Homily for All Saints
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “I am
not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground. So it is, and so it
will be, for so it has been, time out of mind: into the darkness they go, the wise and
the lovely. Crowned with lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned. Lovers
and thinkers, into the earth with you. Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust. A
fragment of what you felt, of what you knew; a formula, a phrase remains—but the
best is lost. The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love—they
are gone. They are gone on to feed the roses. Elegant and curled is the blossom.
Fragrant is the blossom, I know. But I do not approve. More precious was the light in
your eyes than all the roses in the world. Down, down, down into the darkness of the
grave. Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind; quietly they go, the
intelligent, the witty, the brave, I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.”
Dear brothers and sisters in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, these poetic
words belong to the late, great Greenwich Village lyricist, Edna St. Vincent Millay.
Despite her fiercest protestations against the grave though, she, too, fell victim to
mortal fate almost three-quarters of a century ago now. She was sainted and lowered
six feet down and green grass now covers her resting place. But her ardent words live
on. I quote them this morning because they perfectly capture my own deepest feeling
and sentiment so incredibly well. There is nothing in this life I detest more than death.
I am not resigned to die, dear friends. In my nature, I don’t approve of it at all. Not
one bit. Rather I am very much resolved not to die and never to fade away.
And yet when I do die someday, when it is my time to go, it will not be that I yielded
myself to death, but rather that my human fate as a poor miserable sinner shall have
killed me; so also to quote the Basque philosopher Miguel de Unamuno: “I will not
abdicate from life — instead, life will be wrested from me.” But even with all this
passion to live and lust for life, I, too, like all men before me, will eventually succumb
to my pitiful fate and I shall die. I don’t want to, but I will. If my Lord returns not
first, I will pass away, as will everyone I have ever loved. As will my darling girls. As
will you, dear flock. And how so many of my beloveds have already gone on to feed
the roses. And presumably yours as well.
All Saints is a feast day when we remember all who have fallen asleep in the
Lord, those known to us, along with the many unknown. We remember and
commemorate every single saint this holy day, from the dawn of time until now – but
no doubt our remembrance is strongest and our commemoration simplest for those
closest to us. We are each born, thrown naked into this broken world, and if we’re
lucky we get almost a hundred years of life during which to cherish it, with all its
strangeness and imperfection. But what was wrought in the garden from the very
beginning still haunts our fate. For us each, a loamy grave is our future reality, an
impartial destination in indiscriminate soil. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. But what is
perhaps worse than that somber fate is the fact that throughout this life we live we are
forced to watch those dearest to us pass on ahead of us. We watch the life leave from
them sometimes. We observe the zeal dissipate from their once-fervent eyes and their
characteristic color drain pale. We see six of their closest friends lower them into the
ground six feet beneath. We witness the diversity of blossoms and blooms blanket
their florescent casket and handfuls of dirt serve as a sad so long. And that hurts so
very much. How could it not? The living are always more perturbed by death than the
dead, and maybe even than by the dying.
Because it pains us immensely to have to say goodbye knowing full well that we’ll be
stuck here, left behind, on our own and well aware that most every goodbye is
demanded in the most unresolved kind of way.
Yet a voice from heaven once said: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.”
And of course, the psalmist King David once sang: “Precious in the sight of the Lord
is the death of His saints.” But dear faithful, what could possibly be blessed and
precious about so horrid a destiny as death? Through it a soul is lost to the world and
many more are left to linger in grief, sorrow, and uncertainty. How is that a blessing?
How exactly is that precious to our God? What good is there in an unwelcome
farewell? What sweetness in something so bitter to taste? But that’s the thing,
beloved. The questioning itself reveals the problem. My curious questioning to you
this morning from this lofty pulpit reveals the trouble plainly. The only reason I so
often despise death is because I am still so unbearably weak in faith. Lord, I believe,
but help my unbelief! You know, it is entirely fair what wise men say, that funerals
are not about the dead but about the living. True enough. But death itself is not about
the living but about the dead. Yes, I miss my Big Mamma, my Abuelita, my friends
lost too soon to car wrecks and overdoses and suicides. But it isn’t about me though.
And it isn’t about you either. That’s what we have to realize, however uncomfortable
it is to realize. Those souls don’t belong to me, and neither do they belong to you –
no, they belong to God alone.
“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” as
St. Paul assures us. But since I cannot yet see the other side, I therefore struggle and
doubt in times of sadness and despair. I hope, but it isn’t given for me to touch and to
bear witness to the rest of the story for the time being, thus my hope occasionally
Regardless of all that though, it is nevertheless certain and definite that our dear
sainted family and friends right now rest from the labors in the Lord, in a hall of
eternal roses of every holy hue, where they speak continually with their sweet Jesus. I
cannot see it clearly here under heaven, for my eyes are far too frail, and so I do
mourn at times. I admit it. But in the depth of my baptized heart, I do know that
heaven is a fact. That hall of roses is real. And that is what I must concentrate on – not
on my own disgust at death, but on where such a disgusting destiny ultimately leads:
and that’s home. Death leads beyond itself and on home to Jesus.
