All Saints, Year B, November 4, 2012
The Rev. Dr. Brent Was
The Feast of All Saints. This is one of the major feasts of our church, a feast of memory, remembering the lives and work of those who have gone before us. We remember the triumph of light over darkness, right over wrong, good over evil. That is what saints do, and that is what we are supposed to do for this feast; remember them. This is part of our birthright as Anglicans, the Communion of Saints, that cloud of witnesses, named and anonymous, that have served God and humanity in our past, and we are to remember them and their stories. But that is not the whole story. All Saints does not stand alone. This week we also celebrated All Hallows’ Eve, Halloween on the 31st, and on the 2nd, All Souls, or officially, the Feast of All Faithful departed. These three days come together in a complex of feasts that should probably have a name, but doesn’t.
All Hallows’ Eve… Not that I don’t love all the witches and superheros and kitty cats and mermaids running around the neighborhood, and the cheap candy and spider webs hung from trees, but Halloween has lost its traditional power. What is being taunted on All Hallows’ Eve? Death. Death itself. It is a carnival, in its most ancient sense, which means it is an occasion for humans to bring our wit and sense of humor to bear on serious, terrifying, and solemn subjects. All Hallows’ Eve is a lot like Mardi Gras, but instead of mocking the fast leading up to remembering Christ’s death as in Mardi Gras, in All Hallows’ Eve we are mocking our own death. Wearing a fanciful, outrageous or even obscene costume and eating too much candy or drinking too much whatever, I am saying, “Death – I mock you. You have no power over me because I can chose to not take you seriously. And I so choose. (Tonight).” That is where it comes from, Halloween. It is not where we are today.
For All Faithful Departed, All Souls, we remember our own common of saints, those that we as individuals and communities have lost to death’s inevitable embrace. Remembering our dead in hope; that is part of the light perpetual shining on those who have passed into the sweet by and by. All Faithful Departed is celebrated in the full knowledge of our collective mortality, mitigated by a hope for a common eternity, or at least by the hope that even in death, I think Bob Marley says it best, even in death, “…every little thing’s gonna be alright.” Even in death, it is going to be fine, there is nothing to fear.
This autumnal triduum, anchored by All Saints, is among the most powerful complexes of Holy Days that we have. The dark and chaotic mockery of Halloween, the commemoration of powerful servants throughout history for All Saints and the solemn remembrance of our own dead on All Faithful Departed… there is powerful medicine in there. But this feast complex is, barely observed religiously by anything besides reading the names of the dead and singing “For All the Saints.” Why?
Earlier this week, someone described to me a cartoon they saw. It may have been in the Guard. It had two panels, the first a man in a suit just standing there, the second, the same man in a suit, this time standing in rather deep water in what was obviously New York City, and each panel had the same caption: “This is no time to talk about climate change.” On the eve of a complicated election, in the wake of a devastating and unprecedented storm, or in the words of our resident expert on such matters, John Orbell, an “ ‘anomalous’ and extreme weather event,” it is what, disappointing, dismaying, disgusting that neither major party candidate has even uttered the words climate change. It is beyond negligent. This fact is an abomination of Biblical proportions. We are experiencing the overwhelming and willful disregard of our and our planet’s future by our so-called leaders. And not the distant future. My sister’s sculpture studio under the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges was under 6 feet of water on Wednesday (they still don’t have power). And she was blocks from the river, the studio is in a good neighborhood, but not that good. First Bangkok was under water this year, now New York. Millennial droughts occurred across the central US this summer, they are still ongoing. And in the artic, we experienced the smallest summer ice pack ever. This is it happening; climate change. Wet places getting wetter, dry places getting drier, storms getting bigger. And no one is talking about it, not without being couched by politicized and partisan deniers of what are accepted and now, in the wake of Sandy, widely experienced facts about the reality of climate change. How can they get away without ever talking about climate change in this whole campaign (or poverty or homelessness or barley even the wars we are involved in)? How do we let them get away with it? Why does this happen? Why?
What I think, is that they, you know, They think, that we can’t handle the truth. Remember that line from Rob Reiner’s film A Few Good Men? “We can’t handle the truth,” that truth being that the world is a brutal place that needs brutal people to protect us by brutal means. That is in fact not true, but Theyoperate under that premise, andby extrapolation, so do we. If we, the people, knew how bad it was, is, knew how precarious our atmosphere has become, knew how much the ocean has warmed and knew, truly knew what we were facing, sure, we’d be angry, we’d certainly not reelect some, and would certainly not elect others, we’d change consumption habits, change a lot about how we live and then get on with it. That’s what New Orleans is doing. It is what we did during World War I, the Depression, and World War II. We can handle the truth. We have, and we can again.
And the same thing goes for death. Ours is a death denying culture. Over the generations, they, and by that I certainly include we, the clergy we, as part of the problem, we have come up with all kinds of death denying jargon, theologies, distractions, taking us away from the heart of the matter. And the heart of the matter is that, yes, we will all die. You heard it here. It is true. Death is in all of our futures.
The thing is that that, death, is not the end of the story. Here is where the liberals among us start to get uncomfortable. And hey, I get confused too. But the words of Sam Portaro, an Episcopal priest and writer, bring us to the heart of the matter is that, “We Christians dare to hope beyond the constraints of mortality.” That is what this whole All Hallow/All Saints/All Souls feast complex is about. Christian hope is all bound up with the departed in the face of death: saints, souls and otherwise, a vast collection of those gone before us living life everlasting, beyond time, beyond mortality, now and forever. And every little thing’s gonna be alright.
There is no evidence for this, of course, evidence for eternal life, not immortality, that is heresy if not sacrilegious, but eternal life. The testimonials on the hereafter are spotty and are generally unreliable. But Christianity is THE hopeful religion. It is the religion of eternal life. Our culture lives as if there is no tomorrow. It, we spend our natural resources, our real wealth, our people as if there is no future to expect. That is the ethic of clear-cutting, strip-mining, tar sands, and fission reactors. If there is no hope for tomorrow, there need be no worries for today. That is the guiding theology of late stage free-market capitalism of the West; no hope, so… (Lots of words flow through my mind that are not appropriate for Sunday mornings, so I’ll settle with a locally grown slogan) just do it. That is not a Christian way to live.
Hope is the guiding force in the life of the Christian. Not hope for some forseen or wished for future, not some grasping image of how things might be, or how you want things to be, not some vision of a world unstained by death, a world that miraculously turns the corner on global warming, but an eschatological hope, a hope unconcerned with the mechanics of it all but with the blessed assurance we can do it. By do it I don’t mean that you are going to live. None of us are, not that much longer, but by “do it”, I mean that you can go through all that you have to go through. You can handle the truth of what it means to be alive, alive, formed in the imago dei, the image of God. We, Christians, live in the hope of the Resurrection; of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, yes of course, and of the perpetual nature of life, eternity, time outside of time, and the very real, cold fact of death, and its inevitablility. Christian hope is the balance of inevitable death and equally inevitable eternity. Christian hope is bound up with the indelible mark of life, the unstoppable will to live, and the intense fragility of the living. We can handle the truth. About our own future and about the future of our planet. And the complex of All Hallow’s Eve, All Saints and All Faithful Departed, we can handle that, too, and in handling those observances, we might even be able to handle the rest of it even better. So until next year, give to the departed eternal rest: may light perpetual shine upon them, because every little thing’s gonna be alright. AMEN