Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Cloud of Witnesses: All Saints' Sunday

All Saints' Day was actually on Friday, but in most Episcopal Churches, the celebration will occur tomorrow morning.  Lucky for me, I served on Friday at our 12:10 service at St. John's, and so I was given the gift of reading the lesson from Ephesians assigned for the day.  And it was an amazing experience; it was electric!  Really, it felt as if there was a current moving through me as I shared the lesson aloud with our tiny and committed congregation:
In him (Christ) you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit;

I recently discussed with my rector that I went through a phase of trying on different religious paths, but all of them kept leading me back to the question of "But where's Jesus in this?"  It was evident to me after awhile that having been marked and sealed as Christ's own forever really did mean something to me.  I couldn't shake free of Christianity; and, as I would later discover, there was no reason for me to want to run away from the basic precepts of the religion.  Many others have struggled with their faith, but, in the end, remained as a follower of Christ.  I had a sense of all those who have gone before me, as I continued reading Paul's letter...

I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

I could feel my breath going deeper into my body as I read this.  And, as I said, it felt like there was a crackling of electricity within me as I had a sense of all the saints joining with me in this reading.  I thought about the lives of those who are now gone from this world, but have shown me and others the  way to bringing earth closer to heaven through their example.  Jonathan Myrick Daniels, the martyred seminarian, who saved a young African-American girl's life by taking a bullet for her.  He was a native of New Hampshire who came to the south to march from Selma to Montgomery, and stayed on to keep working in the civil rights movement in Alabama.  The experience transformed him and moved him beyond any messianic Yankeeism to a place of knowing that all people and things were part of Christ and part of One.  I thought of Bayard Rustin, the gay African-American crusader for justice through non-violence, who had been a close advisor to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and was the spirit and organizer behind the famous 1963 March on Washington.  
It was especially fitting that November 1st was a Friday.  That was traditionally my day of the week to serve with one in that "cloud of witnesses," Fr. Lee Graham.  Throughout this year, I have found myself at different moments reflecting on the gift I received in having known Fr. Lee.  He, too, had to fight the battles of southern racism including overcoming his own acceptance of "the way things are."  Dr. King helped to change Fr. Lee by sending him the letter from the Birmingham jail.  If you read the letter, you'll understand that to be a recipient of that letter was a bit like being King David getting confronted by the prophet Nathan.  Fr. Lee would share stories of his experiences in Alabama in his homilies and, as one fighting what sometimes feels like a very lonely struggle against heterosexism in society and especially in the diocese of Florida, I would take comfort in knowing that my pain is one that has been borne by others... especially Jesus Christ. 
The gospel assigned for this day is Luke's version of the Beatitudes or "The Sermon on the Plain" as opposed to on a mountain.  I love that this message of "Blessed be" and "Woe to Those" was articulated to the people on the plain because it gives a sense of everyone being on the same level including Jesus.  He was not holding himself above everyone as he taught that it is the ones who are the "have nots" who are on the path toward God.  To be weighed down with the baggage of the "haves" slows down the journey.  Kind of like dragging a heavy suitcase through airport security.  That's a lot of what I have gained from the lives of those saints whose life and witness have touched my heart.  They'd left their ego-filled luggage at the curbside check-in as they followed Christ on a path of true equality, true Oneness.  
I pray that I may be like them, too.

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