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Be Ye Doers of the Word and Not Hearers Only

Pentecost 24 – All Saints' Sunday – Year C

I wonder if you ever find your imagination soaring, as mine always does, when the celebrant at the altar speaks those majestic words, “Therefore we praise you, joining our voices with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven.” My imagination takes off every time I hear those words! For me, it’s like a continual celebration of All Saints’ Day! “The company of heaven,” after all, is “the communion of saints,” the great fellowship of God’s people, past and present, living and departed, down through the ages. Week by week, all of us, young and old, rich and poor, as we gather around the holy table, are caught up in that same company. It’s like the veil is lifted once again, and heaven and earth are joined, and we are one people in the presence of the Living God!
Think of that when you come up for communion this morning! Imagine the saints who are there with us! Picture the Last Supper, for instance. Whom do you identify with? For me it’s Simon Peter, the big, bumbling fisherman who struggled so to be faithful, and who needed such patience and understanding from Jesus. Visualize Peter around the altar. I see his humble brother, Andrew, who always lived in Peter’s shadow. I see the Zebedee boys, John and James, those “sons of thunder” who were such a handful! Yet John’s right there next to Jesus—he became “the Beloved Disciple.” And remember all those others whom Jesus loved: his own mother, Mary; and Martha, Mary and Lazarus, at whose home he so often stayed; and faithful Mary Magdalene to whom he appeared at the empty tomb on the first Easter day.
Imagine now—who else is with us this morning? How about Paul, the great Apostle, and James, the brother of Jesus, the patron saint of our parish? And on this All Saints’ Sunday, visualize those early martyrs who spread the Gospel of Christ in the face of death? I think of old Bishop Polycarp—he’s one of my favorites. As an angry mob led him to the stake in the amphitheater at Smyrna, on the Aegean seacoast in the year 156, his accusers challenged him to curse Christ and spare his life. Fiercely, the old man flung back at them those unforgettable words, “For 86 years I have served him, and he never did me any wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”
Sometimes, in my mind’s eye, I see Thomas Cranmer. Remember him—the famous Archbishop of Canterbury who authored the first Book of Common Prayer in 1549? What you may not know is what happened just before he was burned at the stake for daring to oppose the Roman Catholic pope. When Cranmer was accused of high treason and handed over for execution, he at first recanted his Protestant faith and submitted to Roman authority. But his heart would not let him rest—and soon he recanted his recantation! Cranmer was led to the stake; and as the flames licked up around him, he did an extraordinary thing: he thrust his hand into the fire and said, “forasmuch as my hand offended in writing contrary to my heart, therefore my hand shall first be punished.” And he died a martyr’s death.
And thinking about today’s Gospel reading, I visualize around the altar the kinds of saints whom Jesus seemed to love most of all—the poor. “Blessed are you who are poor,” he said, “for yours is the kingdom of God.” I often picture one of the Kingdom’s poorest, to whom I used to bring communion in his twilight days. His name was Bill. I’ve spoken of him before. His poverty was evident in every way: His clothes were old and threadbare; he lived in a pathetic little room in an old adult home; he eked out a living at a menial job. Bill had suffered a tragic injury at birth. One arm was shriveled; one leg was considerably shorter than the other; and his face was grotesquely disfigured.
But Bill was one of the most beautiful saints I ever knew. He had a heart full of love. Not a trace of resentment clouded his countenance. Every Sunday he limped down the aisle in procession and sang a quavering bass in our church choir. Once when he visited our home, our youngest son climbed up and sat on his lap. His life in this world ended in a bed curtained off from another bed in a local nursing home. Our last communion together was magnificent. The altar was a meal tray perched on top of a rickety bedside table. The company of heaven was there—angels and archangels too!—as he received the bread of life and the cup of salvation and passed gently into God’s waiting embrace.
Remember the poor this morning—see them among us. Remember the hungry; remember those whom others exclude or revile or despise. Remember today the saints in Haiti—those who try to stay faithful in the midst of unimaginable suffering; and those who travel to Haiti to stand with them and care for them in the name of Christ. Remember your departed loved ones this morning, as I will remember mine. “Blessed are you who weep now.” Those loved ones are here too—make no mistake!
Finally, rejoice with those who are being baptized this morning as they take their place in the great company of Heaven! Greet them! Love them! Include them in our parish family! Help them find their ministries among us! Help them discover the inexpressible joy of giving, and serving others, in the fellowship of saints! Thanks be to God!

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