Today we celebrate All Saints Day, and we consider the hope that God’s promise of eternal life holds for us.
As Christians, we believe that the dead are still alive, still themselves, and very importantly, still in a living, conscious, and loving relationship with us and with each other. After death, we live on, in communication with others who have died before us, in communication with those we left behind on earth, and in communion with the Divine itself. This is the Christian doctrine of the Communion of Saints.
The theme of a gathering of hope runs through all three of today’s readings, pointing to a life after death that is very different from life before death and gives us hope for the future. Life as we knew it changed dramatically with COVID in February, 2020, bringing with it restrictions, but also an expanded use of technology. During this time, our collective consciousness is being raised about injustices in the world, the urgent need to address climate change, and in here Canada, the reality of our colonial history, particularly as it has impacted Canada’s Indigenous people. Our church is changing too, in ways that we didn’t anticipate, ask for, or perhaps even want. We are reminded in these days that we are pilgrims on our way to our eternal home: the home that is being prepared for us by the God who loves us beyond anything we can imagine. Sometimes, life can continue uninterrupted until something changes it dramatically, a serious illness, the loss of a loved one, a global pandemic; and then we are brought back to that pilgrim path and the reminder that we are on a journey of faith, we have not yet reached our final destination which is union with God. In the meantime, death is a reality, and it touches us all. Here at St. Matthias, we are being asked to consider our life as a faith community beyond the safety and familiarity of these buildings. Where is the hope in this you might ask?
I attended Catholic schools and have clear memories of statues of the saints in alcoves looking very pious and not terribly human! But we are all called to sainthood: not pius, gazing at the sky sainthood, but active, hands-on messy sainthood. Today’s gospel spells out what it takes to be a saint: to live fully as a human being with all of its complexity. Sainthood is not just for the chosen or the perfect. In fact, it is well known that many of the saints were not that easy to get along with, so intent were they on living the mission of Jesus as described by the Beatitudes, and most saints are anonymous, quietly living out their lives in faith without any notoriety. Our patron, St. Matthias had an interesting role. Chosen by God through the apostles to replace Judas Iscariot. His calling as an apostle is unique in that it was not given by Jesus himself, but came after the death of Jesus, and there is no mention of him among the lists of disciples or followers of Jesus in the three synoptic Gospels. The traditions of the Greeks says that Matthias was what we would call a “church planter”, developing faith communities around Cappadocia and on the coast of the Caspian Sea.
My grandma knew herself to be a pilgrim on the journey, but also destined for eternal life with God. I’m quite sure that she didn’t think of herself as a saint but those of us who knew and loved her, knew her as one of God’s saints; someone who had navigated the joys and sorrows of life, had learned to love unconditionally, and who was always thinking about others. She was, what we might call an “everyday saint”, quite unaware of her own goodness, and would have denied that she was in any way exceptional. Not a saint that is recognized officially by the church, but a saint nonetheless. I’m sure you all know everyday saints in your own families, and here in our parish.
As the parent of a Mexican son, we in our family honor La Dia de Los Muertos -The Day of the Dead when the Mexican community celebrate the nearness of those who have gone before and honor loved ones who have died. We set up a home altar called an ofrenda with pictures of our beloveds, along with candles and orange flowers: orange being the color that symbolizes hope, as well as food and special bread called pan de muerta. In Mexico, graves are decorated with flowers and candles, and families take food to the graveyard to eat with their loved ones whom they believe to be very close. It is a celebration of life beyond death: a gathering of hope. So, we remember those who have died, we believe that they are among us unseen, and we tell and retell the stories about them that remind us of their presence. My Celtic tradition teaches me that the veil between our human reality on earth and those who have gone before us into the spiritual reality of God’s kingdom, is very thin. In fact, in some places, and during some experiences in our lives, the veil that separates us is so thin as to be almost transparent. I learned about the communion of saints and their nearness to us, and I learned that we are all called to be saints: God’s holy people in every time and place.
The good news for today is that we are intended for sainthood and this is where the path is taking us. Rabbi Joshua ben Levi described it like this: “As we go about our daily lives, we should imagine a procession of angels going before us proclaiming “Make Way for the Image of God”. This is who we are, this is who we all are: souls still on the journey, everyday saints living among us, and saints already enjoying eternal life with God.