Saint James Fordham • All Saints Sunday 2011
The angel said to me, Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.
There is an old tradition that on the night before a marriage, the future bride and groom are separately wined and dined by their friends at bachelor or bachelorette parties — with perhaps more emphasis on the wining than the dining! Well, All Saints Day is the day on which the church celebrates the marriage supper of the Lamb. And since the marriage supper is yet to begin — we’ve received the invitation but it isn’t dated; we’ve just been told to be ready and alert — in one sense the church’s whole vigil here on earth is like a long bachelor or bachelorette party as we anticipate the great day to come. We who have yet to cross over to the life of the world to come, we in what is called the Church Militant (as opposed to the Church Triumphant), we who feebly struggle while they in glory shine, we, Christ’s body still at work, remember and give thanks for those who rest from their labors.
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Now one of the things about the parties surrounding weddings, is that the guests usually bring gifts for the new bride and groom. But what can we possibly bring as a gift for someone who has everything already! For the wedding we are talking about is the wedding of Christ and the Church, the wedding supper of the Lamb! And if anyone ever deserved the title The Man Who Has Everything, it is Jesus Christ, the one who draws the whole world to himself.
The answer is that Jesus wants one other gift, one thing we possess but which we can hold back if we will, or choose to let go of and give to him. And that is ourselves. We can choose to keep to ourselves, or we can choose to give ourselves to the one who gave us everything; we can give our selves, our souls and bodies, as a reasonable and holy sacrifice.
The Saints in glory, both the big famous saints with churches named after them, whose likenesses are enshrined in stained glass and icons, (or on the wall outside the parish office!), and the less well-known saints with likenesses preserved on our own little remembrance board there under the altar, the saints are those who gave themselves to God. And their example can help us to be as generous with ourselves as they were with themselves. The wonderful thing about the communion of saints — and I mean all of the saints, living and dead, including us here as much as the saints in glory — the wonderful thing about the communion of saints is that we help each other become gifts to God. We bear each other up when we are tempted to slide back and away from our best efforts to serve our Lord.
Ultimately all of us come to the wedding banquet carrying some of our brothers and sisters and being carried by others of them. No one gets in empty-handed! We are called and invited to the wedding, and we are to come bearing love for one another, which ofttimes means literally bearing each other up. The only wedding invitation we will have to show at the door to heaven is each other. No one gets in unaccompanied.
Remember the stern question that God asked the first murderer, and his cavalier response: Where is your brother? and Am I my brother’s keeper? Think of the sadness that pierced the heart of God when he heard those words in answer to the question, and left unsaid the response, “Of course you are." We are responsible to and for each other, connected through the bond of our common humanity. That bond is stronger than mere nationality or culture, and is fundamental and basic to our very being as human beings.
The weight of each other, as we bear each other and each other’s burden — as indeed Christ bears us — is the gentle and easy yoke of Christ. All of us are brothers and sisters in him, because it is through him that we become children of God.
What form that family will take, what we will become when we arrive, remains to be seen — it is not yet revealed. All of the blessedness that Jesus describes in the beatitudes is sometimes only perceived in that retrospective glance. In the present, most of those things are not pleasant while they are being endured! The road of sainthood is hard, no doubt about it. Being persecuted for righteousness sake is no bed of roses. It is only once we have arrived at the goal of the heavenly call — only when we look back to see our lives laid out in testimony, that we will see what a journey we have taken.
And more importantly, who has been with us and bearing us up along the way. What unknown hands lift burdens from our backs? What unknown saints walk at our sides and help us over obstacles of which we may not even be aware? Only when we’ve reached the goal will we be able to look back and see.
And what we will see will be worthy of the vision of Saint John the Divine. All the church through time and space, all the prophets and apostles and martyrs, all the saints in their festal company, and all the holy people of God will be displayed as a huge inverted wedge of souls and saints carrying and being carried by one another, an inverted pyramid that focuses its sharp, heavy point on a man nailed to a cross outside the walls of Jerusalem — who bears it all, with arms outstretched.
Though that weight pushed him down to the very depths when he descended to the dead, yet the power of God working in him raised him up again, and the power of God working through him can and will push that whole great pyramid of charity right on up and out of time and space and into eternity. And the first shall be last: the first fruits of the resurrection, Jesus the Bridegroom, is behind us urging us on, bearing us forward, ushering us into the banqueting hall.
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God is full of surprises. We thought we were coming to the wedding banquet as servants, then found we were no longer servants, but friends. Then we were surprised to find that the bridegroom would act as usher. But a far greater surprise awaits us. We had just settled into the notion that we were to be guests at the banquet, friends of the bridegroom. But it turns out that we are much more even than wedding guests. All this blessed company — ironically blessed in poverty, meekness, thirst for righteousness, hunger for mercy and peace, and even under persecution — all this company of blessedness will gather at the banquet, as more than guests: we are the Bride herself.
We, in company with all those who have gone before, the apostles, prophets, and martyrs, all the holy people of God, the blessed company of all faithful people, the saints militant and triumphant are the Bride!
This is the mystery we celebrate today. We and all our beloved ones, together with the unnumbered saints who have gone before us, participate in God’s great saving act in Jesus Christ our Lord. We as the Church in the communion of saints are eternally united to him by his gracious gift of himself once offered for us all — for what God has joined together shall never be put asunder. And so, to our Lord and God — and loving Spouse — let us with grateful hearts ascribe all might, majesty, power and dominion, henceforth and forevermore.+