Lectionary Reflection for All Saints Day, Year B November 1, 2015
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations. Isaiah 25:6-7
What comes to mind when you consider All Saints Day? Perhaps the tradition of reading the names of those who have died during the year, or the lighting of candles in memory of departed loved ones? Maybe the somber tolling of the church bell, or hymns such as “For All the Saints.”
But is that all? Should the day be all long faces and hastily wiped tears? I don’t think so. Not for the Christian. All Saints Day should be less about memorializing and more about partying. The day is more a foretaste of the feast to come, of the feast that never ends, and of Christ’s table around which we gather. Yes, we may mourn, and yes, we will weep. But joy comes in the morning for we are people of the promise.
But back to food and feasting! We sojourners in faith know how to throw a party. The description the prophet offers in our first reading is nothing short of a fabulous potluck, and we church folk generally know how to throw a fine feast. Whether you can’t imagine life without jello and casseroles, or if your church picnic wouldn’t be complete without cheese grits, fried chicken, and biscuits on the menu, or if soups and bread are just the ticket, or whether quinoa and kale are more your thing–whatever –food in the hands of a disciple can take on a sacramental flavor.
The feast recounted in Isaiah reminds me that food is integral to all that we do as the beloved community. I think of the dear church women who lovingly prepare food for funeral lunches–the barbecues, the beef-and-noodle hotdishes, the lovingly spread egg- and chicken-salad sandwiches, the scalloped potatoes and ham offered as healing balm for hurting hearts. I am reminded of the many meals brought to homebound members and new parents, and of the offerings of fresh produce and meat brought to pastors from the farms of congregants. Yes, food has a sacramental element when it’s offered in Christian love.
And all of these lovingly prepared meals–feasts of joy and spreads of sorrow–pale in comparison to the humble bit of bread or wafer and sip of wine or juice we are served at Christ’s table. In these ordinary elements we are strengthened, we are reminded, and we are equipped to return to the world and serve others in Christ’s name whether that serving involves proffering a hot meal or a whole life for the sake of the gospel.
Dear friends we, too, are part of All Saints Day. “For all the saints” that includes all of us. Simul Justus et peccator–at once saint and sinner, being perfected and practicing resurrection, dying daily to sin and rising to newness of life–we are among the saints of all time and place. Because our Lord has conquered death and we have no need to fear it or give it the last word. We have the hope. We have the promise. We can say with certainty that there is more beyond the grave.
I’m not a scientist, but I take great comfort in the principles of quantum physics–that matter doesn’t go out of existence. It simply changes form. The universe is expanding. Science tells us so, and that doesn’t surprise me because the saints are still with us–part of the fabric of creation, part of the unending divine impulse, and part of our gatherings for worship. I love how Eugene Peterson translates these verses from the first chapter of Colossians in The Message: “ [Jesus] was supreme in the beginning and–leading the resurrection parade–he is supreme in the end. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe–people and things, animals and atoms–get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.”
So on this All Saints Day, let us come to the feast. Let us feast on the word and on the holy meal. Let us chew on the reality that we are Christ’s body here on earth gathered as the beloved community. We are among the saints, and we look for the resurrection of the body and the life to come.
Light candles. Mourn if you must. But find that place of joy. Come to the feast, child of God. Feast on bread and wine. Feast on the knowledge that Jesus Christ has overcome death, has risen from the dead, and calls us all to resurrection both now and in eternity. And feast on a potluck or church supper or other communal meal if you can. Come, come to the feast. There is a place for you here. Amen.
Photos: Randy OHC, Jules and Jenny, Lukas Plewnia, and Waiting for the Word, Creative Commons. Thanks!