The Rev’d Matthew D. Larsen
Christ Church, New Haven, Connecticut
All Saint’s, Year B, 2015
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.
The first time I ever gave out the consecrated bread during a Communion service came only a short while after I came to the Episcopal Church. I had Baptist minister for a couple years, had lots of preaching experience, and was in the ordination discernment process. It was an Anglo-Catholic parish but they also had a contemporary worship style service in the chapel each week that blended Anglo-Catholic commitments and spirituality with guitar and drums music.
After I preached I helped the celebrant at the altar. When the Eucharistic prayers were completed and it was time to commune the people, the celebrant turned to me, handed me a paten of consecrated bread and said, “You ready?” My first inclination was “No!” but in this case the celebrant was also a bishop, so in a split second decision I said, “Of course!”
Do I know what to do? Do I know what to say? I’m not sure. I’m pretty sure I don’t.
Here we go.
In that service the people came down the center aisle and received standing up. As the first person came forward, I found myself reaching into the paten, grabbing a piece of bread, holding it up before the person, and somehow the folds of my brain produced the correct words.
I couldn’t believe I was doing it! The joy of playing that role in such a sacred moment was almost overwhelming to me. The diversity of the saints, for all of whom Christ freely gave himself, really struck me. But then …
Then a young man whom I had never seen before at church was next in line, and he walked up bowed his head and did this [X}. What in the world was I supposed to do? I knew I had all of about 2 seconds to make a decision? And in those 2 seconds here’s what went through my head:
· Can I give a blessing? I know priests give blessings and I’m not a priest.
· If I do give a blessing, what am I supposed to say? I don’t know what to say.
· If I don’t give this person with crossed arms a blessing, what else would I do?
So here’s what I did. I had seen priests lean into close and place their hand on their shoulder when I person came with crossed arms at Communion, so that’s what I did: I leaned in close, placed my hand gently on his arm, and I said this: “I don’t know what to say to you right now.” Then I patted him on the shoulder, smiled at him, and gestured to move along.
Believe it or not, I never saw that young man at church again. In my shame I confessed my stupidity to the bishop after the service. The bishop said, “Generally what you said is a good answer to always have in your back pocket—but never say that to a communicant again.”
The problem was I was too honest—too honest and I didn’t realize who I was in that moment and I didn’t realize whom I was with. Right then I was not just me: I was the person called by the bishop to be the vessel through whom Christ’s sacramental presence in the consecrated bread was offered to God’s people.
Today is All Saint’s. All Saint’s is about reminding ourselves who we really are and who we are with. It may feel a little strange to sing about monumental saint figure throughout the history of God’s people, and then to refer to yourself as a saint. I cannot wrap my head around the idea that St. Francis is a saint and I am a saint, that St. Julian of Norwich is a saint and you are a saint.
But that’s why we need to remember who we really are. Martin Luther used to tell his congregation, “Remember your baptism!” Now he was not speaking to good people First Baptist Wittenburg. He was speaking to a group of people who had been baptized as infants. How could they remember their baptism? They point was to view themselves through baptism.
Today we witness [Name’s] baptism. We will say, “[Name], you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever.” To remember your baptism means to remember that whatever kind of “honest” assessment you might make of yourself, whether you honestly feel ashamed or overly proud or disappointed or even disgusted, the most true assessment you can really make won’t move much past, “[Name], you have been and are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever.” Some days we may think better of ourselves than is true and some days worse. But in both case the truth is that we are those holy number who have been baptized into Christ’s death in order to live in the power of his resurrection, called to become who we already are
But you must also remember who you are with. Today we will welcome [Name] saying, “We receive you into the household of God. Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood.” Remembering who we are with as saints means we could also imagine holy martyrs Perpetua and Felicity, holy St. Hilda, holy John the Baptist, holy Ruth and Naomi, holy Julian of Norwich, holy apostles Peter and Paul, holy Thomas Becket, and all the holy confessors, doctors, martyrs, monks, hermits, nuns, activists, prophets, all the holy women and men, surrounding us and saying, “We receive you into the household of God. Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood.”
The trick is it is not always easy to know how to do that, and imitating Christ is often tricky because he lived long ago and in a very, very different context than us, so it can be hard to make a one-to-one ethical move. But that’s where the saints come in. The reason saints all basically look the same in iconography is because they all look something like Jesus. They incarnate for us what it looks like to embody Christ’s in their own day. Moving straight from Jesus 2,000 years ago can sometimes be tricky. But the saints allow us to plot a trajectory from 33 AD right through to 2015.
In my opening story I didn’t remember whom I was with. In that instance, I happened to be arm one-arms-length distance away from a bishop, who certainly knew what to do and what to say. A quick pause and a tad on the bishop’s shoulder would have solved the whole situation.
All Saint’s is about reminding us who we really us and it is also about reminding us we are an arm’s distance away from a multitude of saints who are watching, cheering, praying, interceding, and offering us examples of how to become what we already are. Or to paraphrase Gerard Manley Hopkin’s
To “[act] in God’s eye what in God’s eye [we are]—
Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places.