All Saints Sunday
November 6, 2022
All Saints Day is celebrated in different ways around the world. One celebration I’ve loved for a long time is the Mexican Day of the Dead. There’s something about the way the holiday turns death into this bright, flowery, multicolored experience that fascinates me. In 2017, Pixar put out a movie that talked about the Day of the Dead, Coco, which followed the story of a boy named Miguel who magically finds himself in the land of the dead as he pursues his dream of becoming a musician like his great-great-grandfather.
The whole movie is a phantasmagoria of colors and songs that gives this particular view of the afterlife where the dead are sustained by the offerings of their living relatives and friends. Famous people like Miguel’s purported great-great grandfather, a famous musician, had a giant mansion on a hill and enough offerings from his adoring living fans to throw a massive party. Meanwhile, a guy named Hector who agrees to help Miguel lives with his friends, half-forgotten, in shacks and shanties on the edges of the land of the dead. And it’s an interesting take, because in so many ways, the land of the dead looks remarkably like the world of the living, once you take away the fact that they’re all talking skeletons.
How do we imagine the afterlife? On this All Saints Sunday, how do we talk about heaven and the kind of world our ancestors have gone on to and we’ll one day experience? One thing I hear a lot is that so-and-so will enjoy the thing there that they most enjoyed here—travelling, fishing, visiting, that kind of thing. We imagine our existence here, only the bad parts have been removed. And that’s all well and good, but I think, sometimes, we shortchange what God’s got waiting for us when we think heaven will just replicate earth without ailments.
Think of how the Sadducees came to Jesus with their question in our reading this morning. The Sadducees were known for two main things: they held only the first five books of the Bible as being scripture, and they didn’t believe in the resurrection. When they put this absurd situation before Jesus, they were showing him just how little they understood about what resurrection life means. They had no capacity to imagine anything different from the world they already knew, so they could only offer scenarios that suggested nothing would be different in the resurrected life except that death was undone. And even there they fell short, because to them marriage was about producing children who would carry on a man’s name after he died. How would that function in a world without death? And Jesus called them out on it.
The resurrected life, Jesus insisted, is going to be completely new. The only way to describe it would be to say that the saints will be like angels. While the Sadducees were so concerned with how worldly systems would work—whether marriage or the economy or neighborhood cleanups or Temple procedures—Jesus told them there won’t be any need to worry about any of that in the resurrection. Our concerns, our priorities, our worries, and our needs will be completely upended. Resurrected life isn’t just life beyond death; it’s new life. How can we imagine that?
Everything in our world is touched by sin and brokenness—even the good things. The blessing of community is so easily broken into factions and bickering. The gift of abundance easily devolves into greed and hoarding. The wonder of creation breaks down into questions of economic usefulness. The unifying hope of justice splits into anger and infighting. When even the best things we have in this world are woven so tightly with sin and brokenness, can we really imagine what it even looks like to have the good without the bad? Can we even disentangle the two enough to see what it would look like?
Well, we catch glimpses. Glimpses given to us by the saints who are now at rest. We see the ways that the saints who have gone before us have tried, imperfectly, to live out God’s call in their lives. We’ve seen saints who dedicated years to teaching Sunday school classes and cleaning up the cemetery. We’ve seen saints who spoke up for justice and fought for the rights of the poor and oppressed. We’ve seen saints who nurtured their community and were the rock that got people through disasters of all kinds. We’ve seen saints who lived generously and listened intently and loved selflessly.
When we celebrate All Saints Day, we’re recognizing that we’ve got lifetimes of examples showing us people who tried to imagine a different world, more like the one that Jesus describes to us. We celebrate and remember not because they’re dead and gone and we need to keep their memory alive, but because we worship a God who is the God of the living and not the dead. And the saints are alive, and mystically with us because we too are part of the body of Christ that is found in all time and all space. Like Jesus said, they are alive to God—so they are alive to us too.
So we imitate the saints because of the world they hoped to share. It’s not just going to be this world, but without the bad parts. God promises us so much more than that! And what the saints remind us of is that when you’re going on a journey to somewhere new, you need to get in some practice with the ways you’re going to be living there. That’s what we’re doing here, now. That’s what we all promised to help Gertie do this morning when she received the Holy Spirit. We come together to worship: to be shaped by songs of hope and healing, to be instructed by scripture and sermons, to be nourished for the week with Christ’s own body and blood, to be sent into the world with the blessings of God on us. We’re here to practice the lives of the saints because the saints practiced being echoes of the resurrected life.
So as we celebrate this All Saints Day together, remembering the saints who have gone before us, the saints who are with us now, and the saints to come in the future, let’s be inspired to imagine. Imagine the world the saints spent their lives seeking. Imagine a world where the bad is disentangled from the good. Imagine a world where hope orders our priorities, and love guides our relationships, and justice is given freely for all, and peace orders all things. And when we imagine that world, and we consider the saints, we act. We practice living in that world. We practice the resurrected life, because that’s where we’re going. And may our practice inspire others until the whole world seeks the face of Jesus, just as the saints throughout time did. Let us be living echoes of that future hope.
Thanks be to God. Amen.