For all the saints

All Saints’ Day feels especially important this year. Perhaps the loss of so many lives to the coronavirus makes remembering those who entered the Church Triumphant particularly meaningful. Maybe I want a robust All Saints’ Day because so many memorial services and funerals could not take place in the full ways those departed children of God deserved and we needed. I know I need space to both mourn and rejoice with abandon, lamenting death but also celebrating the gift of life. All of these yearnings surface this year, but what I long for the most is a sense of perspective, a reminder of the long arc of history, the witness of people who came before me and kept the faith even under extraordinary circumstances. I need to hear the stories of disciples who weathered storms, made mistakes, took risks, failed or succeeded, but in all of it attempted to run the course set before them.

I want to hear that passage from Hebrews again, that litany of “by faith” that includes Moses and Rahab, God’s servants with checkered pasts and less-than-impressive credentials. People who endured exploitation and violence, plagues and floods, dysfunctional families and unimaginable loss. Their stories tell God’s story, a messy mix of divine and mundane, often indistinguishable at the time, even to the main characters. All Saints’ Day brings us face to face with the reality that discipleship does not entail certainty so much as hope, faithfulness not marked by confidence so much as trust. By faith we get up each day and try to follow Jesus, try to emulate Christ, try to enact something akin to love even when evil appears unstoppable.

A few months ago, I discovered a quote from the medieval mystic Meister Eckhart. Having struggled through some of his writings in graduate school, this quote embodied a clarity I did not recall Eckhart employing very often. Eckhart wrote, “Wisdom consists in doing the next thing you have to do, doing it with your whole heart, and finding delight in doing it.” I printed it out and taped it to my computer screen. In a year of relentless upheaval, upended routines, grief upon grief, I desperately wanted wisdom and the thought of simply doing the next thing I needed to do brought relief. Do not consider two weeks from now or 10 months in the future, just do the next thing you must do: write the sermon, clean the kitchen, make a dentist appointment. Just the next thing, do that and with my whole heart. Be fully present and attentive to that next thing. These two tidbits of mystical methodology I could manage. The third part proved a greater challenge: find delight in that needed-to-be-done next thing. Delight will not be the word of 2020. Did Moses delight in going to Pharaoh? Did Rahab delight in putting herself in danger?

Delight in doing the next thing with all our heart comes, I think, only by faith, that assurance of things hoped for and conviction of things not seen. I need All Saints’ Day this year because I need that great cloud of witnesses to speak from the grave and tell me that there is more than meets the eye this year. God’s liberation comes after the plagues. Weeping lingers for a night, but joy comes in the morning. The home of God is among mortals. Every tribe and nation will unite in heavenly worship. Death does not have the last word and evil gets sent packing. I need to know the end of the story so that I can try to be faithful in this long and difficult chapter of it.

I wish I had more certainty that the rancor of this season would be transformed into reconciliation. I wish that our world did not demonstrate the depth and breadth of sin with such variety and skill. I wish the good news got more airtime and that evil was less resilient and relentless. But that great cloud of witnesses assures me of things hoped for and by their faith I can do the next thing I have to do, with my whole heart and even sometimes find delight in doing it.

Grace and peace,