“Communion of Saints”

Download a PDF of this sermon here.

 

Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

November 3, 2013

Scripture:  Romans 8 (excerpts)

 

If these walls could talk, can you imagine what they would say?

If this sanctuary could speak of the scenes it has witnessed, can you imagine the stories it would tell?

If these pews could recount all the hundreds and thousands of people who have sat in them through the years, can you imagine how they would reminisce?  They would remember the names of the families who sat in the same row for generations.  They would tell of the babies who fussed and the parents who comforted them.  They would chuckle about the children who crawled underneath them on hands and knees.  They would remember the feel of starched linen, and cotton, and wool, and polyester, and twill, and denim.  If these pews could talk, they would give thanks for the warmth of all those bodies, all those lives, all those members of this family of faith.

If these aisles could tell of all the feet that have traversed their length, can you imagine the tales they would recall?  They would remember snow boots and summer sandals, loafers and pumps and clogs and sneakers, shoes of every shape and size and color.  They would remember toddlers taking their first hesitant steps, with a parent close behind them.  They would tell of the wedding dresses whose trains have brushed their surface.  They would tell of the rhythmic steps of pallbearers carrying a coffin out toward the cemetery.  If these aisles could talk, they would give thanks for the touch of all those feet, all those lives, all those members of this family of faith.

If these windows could speak of all the moments they have witnessed, can you imagine the pictures they would show us?  They would describe the glow of candlelit faces on Christmas Eve, singing “Silent Night.”  They would remember the beaming faces of parents, presenting a new child for baptism.  They would tell of the way the tears sparkled in the eyes of a newly-widowed elder.  They would remember all the lives that played out here, all the babies who grew into children who grew into teenagers who grew into adults who grew into elders, who gave way to subsequent generations.  If these windows could talk, they would give thanks for the light of all those faces, all those lives, all those members of this family of faith.

If these ceilings could recall all the sounds they have heard, can you imagine what they would describe?  They would tell of all the voices that have prayed and spoken and preached, all the different pitches and accents and languages people have used as they spoke to one another and to God.  They would recount the musicians who have sung and played and strummed and plucked and blown and rung out praise to God.  They would remember the chords of the doxology, week after week after week.  If these ceilings could talk, they would give thanks for the melody of all those voices, all those lives, all those members of this family of faith.

 

If these walls could talk, can you imagine what they would say?

If this sanctuary could speak of the scenes it has witnessed, can you imagine the stories it would tell?

This is one of the reasons why we come to church—to be in a place that is so steeped in the lives and prayers and stories of those who have gone before us.  Can you feel it?  Can you feel that presence?

 

If this cross could talk, here is the truth that it would proclaim:  that those who have died are yet still here, still present with us.  Those who have gone before us are alive in Christ, and they are present here when we gather in his name.  They are here not only in the imagined reminiscences of these pews and aisles and windows and ceilings.  They are here not only in the cherished memories of our hearts.  They are truly and palpably here, present in our midst as the great cloud of witnesses, the communion of saints in every time and every place.

Every time we gather, and especially on this All Saints Sunday, we do not meet alone, but gather in the presence of the saints and martyrs, the prophets and psalmists, the heroes sung and unsung.  The whole company of heaven and earth is here.  Can you feel it?

These pews are packed.  Matthew and Mark and Luke and John are here, sitting right up front to get a good look at what’s going on.  Judas is here, with Jesus sitting right beside him.  Abraham and Sarah and their multitude of descendants are here, sitting on one another’s laps to make room for Martin Luther King and Mother Theresa to squeeze in beside them.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Dorothy Day are here, shaking hands with Saint Francis and Julian of Norwich.  Martin Luther and John Calvin are here.  Mahatma Gandhi is here.  Sojourner Truth is introducing herself to Johann Sebastian Bach, and Oscar Romero is waving across the room at Rosa Parks.

This sanctuary is full to the gills.  The children who died in Newtown are here, along with every victim of gun violence on every street of every city.  The ones who died in Boston in April are here.  Every person who died on 9/11 is here.  Every soldier and every civilian who has died in every war is here.  Every person who has died in the fighting in Syria is here.  Every child who dies of HIV in Africa is here.

This church is filled to the rafters, and not only with the ones whose names and faces are broadcast over the airwaves and printed in the newspapers.  The ones whose stories are known only to us are here, too.  My grandparents, Ruth and Fred and Grace and Ben, are here.  Maria’s father Louis is here.  Diane’s uncle Jim is here.  Lib’s brother Toby is here.  Debby’s father Parker is here.  David’s wife Judy, and Mary’s son David, and Betty’s husband Richard are all here.  Mary’s brother John is here, and Ken’s wife Linda, and Susan’s husband Sherman, and Debbi’s husband Elle, and Larry’s wife Gloria—here.  Viola’s son George, and Katie’s husband Paul and son Jamie—here.  And all our other loved ones—they are here, every one of them, present in our midst and surrounding us with their love.

This is what we mean when we talk of the communion of saints, the great cloud of witnesses:  we mean that death does not get the final word.  Though their mortal lives are over, these beloved ones of ours have only just begun to live in the glorious joy of eternity.  And here in our worship, here at this table, the veil between this life and the next grows thin, and we catch a glimpse of that day to come when all will be made new, and when we will all be brought together again right in the heart of God.  For there is nothing—neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation—that can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Amen.