Yesterday, I was talking with someone about the
difficult verse we looked at a few months ago, “Unless you eat the flesh of the
Son of Man and drink his blood you have no life within you” (John 6:53). We sing
it happily in that wonderful communion hymn, “I am the bread of life” and each
time I wonder if we should omit that verse, or whether that would be cherry
picking the words of Christ. It does seem very exclusionary which contradicts
our understanding of a God who is unconditionally loving and wants nothing more
than to be in close, intimate, mutual relationship with every one of us.
Today we celebrate All Saints Day and we remember
with a mixture of joy and sadness those who have died in the faith of Christ.
Joy because we believe that they are now seeing God in a new and much closer
way and that held in God’s loving embrace they are becoming fully the free and
joyous beings we are all made to be, but sadness because they are our people
and they are no longer here. When I think about those whom I have known and
loved who have died, I wonder how many of them were saints. How many of them
were people of faith? I don’t know for sure. If I’m in doubt should I include
them in the list of names to be read today?
Take Auntie Myrtle. She
was my mother’s dear friend. I think I was told that her husband had been a
priest, and I’m pretty sure she went to church. She was the first person I knew
who died. I remember I liked her perfume and I was always glad to see her. Was
she a saint? Probably, but I can’t be sure.
seems to be built on exclusivity. We saints are in the club, and the rest are
just poor heathens whom we need to convert or else to pity. But I think that is
a terrible distortion of Jesus’ teaching. After all, he spent time with the
outcasts of his society and he was himself the ultimate outcast. He became the
cosmic scapegoat – the one who was betrayed and denied by his friends, mocked
and accused by his people and then killed as an insurgent by the occupying
forces. We follow an outcast… who are we to dare to exclude?
But I think there’s a difference
between excluding, and rejoicing in our path and our calling as the saints of God.
If we aren’t excited about our experience of God then why should anyone else
care? In fact, when we are excited we’re far more likely to include other
people because our hearts are full of the abundance of God’s love, than when we’re
discouraged and scared and think there really isn’t enough to go round. That’s
when we fall into the very human trap of bolstering our own sense of security
by excluding other people.
And we have plenty to
be excited about. Just look at our readings for today.
They are all about hope.
Our hope that there will come a time when God invites us to the great banquet
and all the pain and the death we experience so often will be completely wiped
away. We will sit down with radical Islamic fighters, and communists, and
Soviets and people who look quite different from us and we will eat together the
meal that God has prepared for us. What a wonderful image of peace and conviviality
and joy. But notice that this isn’t an exclusive image… it doesn’t say “On this
mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all Christians a feast…” or even “on
this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all Christians and good Jews a
feast” but “on this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast.”
The psalm tells us that
all who have “clean hands and a pure heart” will receive God’s blessing, and in
Revelation the new civilization, the new heaven and earth where God dwells
among mortals doesn’t mention rules about who can live there and who can’t.
Aren’t these wonderful
images! A banquet on the top of the mountain, a new heaven and a new earth where
we dwell tangibly with God, and above all an end to sorrow, pain and death.
That is our hope.
And of course, each one
of us longs like Lazarus to hear Christ’s words to us “Come out!” Come out from
whatever is keeping you trapped, whatever is holding you down, whatever is
denying you life. Come out! There is life in Jesus.
Today we are baptizing
Jo and we are in that symbolic act indicating that she is passing from the old
life caught up in sin to the new life in Christ that she shares with the
saints. We will be joining with the Holy Spirit in marking her as Christ’s own
for ever - one of those who is enrolled with us in the project of making the
reign of God a reality, of living as though God’s word is really true!
We are delighted that
Jo has heard Christ’s call to Come out! And we celebrate her new life in Christ
and her entry into the household of saints.
But is this an
exclusionary act? Are we, by proclaiming the communion of Saints and by baptizing
new Christians, excluding others or saying that we alone have the true way to
I don’t think so. I
think God is bigger than all human systems of thought. There are many different
lenses and there are many different paths and we can learn from them all. But
we have been called to be disciples of Christ and it is to us that his words
are addressed, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood
you have no life within you.” If we don’t follow the path to which we have been
called and upon which we have started, we will become lifeless. Because it is
in Jesus Christ that we find life. It is in Jesus Christ that we are blessed
with hope. It is in Jesus Christ that we find the path to a life of deep
connection with Spirit.
Let us have the courage
of the saints of old, to stay the path, to gnaw upon the humanness of Christ
and to drink his life force and to hold firm the hope that one day in the
coming reign of God, all humanity will be united in joy and plenty.
St Benedicts Episcopal Church is a welcoming faith community in Los Osos, California. For over 20 years we have been witnessing to God's all-inclusive love. In this bl;og we share sermons and other ideas in the hope that this will inspire conversation and new thinking about the God who has called us and who is faithful.