Today we celebrate All Saints and All Souls. We are reminded in our reading from Revelation that we are the People of God, past, present and future. As we consider all the saints that have gone before us, I am drawn to the book of Hebrews, and the passage that says we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. (Hebrews 12:1) What is this great cloud of witnesses? Is it all the saints we commemorate on certain saint’s day, and does it include lesser saints that are on our church calendars? Yes, it does, but it also includes all saints. It includes my grandfather and grandmother, my father and mother, my elementary age Sunday School teacher, and all the other brothers and sisters in Christ that have gone ahead us into this great cloud of witnesses. You, my brothers and sisters in the Lord, are also saints. (Revelation 21:1-6)
I know that saints go all the way back to Adam and Eve, Moses and the early patriarchs and matriarchs. It also includes the Christian Church born on the Day of Pentecost. Today is the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost Sunday. One of the ways of looking at Christian faith journey is comparing it to entering a large space or arena in time. I like to think of a huge stadium with multiple rooms, social rooms, places where there is Bible study, rooms for worship and prayer, rooms where there is fellowship. Breaking of bread and eating together, and places set aside for quiet reflection and meditation, places set aside for counseling and healing, places to rejoice, and places to celebrate achievements and honors, and places to cry, places to remember those that have gone before us.
When we enter this huge stadium with multiple rooms, we first enter the front doors into a fellowship hall. We hear people welcoming newcomers, and explaining, things to all the newly arrived, leaders of the church, including lay members, and clergy, assisting everyone to find their place, to adjust to the rooms, and teaching from the Bible about the great cloud of witnesses and then we begin to find our way around, and in time we become comfortable as members of the church, assisting the newcomers and those looking to see where the can fit into this thing called the Church of Jesus Christ.
We begin to volunteer for duty, taking on responsibilities along with opportunities and privileges, because that’s what church members do, finding our calling in the Body of Christ. We begin to grow and mature in Christ, taking on leadership roles, teaching the children, singing in the choir, collecting the tithes and offerings, governing the affairs of the church and other stewardship roles. We grow in faith and in years, and beyond the altar there is a door, and we know that all people sooner or later will go through that door.
We’re not too sure what’s beyond the door. We know resurrected life has many pictures in the Bible, pictures of life after death, pictures of heaven, pictures that point to eternal bliss, peace and joy, a place where there is no more sorrow or pain. We are told in the book of Revelation that we are headed for a city whose architect and builder is God. There will be no night there, neither the need of a light, for Jesus will be our light. He’ll reign, and he’ll shine ever bright. (Rev. 22)
Eventually we are directed to the door, and perhaps there will be a ladder, the one like we read about a few weeks back, Jacobs ladder, where the angels were ascending and descending. And, as we go out the door and begin to climb this ladder to paradise, there are new faces coming in the front door that in time will centime in the works that you worked on, or perhaps be directed to a new work, a new project. The Apostle Paul tells us that some of us are called to start new things, to do the work of a mission developer, and some of us are called to continue the work that others have started. Paul warns us to be careful how we build. The ministries do not belong to us. Our gifts, time and resources as stewards, are given to us to share with others, to build up the church, to consider others as more important than ourselves, and to take on the mantle of leadership. This mantle of privilege and responsibility is for everyone. And Jesus also tells us to carry purses that will never wear out.
Even when we walk out the passageway behind the altar to your heavenly home, your purse will benefit others in the church in the form of endowments, or a purse that is full of good works, leaving your fingerprints on the lives you have touched through teaching, pastoral care or in so many other creative and wonderful works.
This is what Jesus means when he says carry a purse that will never wear out. No-one will ever take your place. They may take over your place of ministry, but your personality and your hand is imprinted on your work and will be evident and left for others to see. As ministry continues new handprints are introduced, new personalities emerge and shape things.
Just as your personality and ministry is unique, so is the personality of a local parish. The way we approach ministry and the types of ministry we are involved in at St. Alban’s is different than First Presbyterian, St. Dunstan’s or St. John’s Lutheran. We can learn from others and identify with them, and they can learn from us. We need to be careful in bragging about our parish and how we do things. Ministries are different, but we are all part of this great cloud of witnesses.
New people will take our place, to be taught, fed and cared for, to find their place in the church, and they too will be the new teachers, caregivers, responsible stewards and leaders, and will continue to work on ministries that others have started before their time.
Someday we too will be called to exit the building to climb the ladder to glory, and people will come into the doors of this massive stadium on All Saints Day and remember you, their fathers, mothers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, children, loved ones and friends that have gone on before us on this journey toward the New Jerusalem, whose maker and architect is God.