No Longer Orphans: Reflections on the Feast of All Saints “ Reflections given by the Rev. Joe Summers at The Episcopal Church of the Incarnation on November 5th, 2017. (Readings: Revelations 7:9-17, Psalm 34:1-10,22 , I John 3:1-3, Matt. 5:1-2.)
“Let not your hearts be troubled… I will not leave you orphans.” “Do not be afraid. I will not leave you orphans.” (John 14:1 & 18)
Christianity is rooted in a series of mysteries, that is realities we cannot fully understand but which have the power to transform our lives and world.
The first and greatest mystery is the mystery of Holy Week, Easter, and the resurrection. It is a mystery in which we see:
* death transformed into life,
*shame and degradation transformed into glory,
*cruelty, bullying and abandonment transformed into generosity, compassion, love and community,
*powerlessness and despair and terror transformed into power, hope, and courage.
There is a way in which all the mysteries of the Christian faith are ultimately rooted in the mystery of Holy Week and Easter.
Looking forward we see the mystery of Easter embodied in the mystery of Pentecost, where we see a new community born through the Spirit of Jesus. Led and guided by the Spirit of love it is empowered to go into the world to tear down the gates of hell and create a new heavens and a new earth where freedom and love reign.
Looking backwards we see the mystery of Easter expressed in the mystery of Christmas, the Incarnation, and the story of the Human One. Here we hear proclaimed that we all belong here on earth. Now, even amidst this world of domination and oppression and the divisions it creates among us and within us, it is possible to discover and live into the glory of our humanity.
We also hear the mystery of Easter sing through this Feast of All Saints that we are celebrating today. The mystery of Easter makes the beatitudes sing with joy and hope and possibility. In this series of blessings, Jesus proclaims who God is choosing to raise up and how those the world of domination see’s as cursed are actually the means through which these blessings are coming into the world.
*The Poor in spirit, those who the world of domination calls losers, are the heirs of the reign of heaven on earth and the ones through whom this mystery is being born in our midst
*That those that those who mourn will be comforted and will be the means through which others are comforted.
*That the meek and the powerless (who does the world of domination despise more than the powerless?) are going to inherit the earth and are going to be the ones through whom all are empowered.
*That those who hunger and thirst for justice, will not stay crazy and frustrated forever. They shall be filled–they shall be ambassadors of justice.
*That the merciful, those the world of domination calls fools, will not only receive mercy but become the means through which compassion is revealed as a great strength.
*That the pure in heart (again what does the world of domination hate more than vulnerability?) will see God and be the means through which others come to see God–here–now–even in this world as we know it.
*That peacemakers, those the world of domination sees as delusional, will be understood to be children of God, emissaries of the Most High.
*That the persecuted are the prophets through whom a new heavens and a new earth is being born.
On this Feast of All Saints we hear that abandonment and loneliness are no longer the final word, they are not the ultimate reality.
I want to take a minute here to talk about loneliness because I think we can get tricked into believing it is somehow a given, something we can’t do much about, such that we don’t talk about it enough.
There is a way in which the whole bible is a reflection on loneliness.
* Adam and Eve, those who have known each other as “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” turn against each other and are cast out of paradise. That’s about loneliness.
* Out of envy, Cain slays his brother Abel. Almost as bad is then the way he denies what’s happened with the angry rebuttal “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Murder, denial, is all about the disconnection which is the foundation of loneliness.
*We hear about God’s own loneliness at discovering that the world she made for delight has become a garden of oppression and bloodshed. What is more lonely than the vision of the flood: a world without people, a world without animals. The rainbow is the sign of God’s promise not to destroy this world again.
*The loneliness of Abraham and Sarah, childless, journeying in search of a home and then the cry of joy, the laughter, that is Isaac and the promise of descendants as numerous as the stars.
*The loneliness of Jacob and Esau, set against each other by their parents from birth, wandering the earth without each other until they were able to reconciled again.
*The loneliness of Joseph, thrown into a well and then sold into slavery by his jealous brothers and living the life of the loneliness of exile until they are reconciled again.
* The loneliness of those who lived for 400 years in the I-it world of slavery. Objectification and oppression internalized cuts you off from yourself, cuts you off others, cuts you off from intimacy. The discovery of I AM is a journey back from loneliness.
*The loneliness of the people wandering in the strange land of the desert still carrying within them the structures and attitudes that keep them alone and afraid and untrusting.
*The respite from loneliness that happened in that two hundred year period that came to be called the Kingdom of God, a time when people relied on God and each other rather than structures of domination.
