All Saints' Sunday / Year B
Happy All Saints’ Sunday. Given the readings, this liturgical date, and the fact we have a baptism today, it might be just as appropriate for me to say l’chaim, the Hebrew toast meaning “to life”, because today is all about life… new life, the lives who have touched us and the lives we touch, and the life we hope one day to receive.
Holy Baptism is a celebration of new life, but perhaps not in the way you think. To the uninitiated it may appear we are celebrating baby Holland’s birth. And to be sure, her birth is an occasion of great joy. She has transformed two people from a being a couple into parents. She has created two sets of grandparents and numerous aunts and uncles. It is a remarkable achievement for one so young! There is no doubt her life makes life new for many people. But this cause for rejoicing is not what the Baptismal liturgy invites us to celebrate.
The early church practiced baptism by immersion. A bishop or priest took you out into a river or lake and pushed you under water three times (in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit). This was no genteel dipping. The celebrant held the candidate underwater (sometimes forcibly) to come as close to drowning the person as humanly possible. This action reflected the spiritual truth the old person dies in the waters of baptism and a new person in Christ rises from it.
Years ago, while taking a youth group on a canoeing trip, one young person said to me, “You could baptize me in this river.” I responded, “Do you want me to show you how they use to do it?” “Sure,” he said, having no idea what he was in for. He has never forgotten the experience or forgiven me!
Beyond a ritualistic drowning, the new life we celebrate today is about a new direction for living. We turn from the old life of sin and embrace the new life of grace. We turn from evil, the corrupting influences of the world, and from our own flawed leanings and put our trust in Jesus as our Savior, our Lord, and our Guide. Holland’s parents and sponsors commit themselves to raise her on this path and we promise to do all in our power to support them. Today is the beginning of her new life and the renewal of ours.
Those whose lives have touched ours and those whose lives we have touched. I was at a meeting with Bishop Susan on Monday (All Saints’ Day) and on a zoom call with her on Tuesday. At both occasions she invited us to reflect on the people who have touched our lives and to share the story of one of them. She talked about going to church as a little girl with her grandmother. She recalled how her grandmother sang the hymns and participated in the liturgy and interacted with other parishioners. Bishop Susan said watching her grandmother in church lit the religious fire within her. Who are the saints in your life who have lit that fire in you?
And who are the people who have seen that fire in you and been changed by it? This may not be an easy question to answer because oftentimes we are not aware of the impact we have on others. Still, if you live your life in Christ authentically your life will make a difference. At last Thursday’s funeral, two of Tom Pruden’s twelve grandchildren read the lessons and shared heartfelt stories of how their ‘Pops’ touched their lives. As I listened to them I realized Tom didn’t do anything extraordinary, but he lived in an extraordinary way. His life was his gift to his grandchildren. Whose lives are you touching? Who might see you as being a saint?
The life we hope one day to receive. The story of Jesus’ interactions with Mary and Martha around the events of Lazarus’ death is so true to the human experience. The grief, the anger, the pain, the confusion, and the emotion all ring true. And at the end of the story there is the voice of Jesus – loud enough to be heard over the wailing of mourners and strong enough to be heard in the tomb – “Lazarus, come out!” One day it is the voice each of us hopes to hear as Jesus calls us by our name; calls us from death into the new life of the Resurrection. It is the hope at the heart of our faith.
So this morning let us celebrate life in all its fulness. L’chaim!