for all the saints

a personal and biblical reflection for All Saints’ Day, November 1, 2017, based on Isaiah 25.6-9 and Revelation 21.1-6a.

All Saints, Albrecht Durer, 1511

Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart,

In my heart, in my heart.

Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart.[1]

But Lord, it’s hard to be a Christian!

And why wouldn’t that be so? For it’s hard to be a person. Everyone, no matter our family of origin and upbringing, our nature and nurture, believes something. And every one of us, living in a world of every other one of us, from time to time, rubs shoulders, at times, exchanges sharp elbows with those who believe differently.

So, yes, it’s hard, speaking for myself, to be a Christian in my heart; loving unconditionally all people. Yet, this I know for the Bible tells me so.

Isaiah paints a lofty vision. A mountaintop banquet prepared for the hungry. Tears dried forevermore from cheerless eyes. This is a vision for the disenchanted, the disenfranchised. For what is another table of food and wine for the overfed or the hand of solace to those who have never wept? Yet, who among us, even with bellies full, cannot admit to spaces of the emptiness within us? Who among us, even in the most balled-fist courage in difficulty’s face, does not cry out for comfort and release? This, then, is a vision for all! A vision of salvation. From the Latin, salvus. Wholeness. The healing that comes only in the acknowledgement of brokenness. Brokenness that each of us shares with all people, for all people are broken.

Isaiah issues a clarion call and Revelation resoundingly replies with another portrayal of salvation so all-encompassing (heaven, earth, sea) that all is gathered up (mourning, crying, dying) and life is made new in a city, the gates of which are open to all people.

Isaiah and Revelation together help me see what All Saints’ Day is.

Since the 10th century, Western Christendom has set aside November 1 to honor all those through the ages who claim Christ as Lord. Yet, throughout Christianity’s history and surely in this era, there has been and is fighting and dying, crying and mourning all in the name of partisan ideologies, divisive and exclusive theologies.

So, today, I, with an inclusive eye, behold All Saints’ Day as a celebration for all who follow the Way[2] of Jesus. All who claim love as their chiefest value. All who confess their brokenness, their inability always to love all. All who, in their brokenness, cry for salvation – not freedom from self, but freedom to be self fully, faithfully. Freedom to live, not in the absence of death, but in its very midst. For only those who can, who will claim their own wholeness – the feasting and the hungering, the laughing and the crying, the living and the dying that we each do every day – can know salvation and, thus, can dare share it with others, even those with whom we, from time to time, rub shoulders and, at times, exchange sharp elbows.

 

Illustration: All Saints, Albrecht Durer, 1511

Footnotes:

[1] From the traditional Negro spiritual, Lord, I want to be a Christian.

[2] A reference to Acts 9.2, “the way” being the designation for the earliest followers of Jesus before they became known as Christians (see Acts 11.26); a designation that inferred more a way of life, a way of being than an intellectual assent or adherence to an ideology or theology.

a World AIDS Day tribute

wra-1976

Wayne Roberts Abernathy, December 21, 1950-March 20, 1995

numbered among the 1st generations of martyrs slain

by a killer, then, by most, barely known,

tho’ still, by some, bravely named,

Wayne,

with mind and heart, soul and spirit,

weathered the firstly gradual, then rapaciously fleet

& inexorable descent

into death’s shadow;

yet neither cursing nor clenching closed his eyes to the enveloping darkness,

rather gazing fast at his Lord’s, his greatest Love’s Light;

Whose promise of eternal keeping

he ne’er spent a moment doubting;

tho’ some – e’en family and church,

oft misunderstanding and unaccepting –

questioned, given his “lifestyle” choosing,

which he boldly, surely knew

was no more his free electing

than any other manner of God’s creative bestowing…

 

in this, aye, verily, Wayne, in his dying,

damning not the imposing, yet impostering darkness,

loved, longed, lived into Life’s unbounded Light

and now forever walks by blessed sight.

truest thanksgiving

thinkinga personal reflection on an American holiday from a Christian perspective for Christian folk, based on John 6.25-35, on Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 2016

“This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

Jesus multiplied five loaves and two fish, feeding and filling 5000 famished bellies. The people, amazed by this miracle, perceive Jesus as a great prophet, like Moses, who they will compel to lead them in throwing off the shackles of their Roman oppressors. However, Jesus’ empire is not of the world, but of the Spirit, its methodology, not overpowering force, but unconditional love, its market, not self-interest, but justice, its manner, not avarice, but service. Jesus, recognizing the people’s misunderstanding and refusing their misdirected acclaim, withdraws in solitude and silence to the other side of the lake.[1] The people, still hungry for signs and wonders, pursue Jesus. Knowing they mistakenly have made physical sustenance the greatest good, Jesus challenges them to labor for “the food that endures for eternal life”. The people, barely comprehending that Jesus points to something spiritual (thus, beyond the material, yet, paradoxically, no less real), ask: “What must we do to perform the works of God?” In other words, how do we get this spiritual food? Jesus answers, “Believe in me.”

Belief. Not mere assent to an intellectual proposition that Jesus is Messiah or prophet or wise teacher or Lord or Savior (whatever any of these titles might mean), but rather an attitude arising from a relationship of trust, calling us to follow him…

verna-josephine-dozier-2-c-1995

One of my finest mentors, Verna Josephine Dozier wrote: “Jesus did not call us to worship him, but to follow him. Worship is setting Jesus on a pedestal…enshrining him in liturgies, stained glass…biblical translations…pilgrimages to places where he walked…Following him is doing what he did.”[2]

Thanksgiving Day. Historically, an annual occasion to express gratitude to God for helping the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony persevere during the harsh winter of 1621. Later, for the harvest. Later still, for all the blessings of this life.

Today, looking through the lens of doing what Jesus did – loving unconditionally, acting justly, being of service – I see Thanksgiving Day as a yearly reminder that Christianity is an incarnational religion; at its heart, the ongoing, never-ending story of the Spirit of God’s love and justice taking flesh, yes, in Jesus and in his followers, and through his followers that Spirit being alive and active in this world.

I oft have said that Jesus would have a good reputation if not for the church. Through two millennia, the community of his disciples frequently wielding instruments of force, wedded to self-interest, and well-versed in materialism have strayed from his path.

In truest thanksgiving, I pledge anew, paraphrasing the song, to “follow Jesus more nearly, day by day.”[3] Again quoting my beloved sister, Verna: “The important question to ask is not, ‘What do we believe?’ but ‘What difference does it make that we believe?’ Does the world come nearer to the dream of God because of what we believe?”[4]

For me to answer humbly, honestly, “Yes!” is my thanks giving for bountiful blessings and, even more, my prayer that I, in my living, will be a thanksgiving, a blessing for the world.

 

Footnotes:

[1] See John 6.1-24.

[2] From The Dream of God, page 98 (my emphases), by Verna Josephine Dozier (1918-2006), retired District of Columbia public school teacher and administrator; theologian, biblical scholar, workshop leader, church consultant, and lay preacher; an advocate for the authority and ministry of the laity in religious communities; and, at the time of her death, a 50+ year member of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Capitol Hill, where I served as rector (1998-2015).

[3] Words by Richard of Chichester (1197-1253)

[4] The Dream of God, page 105 (my emphases)