Please note – the sermon as given in church may not be identical to what is written here – this is my starting point, but I allow the Spirit to guide me when I preach. The YouTube recording is the best representation of the sermon as given. Peace – Erika+
Sermon given by Deacon Erika Hagan
Oh God, may the eyes of our hearts be enlightened to the hope of your glorious inheritance. Amen.
Good morning, Christ Church! Happy and Blessed All Saints Sunday! The Feast of All Saints is such an important Feast on our church calendar that even though it’s technically on November 1, we are allowed to shift it to the following Sunday, to today, to celebrate – and there aren’t many feasts that override our weekly Sunday remembrance of Christ’s resurrection. All Saints is a big deal.
It is almost dangerous to let me preach today because I LOVE All Saints. I love this Feast where we name and remember the saints in our own lives, where we are reminded of our membership in a communion of saints stretching back over so many generations and expanding beyond to our children, and their children, and their children’s children. I love the traditions and history around this feast, how when we remember and name the saints who came before, who we love, who we mourn, that those who have died become present to us in our lives.
In the Middle Ages they believed that the night before this feast of All Saints, on All Saints Eve or All Hallows Eve, those in purgatory could actually hear your prayers and intercessions on their behalf – it was a time to keep vigil, to name those who had died, to ask forgiveness of their sins that they may one day go to Heaven. Now in the 21st century, our secular traditions on All Hallows Eve, on Halloween, revolve more around wearing costumes and giving away candy, but you can see, can’t you, how this belief in a night where the veil is thin, which you spent staying up late and talking to your dead, became a night of separation from this mortal day-to-day life, where the supernatural is accepted and the skeletons and demons and angels seem near.
I love All Saints so much.
We no longer keep vigil with our dead ones in purgatory – because, as the Reformation happened and people began to read scripture in their own language, to hear the words of Jesus directly, they realized that there isn’t a purgatory. That salvation through Jesus happens with unearned grace and Jesus knows and loves us with unconditional love. We still name our dead and remember our saints, not because we must save their souls, but because to us, and to God, they are important. They are Somebody to us, they are Somebody to God.
This idea of a Theology of Somebodiness, that every person you meet is a Somebody to God, is an idea I heard on a podcast from the Center for Action and Contemplation, with Civil Rights leader and longtime activist Ruby Sales. She was talking about the lifelong stamina needed in striving for justice in an unjust world, and Ms. Sales said that to do so, to live your life in that way, you have to embrace the commandment to love your neighbor as you love yourself. And, for those who are oppressed, who are powerless, who are told by society and by the laws of the state that who they are is less than others, then the work of loving others has to begin with loving yourself…because you are Somebody.
Her are her own words: Ruby Sales says, “I think that in many ways, the society that I grew up in, in the Jim Crow South . . . if we had learned to hate ourselves the way the official laws required us to do, then we would’ve never survived, and so I think that out of the Black community in the South, you have a kind of agape [the Greek word for unconditional love]. . . we had to counter the narrative that we were nobody with the sense that we were somebody…
This is a theology of somebodiness—that I might be enslaved, I might be small within the state, but I’m somebody, not only with God, but with each other, and about myself…The white view of Black children as being inferior never penetrated my being because I was surrounded with the possibility that I could live into my highest capacity and to love myself.”
I heard Ruby Sales’ words, and I thought:
Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you, a black child in the Jim Crow South, because you are Somebody in God.
The gospel lesson today comes from Jesus’ sermon on the mount. This section, all those “Blessed are you’s” is called the Beatitudes, and it’s easy to make them generic and abstract, like a fortune cookie, but remember that Jesus is preaching them to real actual people. To his apostles: To Simon (whom he named Peter), to Andrew, to James, to John, to Philip, to Bartholomew and Matthew and Thomas…or as we know them now, to St. Peter. And St. Andrew. To Saints James and John.
When Jesus says Blessed are you, he is not being general. You, with a name, you, who are my disciples, you who are somebody, blessed are you in your specific identities and circumstances in this world. You are loved. You are blessed. Yours is the kingdom of God.
