Even more about saints

Today we are celebrating the Feast of All Saints’ (having transferred the feast from last Thursday), which not only honors the great heroes of the faith but assures us of our own place in the communion of saints.  All Saints’ is the day in which we know ourselves to be part of that mystical body of Christ, the intercommunion among the living and the dead, a people from all ages and all times, full of the hope of immortality. 

Over the past few days, we have considered death in a number of ways. 

We made fun of it, laughed at it, dared it to come near us on All Hallow’s Eve.

And then we recognized it as the end we will all face as we remembered all those we love but see no longer at the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed.

And now we come to number ourselves among that great cloud of witnesses, inspired by the deeds of those whose faithfulness places them among the highest ranks in heaven - the prophets, apostles, martyrs, the great theologians and writers.  The Feast of All Saints’ connects the Church Militant (that is the church on Earth) to the Church Triumphant (the glorious saints in heaven).  All Saints’ celebrates ALL the saints - the faithful people of all generations, past, present and future.

And who are the saints?  Many are widely agreed upon (St Mary, St Francis, St Augustine, St Catherine), some less so (Enmegabowh or Emma of Hawaii, despite her serious run at the championship in last year’s Lent Madness bracket).  St Paul called the Corinthians saints.  The Corinthians!  In the Roman Catholic sense, the saints are the famous ones in heaven. In the Protestant sense, the saints are the faithful on earth. We Anglicans, always in the middle, keep all of the layers in this feast.

Those gone before, those gathered now, and those who will come after. One long tradition that is and was and is to come. Some saints are giants. Others have had smaller roles and smaller impacts.  Some are the famous and some are the ones who may have been forgotten by all but a few.  

Rather than argue about who gets to be a saint, or which are more important and which are less, let’s consider what it is that saints are called to do.  Because this is not a feast in which we simply sit back and admire some heroes, check out some Christian Hall of Famers, and then go back to watching TV while we finish off the Halloween candy.  We have a place in this feast, too.

And so let me suggest, for our consideration today, this broad definition: saints are those whom God has called to be holy.  And if the Corinthians are saints, then that designation means that all of us whom God has called to be holy, whether or not we have come near to botching the job, are part of the communion of saints.

There must be something that we do in our lives, in addition to what we are to God, that makes this connection between the faithful heroes and faithful us a living and lively connection.  A connection full of life.

And so we turn to the story of the raising of Lazarus.

Jesus is greatly agitated about the death of his friend Lazarus whose sisters say to Jesus the thing we all have said about the death of a loved one - if only, if only, if only. Jesus is angry, he weeps, he prays - and then he does the unthinkable. He tells the people to roll away the stone, and he calls Lazarus who has been dead four days and so is really, really absolutely dead - he calls Lazarus to come out.  He raises Lazarus from the dead. This is the last and greatest of the seven miracles Jesus performs in the Gospel of John, to give life back to a dead man.

In fact, it is this miracle that sets in motion the arrest and trial and execution of Jesus. He gives life to Lazarus even though it will mean he will lose his own life because of it.  It is a heroic action, and one not likely to be repeated by many of us.

And yet.  It IS Jesus who gives the life, but the people - the gathered community of friends and neighbors and onlookers of every stripe - they are the ones who are to unbind him so that he can be literally and physically freed to live that life. Later in John Jesus will unbind himself as he is raised from his own tomb.  But for Lazarus, the job is only started by Jesus. It is finished by the people around him.  Roll away the stone, Jesus says to the people.  And then unbind him, Jesus says. Unbind him and let him go.

Jesus may do the spectacular - it is Jesus who saves, after all. And the great apostles and martyrs and theologians were giants and heroes of the faith.  But there is sacred work for us to do as well.  We are to participate with Jesus in the holy work of freeing those around us now who are bound by what is crushing them and holding them back from being what God made them to be. 

And so on this Feast of All Saints’, I invite you to see yourself as one who unbinds and then look around to see where you might be called do that holy work. It might be simply listening to a friend bound by fear. It might be working to eliminate poverty or hunger or disease. It might be donating to Episcopal Relief and Development's Hurricane Sandy Fund (to which our loose plate offering goes today) or purchasing groceries for our Thanksgiving food drive.  It might be giving a manna bag to a hungry stranger or spending the night in the winter shelter. It might be something big or something small.

Not all of us will be famous, but all of us are called to participate in the sacred and holy work begun by Jesus. There are people who are bound everywhere. They may not be attractive or appealing and we may prefer to believe they deserve to be bound.  But open your eyes and see them anyway.  

And act with courage to unbind them.  Because Jesus loves them as he loved Lazarus and as he loves us. 

Unbind them, and let them go.