on the love and presence of God.
That love and presence of God
is the same
love and presence of God that called the saints to this table in times past,
and is the
same love and presence of God that continues to hold them close.
St Paul writes that nothing separates us from the love of
God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Here, at this table, in the body and blood of our Lord that
we feast on
the love of God that connects us one with each other in these pews,
connects us with those saints of old.
As we receive the sacrament today we will be surrounded
by the names of our beloved departed friends and family,
by the saints of old – just as John was in his hospital
death bed –
saints who, though separate from us in body,
remain united with us through the love of God
that connects us into one eternal body of Christ, the
And more, this feast is a foretaste of the feast to come.
It is an appetizer, so to speak.
It is a prelude to what God has in store for us in his
will be surrounded not only in spirit, name and memory,
flesh and blood by the saints and loved ones who have gone before us.
Indeed, when we come to this table to share in a simple but
we catch a
glimpse of what God’s Kingdom will be like,
God’s intention is for us.
People of all time and place, lined up to share in the
presence of God,
the joy of true community.
That true community is not yet,
we are separated by death from the saints and our loved ones gone before us,
but it is
something for which we wait,
something for which we hope,
something for which we esperar.
Esperemos, dear friends.
Let us wait. Let us
hope. For Christ’s kingdom is coming.