I had intended this week to continue reflecting on the second creation story in Genesis. But it is All Saints Day as I write this, and at the top of my mind and in my heart today are two dear friends who have died in recent days. One is my brother in United Methodist ministry Bob Higginbotham, assistant to the Bishop and a leader in the Western Pennsylvania Conference.
The other is Bob Kelley, beloved New Testament professor emeritus from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, who I got to know through PTS trustees meetings and alumni gatherings.
May light perpetual shine upon you, my brothers!
I could not let this All Saints Day pass without mourning their passing, celebrating their lives, and remembering the great significance of this day, which reminds us all of the great communion to which we belong in the body of Christ: the Church Triumphant, spread across time and space and eternity.
I am preaching this Sunday at Calvert Memorial Presbyterian Church in Etna, PA, at the invitation of their pastor and my former student, P.J. Pfeuffer. Here is the sermon I am working on for that day, in celebration of all the saints–including us! The texts are Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18 and Ephesians 1:11-23. The title is, “Who Am I?”
Thursday was Hallowe’en, and I was blessed to see many small ones (and many not so small, including my students and colleagues!) in their disguises. The fun in large part, of course, is not knowing (or in any case pretending not to know) who the other person is. As I greeted these fairy princesses and firemen and fearsome pirates, I kept remembering a Hallowe’en LONG ago, when I turned to the small vampire in the back seat of my car and asked, “Are you Dracula?” His answer was swift and unequivocal: “No. I am just me—Anthony.”
Holding fast to our personal integrity–that is, knowing and being who we are–is a constant challenge. But, what if we don’t know who we are?
One September day in 2001, Emily (not her real name), a 33-year-old Texas woman, got in her car to go to work. “There’s a freeway here in Dallas and I began driving up the freeway,” she recalls. “I got up to Denton … and that’s the last thing I remember.”
The next thing she knew, it was 600 miles and 10 hours later: “It was about 3:30 in the morning when I realized I was just outside Santa Fe, New Mexico.” Emily checked into a motel. Then, “When I woke up the next morning, I sat up and I didn’t recognize the room,” she said. “I didn’t recognize the bag that was sitting on the chair, or the clothes that were lying over the chair. I didn’t recognize myself in the mirror. I didn’t know my name.”
This is a terrifying story! But sadly, it may be our story, too. Do we know who we are, today? Last Sunday was Reformation Sunday, and Friday–the day after All-Hallows Eve, or Hallowe’en–was All-Saints Day. This is a good time, then, to remind ourselves of who we are, and of who Christ has called us to be.
Our passage from Daniel 7 is a great Hallowe’en text–chock full of monsters! But the text is not really about the beasts, which represent the earthly powers arrayed against God’s people. The focus is on
one like a human being
coming with the heavenly clouds. . . .
Rule, glory, and kingship were given to him;all peoples, nations, and languages will serve him.
His rule is an everlasting one—
it will never pass away!—
his kingship is indestructible (Dan 7:13-14).
Later faithful readers thought of Jesus when they read these words, and of the promise of his coming again in glory. But as our passage this morning reminds us, Daniel is told that the Human One, who stands in such sharp contrast to the four beasts, represents “the holy ones of the Most High,” who “will receive the kingship. They will hold the kingship securely forever and always” (Dan 7:18). We are the ones to whom this victory is promised. The community of the faithful will stand long after all the beastly forces of this world are spent. We will reign as kings and queens in God’s glory, forever!
The writer of Ephesians, too, urges us repeatedly to know, and to claim, our identity. His prayer for all who read this letter is that they would remember who they are:
I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, will give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation that makes God known to you. I pray that the eyes of your heart will have enough light to see what is the hope of God’s call, what is the richness of God’s glorious inheritance among believers, and what is the overwhelming greatness of God’s power that is working among us believers (Eph 1:17-19).
Brother and sisters, do we know who we are? The resurrection power of Jesus is unleashed among us! Eternal life is our inheritance! The Holy Spirit is the sign and seal of our union with God in Christ. Indeed, we are the culmination of what God has been up to since the dawn of creation:
God put everything under Christ’s feet and made him head of everything in the church, which is his body. His body, the church, is the fullness of Christ, who fills everything in every way (Eph 1:22-23).
Nowhere in Scripture do we find a higher view of the church than this–but the question that matters this morning is, is this our view? Do we know that we are his body, “the fullness of Christ, who fills everything in every way?” Do we remember who we are?
It took Emily more than a year to recover her memory. Doctors call what happened to her a dissociative fugue, likely caused by stress (Emily’s husband was a drug addict and suicidal, and they had just had a new baby). “You know, I lost 33 years,” she said. “And I had to slowly regain that back. And it is precious to me. And I’ve done as much as I can and everything I can to build on that.”
How can we recover our memory, brothers and sisters? It will take more than some new program, or a slogan, or even an exciting and creative new pastor! Our identity derives from God, who made us a people when we were no people. If we have lost ourselves, God alone can restore us. May our prayer this morning be the prayer of the writer of Ephesians: that God would give us a spirit of wisdom and revelation, opening the eyes of our hearts to see ourselves as the loved, forgiven, transformed and empowered people that God has made us!
Happy All-Saints Day!