All (of us) Saints, by Pastor Noel

November 3 & 4, 2018   All Saints Sunday, B


      There is a tree beside the Seekonk River that has become a tree of prayer. People have tied strips of fabric as prayer flags on the tree. They flutter in the wind and add a touch of color.

      It reminds me of the prayer flags churches made for everyone killed in the war in Iraq some years ago.

      When I saw that tree on my walk the other day I thought, too, of the folks killed in the Tree of Life Synagogue last weekend.

      I started feeling connections.

      And I was reminded of something Diana Butler Bass wrote recently.

      She wrote about the tree called a quaking aspen. They grow out west and seem to shimmer when the leaves blow in the fall. They grow in what look like huge forests. But the forest is not made up of many trees, it is one tree!

      The quaking aspen is many, many, trunks all connected by one root system. Butler Bass was writing of going to visit the tree called “Pando.”

      I’ve read that Pando is a clonal colony, not just a single trunk. It is considered the heaviest and oldest living organism, maybe 80,000 years old!

      That idea just takes my breath away!

      A whole forest that is connected underground by roots we cannot see but which give life to the trees they connect.

      Sort of like the great cloud of witnesses that connects us to everyone else, living and dead.

      There are two days that can be moved to a Sunday in our church calendar. One is for the patronal saint of a parish—like St. John the Divine. The other is All Saints Day. This feast can be moved to the Sunday next after November 1.

      So even though November 1 is past, this is for us the feast day of All Saints.

      We take saints seriously. Not that we worship them, but that we honor them for their faithfulness to God and following Jesus.

      Although, I do think that there are those who can be numbered among the saints who worship in ways different from ours.

      All Saints Day is not just one day, it has become a three day event.

      Hallowe’en begins the time—a day with ancient beginnings in what we call the pagan world. It was thought to be the first day of a new season, and a time when the boundary between earth and heaven was thin or opened.

      The dead returned to earth and the living built huge bonfires to welcome or to keep them away. They remembered what we have forgotten—that the dead are with us even after death.

      Our Hallowe’en costumes and trick or treating are outcomes of those ancient ideas.

      Hallowed means holy, (we say it in the Lord’s Prayer) so Hallowe’en is holy evening, or, as the church sees it, All Hallows Eve—the night before All Saints Day, All Hallows Day.

      All Saints Day is set apart to remember and honor those saints we see in stained glass windows and whose names we have in our calendars. Look around and see the saints in our windows.

      There are many saints not in windows or with special days on the calendar, so the church added a day for them. All Soul’s Day, November 2nd.

      Fred Buechner has said, “On All Saints’ Day, it is not just the saints of the church that we should remember in our prayers, but all the foolish ones and wise ones, the shy ones and overbearing ones, the broken ones and the whole ones, the despots and tosspots and crackpots of our lives, who, one way or another, have been our particular fathers and mothers and saints, and whom we loved without knowing we loved them, and by whom we were helped to whatever little we have, or ever hope to have, of some kind of seedy sainthood of our own.”

      On All Soul’s Day we remember those special people in our lives who are not in this life any more.

      Even if they are not in this life, we are still connected, just like the quaking aspen trees. They have a hidden root system binding them all together.

      We have a connection to our hallowed people, too. Like the roots, it is invisible, and many of us do not know it is there.

      We say life has not ended, only changed.

      We keep them alive in our memories, and in the stories we share. We have photos and maybe videos. We have them alive in other family members.

      But there are other ways, ways that I cannot fully explain and don’t begin to comprehend. Ways in which our loved ones stay in contact with us long after they have died.

      We may hear their voice. We may be aware of their presence in things that happen.

      We may call those time coincidences—but they are beyond our explaining or understanding.

      And just as I cannot explain how this happens, I cannot explain why it doesn’t always happen.

      As Shakespeare’s Hamlet says, “There are more things in heaven and earth…than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

      I invite you to take some imaginary travel with me. Please shut your eyes. Picture yourself. Just you. Now, pretend you are a camera, and pan out a bit to include more people—those sitting around you here, or your family, or your neighbors.

      As you widen your imagining, see that the world is more than people. See the houses and roads, but also see all that the earth includes. Pan out to see the “blue marble” as earth has been called. See the stars, other planets, our sun and moon.

      Now imagine the connections between us and all of that. Connections we cannot see, but that our souls can feel and understand.

      We are so much more than just “me.” We are made of stardust, filled with the breath of God.

      We are part of the vast cosmos, far more than we can ever see. Like the roots of the aspen we have connections to all of creation. Part of creation is that great cloud of witnesses that shows God’s love for us, and shows us how to love.

      Nelson Mandela said, “to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

      We are all connected. May we feel that connection. May we join that cloud of God’s love even while we are still here.

      May we share God’s love so that others know that connection, too. To the ends of the earth, to the ends of the cosmos.

The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details