*The loneliness that returned as people turned towards empire and domination and with them inequality and alienation, so that they could be like the other kingdoms of the world, that was then followed by the piercing loneliness of life in exile.
*The loneliness of those deemed impure or unclean and who were shunned and marginalized within Jesus’ society and the loneliness of those who feared they would be shunned and judged as impure or unclean.
*The loneliness of Jesus in the garden–asking his friends to be there for him as he faced his death.
*The loneliness of seeing your hopes and dreams and who you hoped to be– crucified.
*Then Easter and the birth of the beloved community, a community in which we can know ourselves as beloved, not because we meet some ideal, but for who we are, in all our funky reality and glory.
In the Easter vision of the Feast of All Saints we see that abandonment and loneliness are held within a great communion. I find it helpful to envision this great communion as a great ball of loving kindness, of loving and being loved. This ball includes those who are alive here and now, but also those who have lived in the past, and those who will come to live in the future. This is the communion that we hear about in Revelations today, the communion of the radically flawed, those of us who so often embody the very problems we seek to address in our world, those of us who so often don’t do what we intend to do and do what we don’t intend to do, now washed in the blood of the lamb, the blood of love and forgiveness. In the light of this feast we are able to see ourselves and each other as all saints, all bearers of the divine light. In this great communion we belong. We are not orphans any longer. We have infinite mothers and fathers and aunts and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers and great aunts and great uncles, sisters and brothers and cousins, children and nieces and nephews, grandchildren, great nieces and great nephews, and so many many friends.
On this day, I would encourage you to hold this communion before you like a great ball of love that invites you in. For if we belong, if we are not alone, than loneliness, fear, shame and judgment no longer reign over us. They no longer define the nature of who we are, or what’s possible for us, or what’s possible in this world.
The orphan is a child of terror. There is nothing more frightening than being abandoned for our very nature is relational, it’s based on our being connected to others. We can wish it weren’t true, but that doesn’t make it so. Being left alone, or even the threat of being left alone, is the root of all kinds of fears that can enslave us.
The orphan so often becomes a survivor by cutting themselves off from their hearts, their desires and feelings, their dream and their longings, in order to be invisible, in order to fit in, in order to look responsible and not needy, sad, lonely, or angry.
This is how the experience of abandonment often turns into narcissism, as, in order to protect ourselves from the rage and sorrow of abandonment, we create the image of a person who has it all together, and doesn’t really need others. Living behind that image keeps us from experiencing any real intimacy that might make us feel our inner emptiness and ensures that we remain trapped in it.
To those of us who are orphans, or feel like orphans, the communion of Saints comes to us saying, singing:
“Come here poor thing. You don’t need to be prefect. You don’t have to hide out in the shadows or the margins. You are loved for who you are including that huge bag of lost feelings and all the needs you’ve stuffed and tried to disconnect from. You are welcome. Sit down. Stop carrying that load around. Let yourself, your whole self, be — here — now. You are welcome.”
“Let not your hears be troubled. I will not leave you orphans. In my father’s house are many mansions and when I go I will prepare a place for you that where I am you may be also. I have told you before it takes place so that when it does take place you may believe. Believe in me and believe in the one who sent me.” (John 14:1-3, 18, 29)
Be of good courage. Not only do you belong here, but you are loved for who you are and supported by this great crowd of witnesses, this amazing community of the living and the dead, through whom God is transforming absence into presence, loss into connection, abandonment into communion and solidarity.
Friends, today we have a choice to continue in the way of the orphan, the way of abandoning ourselves and others, or to turn towards the communion of All Saints and risk not knowing ourselves by letting the structures of terror, shame and loneliness come tumbling down through the waters of compassion and forgiveness and letting ourselves be reborn in love and freedom. May we this day find the imagination to stop abandoning ourselves and others and the courage to give a damn.
For if we are willing God is able and if we are ready gone has already gone ahead to prepare a way for us. Amen
P.S. In the Wisdom of Solomon we hear: “The beginning of wisdom is the most sincere desire for instruction and concern for instruction is love of her, and love of her is keeping of her laws, and giving heed to her laws is assurance of immortality, and immortality brings one near to God so the desire for wisdom leads to a kingdom.” (Wisdom of Solomon 6:17-20) I would add, wisdom teaches us how to transform rejection into belovedness and loneliness into friendship and community. May we walk in the way of wisdom that we might build God’s reign of love here on earth. Amen