Feast of All Saints
I love All Saints Day. It is one of my favorite feast days of the church year. It is a time for joyfully remembering those who preceded us in the faith, both those well-known and those known only to God.
It is one of the traditional days for baptism, too. When this happens it provides a community with a chance to look both backward to remember departed members of the body and forward with those beginning their new lives in Christ. I am also partial to the hymns for this day. This Sunday is one of those occasions when All Saints Day lands on a Sunday.
One way to focus our remembrance of the saints is to reflect on the rest and security those believers now enjoy in God. Even though they have died, “The souls of the righteous are in the hands of God, no torment will ever touch them” (Wis Sol 3:1). They are now removed from the world in which their steadfast fidelity often led to pain and suffering. This can be a comfort to us who remain behind in this world. Most importantly, their lives should serve to encourage our own greater fidelity.
The readings from Isaiah and Revelation for today open up another way of remembering those who preceded us in the faith. In both of these readings believers are not removed from a world of persecution, brokenness, and pain. Instead, in both cases we read that God enters the world in which the saints lived and died in order to renew and restore it.
This is most explicit in Rev 21:3 when the heavenly voice announces that God has now established a dwelling place with humans. That assertion in itself is not that surprising since the Temple in Jerusalem is often referred to as the dwelling place of God. Nevertheless, complacency about God’s dwelling in the Temple often led the Israelites to presume that God would always protect Jerusalem, even if it meant turning a blind eye to Israel’s sin. When the Temple is finally destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, the Israelites learn the hard lesson that God does not need a dwelling place. God will not protect God’s house at all costs.
What is so exciting about the claim in Revelation is its image of a future time when God will not simply have a dwelling place among humans, but that God will dwell in this renewed earth – with no plans to move. Revelation anticipates a time when God takes up permanent residence on earth.
The vocabulary that describes this is exactly the same as Jn 1:14 when we read that, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” In Revelation, the announcement that God is dwelling among humans, signals the demise of all those forces and elements that work to undermine and disrupt the renewed peace of the earth. Chief among these is death.
The reading from Isaiah also reflects this view. We learn that God is preparing a feast, but not in heaven. It is a feast on the mountain of the Lord, Mount Zion in Jerusalem. Of course, we know from our current world that it is always possible for a few to feast quite happily although the rest of creation is wrapped in injustice, degradation, and death.
The feast Isaiah anticipates, however, takes place because God has destroyed, rectified, and removed all these things. Tears are wiped from all eyes (even the tears Jesus sheds in the gospel reading). This is a “feast for all peoples.” The waiting is over; no one has a reason not to come.
This Sunday we remember the saints who have gone before us in the faith; we honor their fidelity in the face of indifference, opposition, and persecution. We draw comfort from the comfort they now experience.
These two readings, however, point us toward a future time. This is not a time when the saints have been extracted from a world that was not worthy of them, a world that ignored, oppressed or persecuted them. Rather, we are pointed to that time when God decisively, fully, and finally enters the world, restoring and repairing it, preparing a feast for all.
By including these readings for All Saints Day, we are reminded that the saints were those who hungered and thirsted after righteousness in a world marked by injustice, degradation, and death. If we are encouraged by their fidelity, we should also be admonished to sharpen our own hunger and thirsting after righteousness so that we can join the saints in rightly rejoicing to hear that announcement that the dwelling place of God is now established among us.