Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Reflection on All Saints' Day

I personally love the concept of All Saints' Day. It is one of my favorite Church holy days aside from Christmas and Easter. It has added significance for me this year, as its the one year anniversary of my daughter's baptism. The following is an excerpt from the sermon I preached on that day:


When I was living in England-the church that I often attended in Cambridge always had a big to do on All Saints' Day. This was a typical-almost stereotypical little Anglican church. Gothic Tutor-esque stone, a big church yard with a grated metal fence around it. You had to walk through the cemetery gravestones to the front door of the church. Probably the most famous person in the church yard was George Washington's grandfather, who had been the vicar of this parish in the early 1700s.

On All Saints Day, the service started out on the street, with the clergy fulled vested and the processional cross leading a procession through the church yard and into the church while everyone was singing the very hymn "For All thy Saints" that we opened with this morning. Everyone processed into the church, and the service started as normal.

The peculiarity of the service though came about 20 minutes after it started. After the short sermon, the custom of this parish was to read the names of every person who had died in the parish with the big tower bell tolling in the background through all this.

Now, that in itself, might not seem all that peculiar, at least to Americans. Remembering the names of all the saints who have come before us was a nice gesture of remembrance..until you took into account that the parish was over one thousand years old. They read every single name of every single person that had ever had a funeral at this parish for a thousand years.

47 minutes later, the reader finally got done reading all the names. Only in England.

(And to answer your question: Yes, it was that boring.) 

But in its own mundane sort of way, that memory has always stuck with me because there were probably more names but they only started keeping written records around AD 1000.

1000 years of names; 1000 years of people worshipping at this parish; 1000 years of people being born, living their lives, and dying in the faith; 1000 years of Saints, most of whom now known only to God. That church largely only knew most of their names. All those people: their feelings, their stories, their history long since forgotten by man. In some ways it was a miracle that any living person even knew their names, as most of them had lived and died so very long ago.

A thousand years ago, we had not even begun to perfect a mechanical clock. We believed that the sun and the stars all revolved around us. It would be almost 500 years before Europeans would be able to build boats large enough to take them on a journey far enough to discover a New World. What a difference a thousand years makes.

If that was not enough to boggle the mind, a question one might ask is what might people say about us a thousand years from now? What if, a thousand years from now, worshippers heard our individual names read out loud on All Saints Day?

Might they look at us as we would look on a nun or a miller from Medieval times-people who lived their entire lives without traveling more than 10 miles from the place of their birth, people who lived in a world that at night was lighted only by fire?

Or...will they look at us in awe?

The great scientist Albert Einstein was once allegedly asked by a member of the press about what manner of weapons armies might use in the event we ever had a 3rd World War. He looked off into the distance, and after a period of awkward silence, Einstein in his German brogue, turned back to the reporter and supposedly warned, "That I can't say, I can only predict that the weapons of the 4th war will be mere sticks and stones."

A thousand years from now will people peer at the grand sports arenas that we've built, buildings that would by then stand largely in ruins, the rules of football or baseball forgotten in the mists of time. Leaving only spaces at which tourists marvel, as tourists might today on holiday travel to see the Coliseum in Rome or the Temple of Athena in Greece? Will they view us as the fabulously wealthy who lived in the greatest society the world had ever known or ever will know? People who had the privilege of living in a world that still had oil and life in the ocean.

What will people say about you? 

Only God can say, and only God may know. 

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