Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Communion of Saints

The Communion of Saints is an almost mystical belief. I mean that it is mysterious to talk about the dead and the living in the same breath. A friend of mine served a church in Columbia a few years ago and he offered to take my underneath the church where it gets so small that you have to crawl. I declined the invitation. I’m not much on small spaces or closed-in spaces.

Underneath that great church there are people buried; the tombs are under the church.

Many of you know that I graduated from Duke University Divinity School; so, I went to church often at Duke Chapel right next door to the Divinity School. Often people take tours of the chapel; sometimes classes of children are brought on a field trip. One of the docents says that the most asked question that children ask is: “Can we see the dead bodies?”

The Dukes are there in cement. Children’s eyes open wide as they are paraded by the bodies.

Protestants are sometimes squeamish about Saints. We’re suspicious of anybody who is elevated to that status, though in the modern world many Protestants worship their leaders who are bigger than life on TV. And, sometimes Christians do divide up into who is the greatest Christian.

Even within a local congregation, people so easily set themselves up as “better” than the rest of us. So, we are suspicious of anyone who is called Saint. Certainly, if someone showed up and started saying they were a Saint, we would laugh at them.

And yet, we all know people who live such lives of faith that we call them Saints. They are exemplary like Mother Theresa or St. Francis of Assisi. Usually the people that we call Saints are dead and gone. So, their reputation grows in our nostalgic remembrances.

One church I served sat right in the middle of a cemetery. I had to walk through the dead to get to work every morning. You might think that’s a pretty depressing way to start the day.

Buried in church, under the church, or around the church, the dead are all around us in memories and in history. But, the dead and the living are one in God’s Kingdom. The Kingdom of God destroys all boundaries of space and time and age. The Kingdom of God in Jesus even blurs the line between life and death. As Paul says: “Living or dead we still belong to God.”

There’s a beautiful image of heaven in the Book of Revelation. It’s like a church. There’s much singing and praise. God is present. There’s an altar and underneath the altar the Saints are singing and crying out to God.

When I preached this sermon we were celebrating Holy Communion. What better setting in which to share in the meaning of Communion of Saints. We are one with God and one with all the Saints who have gone before. We are one with each other (present day Saints). And, we are one with all the Saints who will come in the future.

In the meantime, the New Testament image in Hebrews 11 is that of an Arena. We are on the playing field and the Saints who have gone before us are in the stands cheering us on. Can’t you hear them saying: “Keep the faith?”

Dave Nichols

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments on Lectionary - Sept. 1

That Jesus would be healing comes at no surprise to any of us. Nor, is it surprising that Jesus is healing on the Sabbath. So, when the re...