This very day, our loved ones who have died in the faith rest peacefully in God
somewhere. Holy Scripture confirms it and comforts us time and again with its
sureness. And we need that sureness. We have to have that encouragement in order to
carry on. Otherwise, the compounded loss of life in this life would be too
overwhelming, much too much to bear for us fragile sinners. But there is more,
brothers and sisters. The saints do now rest in Jesus, that is true and encouraging
enough, but one of these days, they’ll be raised as well, awaked from their quiet
graves – and oh what a glorious day that shall be. We’ll all be raised. Right where we
laid to rest our grandparents and parents and partners and friends and yes, sometimes
even own children, right there – they’ll be raised from right there in that spot – from a
bed of roses by the power of a cross stained crimson.
Our Lord tells us in our gospel today to rejoice and be glad, for our reward is
great in heaven. He would know better than any, for as the multitudes in white robes
once guaranteed St. John in his vision: “Salvation belongs to the Lamb!” The Lamb
has already gone on to prepare a place for us, that is unquestionable. And one of these
days, when He at last appears again to carry us on home, we will then be exactly like
Him, for we shall then see Him as He truly is.
This John likewise recorded for our benefit and for the sake of our hope. Our
Redeemer will return and raise all us saints to new and eternal life. The Lamb will be
our shepherd, He will guide us to those springs of living water, and He will wipe away
every tear from our eyes. No more death, nor mourning, nor crying, nor pain, for the
former things will have passed away – with all things made new. These promises are
made to us this feast day and will be kept until the consummation of the age. These
promises are now granted and given to the living, to bear us through this valley of the
shadow of death, this vale of tears. “Blessed are those who mourn,” our Lord
promises in declaration in His sermon on the mount, “for they shall be comforted.”
Indeed, we shall. Indeed, we are.
Every name we read today in our prayer, each one of them will be resurrected
on the Last Day. And every body and soul present in this room now will be raised
with them. Death was forever defeated on a tree of agony and angst at that place of the
skull many centuries ago. Death still hurts the living, to be sure, it hounds and haunts
us; but for the dead, death is nothing at all, thanks to the suffering of Christ and the
cruciform death of God Himself. On account of that mighty and monumental
sacrifice, death no longer has a victory of its own. It has no lasting sting anymore. It is
but a momentary aching for us this side of glory – but for the dead, it is a victory
already had. For us it stings and seems so terribly conclusive, yet in truth, it is nothing
less than a consecrated portal for the saints of every age, leading them back to the
bosom of God. For none truly die in the Lord, they only sleep for a little while. Now I
must confess, I despise and detest and hate that sleep sometimes. Because from my
petty human perspective, it seems so final, so permanent, so unlike sleep. I don’t yet
get to see the light in their eyes once again, and so I deplore that much-deserved rest
for the saints and save for it my scorn.
But the Word regardless consoles me in my doubt. Death is only temporary. Whereas
life in Christ is everlasting. It is right and just then to pity the living, not the dead in
the Lord. For they are at peace.
And thankfully, fortunately, our God is gracious and merciful with those of
little faith like myself. He grants us a glimpse of what’s next, even here, even now. In
a few moments’ time, you will each ascend these steps and kneel at this altar rail. And
when you commune here together with Jesus and with your fellow brothers and sisters
in the faith, just know that there is a much greater multitude in heaven with whom you
also feast and dine. All the saints partake of this host and this chalice along with you.
Your spouse, your parents, your children, your friends, all who died in Christ
commune with you in this place. They are up here, right next to you, participating in
and savoring this foretaste of the Lamb’s high feast. Just because you cannot see them
or feel their familiar touch does not make it any less certain and sure. It is a fact – just
believe it. It is biblical – only trust it. It is the truth – so let yourself have hope and
take heart, I urge you. Your saints are no less here today than God Himself. We don’t
remember them and commemorate the saints this feast day from a distance. Hardly.
We remember them instead while in their very midst, while communing with those
blessed and precious dead who died in the Lord, while resting for a moment with them
ourselves, shoulder to shoulder, reclining in that otherworldly hall of roses, next to our
Jesus. That is what happens at this rail, Sunday after Sunday. The finality of death and
the pain of loss are undone or at least numbed for a brief period of time while you rest
on your knees before the Body and Blood of God. You are invited to feel that relief, to
relish in that respite from your sorrow, dear friends.
You know, I loathe and abhor death but only because I am admittedly so very
weak. Nonetheless, my patient Lord forgives me that, day by day. And He keeps
reminding me that loss is merely a passing reality, a fleeting affliction. What exists in
heaven, in my Lord’s arms, is much more real and true and certain than whatever we
get to witness here below. Death, for us, is an appearance. An apparent separation. A
deeply-felt distance. But only to the senses. Never really to the heart. Never to the
mind of faith. Death hurts right now, I understand – but it won’t hurt forever. I
promise you. Death is not forever; loss is not forever; it is solely for a short time.
Someday all the saints will be raised victorious. So don’t be resigned to death, but
ready, with them, with all the saints, for what comes after. The saints above, the saints
triumphant, they fought the good fight – and we will press on, fighting it, too, under
the heavenly banner of their love and model of meekness. They kept the faith, and so
shall we, with their godly example treasured in our trying Christian hearts. With all
this we will finish the race, together. For the victor’s crown of gold and glory awaits
us each. So thanks and praise be unto the Lamb forever and ever, for salvation is
eternally His and He graciously gifts it to us, His saints – that none who belong to
Him should ever be lost for long, even to the seeming darkness and depth of the grave.
In His holy name. Amen.