Sunday, November 1, 2009

All Saints Sunday

November 1, 2009

Wisdom 3.1-9

Today, as we all know, is the feast of All Saints. However, you might not know that tomorrow—November 2—is a little know feast called the Feast of All Souls, or the feast of All Faithful Departed. I know it might seem a bit confusing,. However, the difference between these feasts can be explained this way:

All Saints Day celebrated those of “heroic sanctity.” In other words, they were those who went above and beyond the call of duty in their service to God. The feast of the Faithful Departed—or rather “All Souls” day—represented all of those have departed this life but weren’t particularly holy while here. In other words, All Saints was the day we remembered those who thought a lot about God, who probably went to church a lot and did extraordinary deeds for God, such as being martyred for the faith. All Souls day was that day we thought about everyone else who died.

I like these feasts of All Saints and All Souls because, during this season, we are gently reminded to think not only of those who have gone before us, but to also think about our own destination. In our collect today, for example, we are commended “to follow [God’s] blessed saint in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that have been prepared for those who truly love [God].” And in our reading from Wisdom, we given a beautiful glimpse of that place that awaits all the “souls of the righteous.”

So today, we are being asked to do quite a few things. Today we remember all those specially faithful people who have died and tomorrow we are to remember all who, for the most part, are forgotten, or who simply kept their faith to themselves. And we are reminded that we too are saints as well, working and striving for that place in which we will be like gold tried in the furnace, where we too will “shine forth, and will run like sparks through stubble.”

This last part might be especially hard for most of us to wrap our minds around. We too are called to be saints. Now, I know this might be a bit hard to grasp. Because as we look around among ourselves this morning, there might be some whoa re easy to recognize as saints in our midst. But the majority of us don’t see ourselves that way. We don’t look in the mirrors in the morning and become blinded by the halo that surrounds us. And I don’t think we see others, for the most part as, saints very often unless they are exceptional in their holiness and example.

When we think of either All Saints or All Souls day, we might lean a bit more toward All Souls Day for ourselves than All Saints. Certainly we have known—or maybe we might describe ourselves as—“good” people, but not particularly “religious” people. There are some for whom churches should be named, maybe and there are those for whom no churches will ever be named. No one will write books about them and few people will remember them a hundred years from now. But despite our accomplishments or our shortcomings, all of us as baptized Christians are still able to witness to each other and others about what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Both all the saints and all the souls have taught us in someway how to live a righteous life. Or maybe in some ways they taught us how not to live a righteous life. Maybe these were the people from whose mistakes we learned what not to do with our lives in Christ. And I believe that those people are just as important to our Christian growth as the righteous ones have been. We sometimes need people to lead the way in what not do for us to realize that is not the way to go in our following after Jesus.

Today and tomorrow we commemorate all those people and realize that maybe God even works through those people we might not expect God to work through. God works through the saints, yes, but I think God also works through the lives of those who were not saints, as well. God rewards the works of the saints of course, but God also rewards the good works and beliefs of those who had no intention of receiving any blessing from God for what they did or believed.

So, in some ways, All Souls Day—All the Faithful Departed—is a time to commemorate the “hidden saints” among us—the people we might not readily identify as saints. And maybe that’s what the feast of November 2 should really be called. Maybe it should be called the Feast of the “Hidden Saints.”

One of my favorite stories about “hidden saints” is the story of St. Simeon the Holy Fool. I’m going to share a bit from a great website (one of my favorites) called The Ship of Fools and the description they give of St. Simon, who is their patron saint:

The Desert Saints of the early centuries were a wild and strange breed – and none were bred wilder or stranger than the saints of Syria. Some of them stood and prayed for years on end without sitting down. Others lived on top of pillars in the desert where they preached, wrote epistles and drew crowds of pilgrims. Numbered among these maverick saints is our patron, St Simeon the Holy Fool.

Simeon's saintly career started out quite normally. It was the usual story: 29 years living on lentils in an isolated cave next to the Dead Sea, at first struggling against temptation and then advancing to an alarming degree of holiness. But Simeon's story took a dramatic turn when he left his cave one day and set out for the city of Emesa in Syria. Arriving at the city gate, he found a dead dog on a dungheap, tied its leg to the rope around his waist, and entered the city dragging the comatose canine behind him.

This was only the beginning. For Simeon had decided to play the fool in order to mock the idiocy of the world and also to conceal his own identity as a saint. His behaviour was eccentric and, of course, scandalous... During the church services, he threw nuts at the clergy and blew out the candles. In the circus, he wrapped his arms around the dancing-girls and went skipping and dancing across the arena. In the streets, he tripped people up, developed a theatrical limp, and dragged himself around on his buttocks.

In the bath-house, he ran naked into the crowded women's section. On solemn fasting days he feasted riotously, consuming vast amounts of beans – with predictable and hilarious results. In his lifetime, Simeon was regarded as a madman, as an unholy scandal.

It was only after his death that the secret life of Simeon came to light. People started to talk about his acts of kindness – and about his strange and powerful miracles. There was the poor mule driver whose vinegar Simeon turned into wine so that he could start a successful tavern. There was the rich man who was saved from death when Simeon threw a lucky triple six at dice. And there was the young man Simeon punched on the jaw to save him from an affair with a married woman.

St Simeon the Holy Fool was a secret saint, his story was a holy farce, and his life shows how God chooses “the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27).

The story of Simeon helps remind us that there are hidden saints in our midst all the time. They are the ones we probably don’t think of as saints. But, as Simeon shows us, saints don’t have to be perfect people. Simeon and the hidden saints in our midst show us that God blesses and uses us even when are fractured and imperfect. God uses our shortcomings and our eccentricities as well.

So, today—this feast of all saints and tomorrow on the feast of all souls—the feast of the hidden saints in our midst—let us remember both those we know are saints and those hidden saints we have known. And more importantly, let us look for those hidden saints that are either right here beside us or staring back at us from our very own mirrors.

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