Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Andrew Colquhoun, OHC
RCL - All Saints C - Sunday 31 October 2010
Each year in Grahamstown, South Africa, there is a festival of the arts. It’s modeled on the Edinburgh Festival with music, drama, street theater, the Fringe and some wonderful nonsense and great food. I always loved it.
One year, a group of South African artists presented the Chester Cycle of the mystery plays. These date from the 15th century.
The group’s staging was wonderful… the chorus were saints. They were dressed in cloth of gold and their headdresses were fashioned to look like icons. Square and standing around their heads. Every time they moved, they glowed in the lights of the theater. Heavenly, beautiful and chilling at the same time. Not of us, not at all.
Then the music started… and the musicians played garbage cans and coke bottles. While I had been enthralled by the glowing beauty of the figures, the music brought me right back to earth, to incarnation, to roughness and pain… to life. It was brilliant! Holiness and the ordinary in a wonderful mix.
This feast of All Saints is like that. It captures the heart. This celebration of all the holy women and men from all time past and all time to come surely must touch each of us. It brings awe and wonder; it brings us to our knees in humility. It makes us look at our lives and wonder if we will ever make the roll of the holy ones.
And there’s quite a bunch of them. We really only celebrate the biggies here. Scholars, bishops, monks, nuns, popes, missionaries, kings and queens, apostles, martyrs, hermits and pastors. All with credentials that bid us admire and venerate them. And I do love them – all those holy people – some of them quite surprised, I’m sure, to have a feast day.
Most of them would be more comfortable with the dustbin band and the coke bottles than the great heavenly strings… because truth to tell, most of them didn’t try to be saints. They tried to be human – fully human as the Lord they followed was fully human. Fully in love with God’s people, filled with hunger… hunger of the mind, hunger of the heart. The fled to the desert and found themselves one with each other. Living in the cloister, they became fully aware of the poor at the door. They wrote, they preached, they debated; they traveled to distant places far from their homes. They suffered, they struggled - and God claimed them. And God made them saints!
Just as God has made us saints! On this feast we don’t merely remember the superstars but also the ordinary saints who, all unbeknownst even to themselves, transform the world. You know them – the foster mothers who always have room for one more; the nurses who take on double shifts rather than leave the suffering; the teacher who labors to bring light to a student’s eyes; the teenager who befriends the odd one out in class – all of them are saints. And they are everywhere. This church is packed with them – all the company, all the time. I believe that at the loneliest place in my heart, there they are – loving and holding me. I believe that when I walk and stumble, they are there to cheer me on. I believe that when I fall into the comfort trap, they convict me. I believe that when I have no strength to act, they act for me. And when we can believe that, there is no room left for despair or paralysis of fear. It’s the incarnation – Christ present in us. In all history, in every dark place where one of us shines, where one person gives food to the hungry, where one teenager scared of his sexuality is loved and unashamed, where the exhausted single mother is treasured as beautiful, there are the saints at work; there God is praised, there Christ is born again.
So this is a feast of hope and joy. It’s also a feast of calling, of pulling us forward into the dark places where we would rather not go. Jesus makes no bones about it. He doesn’t spiritualize the blessings – it isn’t the poor in spirit he talks about. It’s the poor, the dirt poor. Their hunger is not for righteousness, it’s for food. Luke the physician reports it as he knows it. And the woes are just as down and dirty. If you have everything now, don’t expect more. Life in the incarnate Lord is not cloth of gold and living icons for most of the world. It’s garbage cans and empty bottles and grubbing for existence.
So we join the saints at the dumpsters, in the churches, in the quiet places and in the streets. This is a feast of wonder and delight and promise because the saints are here – canonized or unrecognized; prelate or your Aunt Helen; wise old men or children. All here, all hungry and thirsty, and all gathered with us at the altar for the only Word that can satisfy. All the heart of God is here.