I was so entranced by this Theology of Somebodiness, I began to read more about Ruby Sales – and was shocked to discover that I knew her from a different context. Ruby was a member of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s, and she took part in a demonstration in the summer of 1965 in Lowndes County, Alabama when she was 17. The protesters were arrested, and then released in the middle of the night so no one knew to pick them up, to drive them home. As they walked from the jail to a corner drugstore to figure out what to do, an off-duty county deputy shot at them. A bullet was heading for Ruby Sales, when a man named Jonathan Daniels jumped in front of her, taking the bullet, and later dying from the wound.
When I read the name Jonathan Daniels I thought, Oh! I know him! He’s Somebody! He was a seminarian, studying at the Episcopal Theological School, preparing to be a priest in the Episcopal Church. He died well before I was born, but I know him, because he is on our church calendar of lesser feasts and fasts – we remember this saint on August 14th. I have read about and prayed in remembrance of this Jonathan Daniels as I do my daily office prayers.
Jonathan Daniels became somebody to Ruby Sales, too. She was compelled to figure out what about his calling to follow Jesus as a priest caused him to sacrifice his life for hers, and she ended up studying at and receiving a masters in divinity from the Episcopal Divinity School where Jonathan Daniels had studied, eventually articulating her Theology of Somebodiness to inform her decades of civil rights advocacy and work. She founded the Spirit House Project which she dedicated to Jonathan Daniels, which documents the deaths of civil rights activists at the hand of the state – who are shot at protests, who die mysteriously in jails. She knows the power of naming and remembering the Somebodies who are blessed when people hate them, when they are excluded and insulted and rejected as evil for the work they do in bringing about the justice of the Kingdom of God.
My friends, I wonder at all those “Woes” in Jesus’ sermon we heard today. I wonder if those who are well-fed, who are rich, who are content – I wonder if their lives are woeful because, instead of the keen awareness of being Somebody, who is connected to other Somebodies, who need other Somebodies to survive hunger and poverty and oppression – I wonder if these rich, happy, well-fed folks are woeful because they don’t need Anybody, and so don’t get to discover that they are, in fact, Somebody surrounded by Somebodies through Christ.
But blessed are we, today, on this All Saints Sunday, because today we will raise up the names of our Somebodies, of those who have died and who were Somebody to us. We are not alone. We are surrounded by our church family, and we are surrounded by the saints, and those saints include our Somebodies.
I think it is this present tense understanding of the Saints that makes me love this Feast of All Saints so much. I know when I was striving to love my difficult patients in my chaplaincy internship at the hospital last year in 2021, it was my Granny June, a former ICU nurse who specialized in hospice care, who died in 2020, she was with me in that hospital giving me strength and skills beyond my knowing. Not just her example, not just what I remembered of her, but she was there in that hospital with me. My Granny June is Somebody to me, and to her patients, and to her patient’s families and she is a saint of God.
Jesus asks a lot of us, today and always, to love those who curse us, to give of our material wealth and our time and our energy beyond what is asked for, to respond to aggression with peace, to do to others as we would have them do to us. And I know, when I say those words, that you can think of Somebodies in your life who showed you how to do those things. Whom you can remember, and name. Who are no longer living and are also still with you today. I know you have a Granny June of your own, giving you strength and courage.
Remembering those who have died in our lives is an act of mourning. It is willingly putting yourself into a place of vulnerability, of pain, of sadness. We honor that together, and together we help each other bear our losses. We hear one another’s Somebodies. We sing a song of the saints of God.
And, my hope for you today, on this All Saints Sunday, is you can also feel a fierce joy, a renewed strength, amongst the sadness. One of my favorite things to do as a deacon is to dismiss this body of Christ present today, to send you out to go forth in peace to love and serve the Lord. And yes, I am sending you, you people here today, out into the world. But know this – I am not sending you out alone. Your saints, your Somebodies, are with you, are with all of us. We are knit together in love, through Christ, forever. Amen.