Homily, Nov. 6

Today I want to talk about the Communion of Saints. 

The outline of the faith in the back of the Book of Common Prayer, the official prayer book of our church, says, “The communion of saints is the whole family of God, the living and the dead, … bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer, and praise.”

I found a lovely description on another Episcopal church’s website: “All Saints’ Day [November 1; we’re celebrating it today] and All Souls’ Day [November 2nd] remind us of our belief that all Christians that ever lived, are living, and will ever be, are bound together in one Communion – the Body of Christ. All Saints’ and All Souls’ celebrates this bond as we continue the ancient practice of praying for the saints who have gone on before us and acknowledge that those saints in heaven are praying for us.”

(The Rev. Jeff Shankles, https://wearestalbans.org/celebrating-communion-saints/ ) 

The Communion of Saints binds us together with all Christians in all times and places. But at All Saints’ and All Souls’ we may be most mindful of the saints who have gone on ahead into the nearer presence of God. 

Of those holy ones whom the Church names as witnesses to celebrate and remember, and of our own beloved dead. 

There are several reasons the Communion of Saints is on my mind right now.

I think it’s no accident that these feasts of remembrance, this time when the Church and her people acknowledge that the veil between worlds feels particularly thin, comes at this turning time of the seasons in the northern hemisphere. 

Autumn is dying, winter is on the horizon. 

In the words of a favorite hymn: 

Signs of endings are all around us. 

These solemn feasts resonate with the cycles of the natural world; change, loss, transience and mortality are writ large everywhere we look. 

The second reason the Communion of Saints is on my mind is – of course – that it feels like our little St Dunstan’s chapter of the greater Communion has been growing, lately. 



Dan Geisler.

Dan Hanson. 

Scott Tyre.

Mike Vaughan. 

Mo Lewis. 

Sue Lloyd. 

All gone on ahead in 2022. 

Some more remembered than known, by today’s congregation, but some very much known and loved – and missed.  Absences keenly felt. 

I keep expecting to Martina to stop by and drop off some political buttons, or an email from Jane that starts with an error in the Enews but goes on with an update on her life, and kind questions about my family. 

It helps to remember that they’re still out there, somewhere. 

The third reason the Communion of Saints is on my mind is that I heard a great sermon about it recently, at our Diocesan Convention in early October, given by Bishop Matt Gunter, the bishop of our sister diocese of Fond du Lac. 

Bishop Matt challenged us to take that idea of the Communion of Saints seriously. To think of church as the momentum of all those holy lives pushing us forward, encouraging us. 

What if all those people we named at the beginning of this service – what if they are actually listening? Hearing our call, our invocation of their presence and prayers? 

Bishop Matt talked about how we might feel a sense of unease at the idea of being watched over by the holy departed. Surely they’ll judge our every small failure or unkindness!

But what if – he said – what if instead it’s the reverse? What if they break out in joyful cheers every time we manage to be patient or kind or generous in some tiny way? 

And what if the saints don’t just watch us like some trans-dimensional twitch stream? What if they’re an active presence in our lives?

Coming alongside us to whisper: You’re going to need to be patient, today. Pay attention in this conversation; there’s something here for you. Get some rest this evening; tomorrow may demand a lot from you. 

After all, the saints know what it is like to try to be people of justice and mercy and love in the real world. In ordinary times and in extraordinarily difficult times. 

Bishop Matt reminded us of the great theologian Augustine of Hippo, who lived in a time when the Roman Empire, the world as everyone had known it for centuries, was falling down around his ears. 

And Augustine writes this great work called the City of God, saying, This earthly city, this earthly empire, may crumble; but there’s another city that we really belong to, and that city endures, because God is the Founder of that city.

Julian of Norwich, a beloved saint for some people in this congregation, lived in the 14th century – in the time of the Black Death, the great plague that killed something like a third of the people of Europe. But she encounters Jesus in a vision, and Jesus tells her that despite the suffering she sees around her, the heart of the Divine is not judgment but deep, deep love. And Julian is able to say: All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

Not because the hard and terrible stuff isn’t real. But because it’s not as real as the love that holds her – that holds us. And it’s not as real as the joy that awaits us. 

These people lived in times that make what we’re dealing with look not so bad. But we may well have harder times ahead.

As I’ve gotten to know Bishop Matt, I’ve noticed that he carries a keen awareness that we may be moving into a difficult chapter in the life of the world – with worsening climate change, polarized violence, and pandemic disease. I find it – oddly comforting? – to hear a church leader name that.

And he makes the case that it’s important to anchor ourselves in what matters, in what’s deeply true and truly good, to face the coming times. Our understanding, our awareness, of the Communion of Saints is one aspect of that anchoring.

Because all these people – Augustine, Julian, Dr. King, Sophie Scholl, so many others – they lived in hard times too.They faced into it with love and courage. 

Bishop Matt told us: The saints remind us that we are part of a bigger story.  My part in the story, or your part, might be pretty small. But we’re called to play our part in the great story, in our time.

And what kind of story is it? Well: We know where the story is going. Because of Jesus, who comes into the story to give us a foreshadowing of how the story will end. The story ends with resurrection.  With restoration and renewal. 

It’s not a tragedy, no matter how it might look sometimes. It’s the kind of story that ends with laughter, with joy. With old friends and loved ones reunited. With feast and song. 

Knowing how the story ends might free us to see the hard stuff along the way in a different light. 

And as we continue to live the rest of our parts of the story, we can be assured that there is this great cloud of witnesses, the Communion of Saints, cheering us on. 

The St. Dunstan’s chapter, and all the others you’re thinking of today too – maybe a beloved grandparent, a friend from childhood, a mentor, a sibling or child – watching over you, praying for you, urging you on. Standing here beside you. Beside us. Accompanying us on the journey. 

Thanks be to God.