Sermon Archives

Sunday, November 5, 2017
The Feast of All Saints (Year A)
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
A Mystical Fellowship of Grace

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Every year, on the Feast of All Saints, Christian communities gather to do many things.  We gather to hear and to proclaim God’s love and forgiveness through the Rite of Baptism.  We remember those women and men who have revealed God’s love in some unique way in our community and in our personal lives.  We commit ourselves to the way of Jesus, that is, to loving God through our sacrificial love of our neighbor.  We commit, as well, to the building up of ourselves in faith by studying the apostles’ teaching, through participation in their fellowship, especially in the breaking of bread, and our diligence in daily prayer.

Easily lost among it all is the simple, but profound, reality of building up the Christian community.  Through the Rite of Baptism, we welcome new members into our common life and through the Requiem Mass we remember those saints who have departed this mortal life. 

So critical, however, is this singular element to the Feast of All Saints and to our common life today that Thomas Cranmer, who composed this morning’s collect for the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, placed the formation of the Christian community at the very outset of our prayer:

Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord . . .

We are wise, therefore, to ask:  what is it that knits us together in one communion and fellowship, and what is it that sets us apart as the mystical body of Christ our Lord?  Now, to make our life a bit simpler, the short answer to both questions is quite simple:  grace.  That is, it is grace, and grace alone, that knits us together into one communion and fellowship, and it is grace, and grace alone, that marks us as mystical body of Christ our Lord.

Now for the longer answer . . .

From our earliest days, we are taught to whom we belong and, conversely, to whom we don’t.  As infants and children, we are first taught who is family and who is not, progressing as we age to learning who are friends and who are not, who is in our community and who is not.  There is seemingly no end to this matrix of relationships of insiders and outsiders:  ethnic affiliations, political affiliations, interest groups, social clubs, professional networks, and fraternal societies, and on and on and on. 

But throughout it all, there are perpetually insiders and outsiders, those who are in my community and those who are not, and the common denominator throughout it all is this: me, or you, or better yet, each of us individually.  Each of us stands at the center of our own world, a sun, of sorts, around which everyone else orbits, some more closely than others, each based on their affiliation with us individually.  Now, while each of our individual solar systems will be different, there are some common characteristics:

  • Family and our dearest friends stand close to the center, some so close that they may even touch the sun
  • Coworkers and neighbors and childhood friends stand a bit further out
  • Then come our community and civic affiliations
  • And beyond them we might find our economic or political peers, then our national or ethnic community, before, finally coming to our common humanity.

It is tempting to think that this community, this communion and fellowship of which into which we are knit, is formed in the same way:  by our shared interests and passions, by our shared faith, and our common commitments and affections for one another.  It is tempting, formed as we have been by a world of insiders and outsiders, in which we, or someone close to us, stands at the center, to think that this community is the same, with someone or some few standing at the center of who we are, and not only standing but defining.  For that is the way every other fellowship we have known.

But it is not so here.  For the Christian community is not held together by us, any one of us or any collection of us.  This community is knit together by one simple thing – the very grace of God. 

That’s it.  Nothing more.  All else is secondary. 

We are not gathered together because we have a common love for or faith in God.  Some in this room today may not even believe that God exists.  We are not held together from our common history with this community for some are lifelong members and others have only come into our community this year, or even this fall.  Nor are we held together by our common affection for Anglican liturgy – for some among us love a simple said service and others love sung choral mass with incense and bells. 

No, what makes us one, what weaves us together into one communion and fellowship, is simply God’s grace.  For each of us has need of it.  Each of us longs to know that we have a home, a place of belonging, and to each of us God says welcome.  And each of us longs to know that in spite of whatever we have done, whatever wrong we have committed, whatever love we have failed to offer, whatever hurt we have inflicted, whether it be upon ourselves or our neighbor, we are forgiven.  And so, but God’s grace we are bound up into one communion and fellowship.

All else is secondary – our love of God is a reflection of our gratitude.  Our passion for worship in any form, a reflection of our spiritual life and personal passions.

But it all begins with God’s grace for us.

And that leads us to what then makes us distinct.  One the one hand, nothing at all.  For Christians and non-Christians alike are in need of, and are equal recipients of!, God’s remarkable grace.  In that there is no distinction – Jew’s and Gentiles, slave and free, straight and gay, male and female, young and old – all are equally and remarkably knit together by the simple grace of God.

If there is anything that makes us distinct in practice it is simply this:  that we practice the same grace with one another.  If we are knit together by God’s grace, then it is grace alone that shows the Christian community to be a part of Christ’s mystical body.  It is not worship, or service, or education, musical style, or anything else that may be unique to a particular Christian community – each is as insignificant as the color of one’s skin or the size of one’s bank account.

No, the only thing, therefore, that can distinguish a Christian community from another, is this:  the grace we offer one another, friend and stranger alike.

And where such grace is seen, the mystical body of Christ is revealed.