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The Promise of Glory – Br. James Koester

Luke 6:20-26 (27-36)

As a teenager I discovered the glories of Anglo-Catholicism as it was practiced in some of the great Canadian Anglo-Catholic parishes. What I saw and heard and smelt was a far cry from St. Mary’s Church, Regina where cassock, surplice and stole were the order of the day, and where candles were something you put on the dining room table or on birthday cakes. As you can guess, I was an instant convert. I loved it all, and the higher the better. I soon mastered the art of crossings and genuflections and paid close attention to the liturgical cycle of feasts and fast. On my travels I scoured the back of churches for fascinating little tracts with such exotic titles as “Why Candles”; or “Why Reservation”; or “Call Me Father”. Much to my delight there was a whole set of tracts in the “ Why . . .” series and I soon had them all for my constant reference and edification.

Perhaps my greatest find however came in the back of a church in England where I purchased a tiny blue covered paperback manual of Anglo-catholic devotions. It was full of things which my heart and soul had craved: the Angelus and Rosary, brief forms of daily prayers, and, what was even better, a number of litanies including a litany of saints and a litany for the dying and the Office of the Dead. I have long since lost, or misplaced or given away that little book, but the world it opened up for me remains with me to this day.

It was in that little book, I think, that I first fell in love with what it so marvellously called the Month of the Holy Dead which begins with All Hallows’ Even, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, and ends, as it does now, with the Feast of Christ the King.

Now I freely admit today that what I probably fell in love with was the new and novel and exotic. But what I continue to love is the stark reality and the hint of glory that these days present to us. But isn’t that what falling in love is all about? We are initially attracted to someone or something, but the abiding love comes only after you discover the reality, and sometimes the harsh reality, behind the appearance, while still remembering that hint of glory.

These three days, this ‘November Triduum’ of All Hallows’ Even, All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days hold for us the same stark reality as does the Easter Triduum of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter. That reality is that death is real. Just as we look death in the face during the Easter Triduum, during this November Triduum, death comes knocking at our doors. It may come in the guise of cute children dressed up in all manner of costumes, begging candy from you or threatening tricks, but our pre-Christian and Christian ancestors in the faith would recognize Hallowe’en as that night when you stared at, and stared down, death.

Most of us live far removed from death. Our culture, captivated by the young, the fit and the beautiful, is a death denying one. But sooner or later death comes, sometimes quite literally, knocking at the door for all of us. In the last year, death has come knocking at the door of over 1100 families of service women and men in this county, and at the door of countless more families in Iraq and Afghanistan . Death comes knocking at the door of innumerable homes all over the world, and especially in Africa , where AIDS is an unwelcome guest. Sooner or later the harsh reality is that death will come knocking on the door of each one here.

By now you are probably thinking, “boy, James is REALLY depressing today!” But I don’t mean to be depressing, for just as we know the answer to Good Friday is not despair but Easter, so the answer to Hallowe’en is not fear but All Saints’ and All Souls’. Easter, All Saints’ and All Souls’ each remind us that we can stare death in the face and be triumphant.

The promise of triumph which we celebrate today in the feast of All Saints’ is for all of us, not some collection of stained glass perfect people but rather for those who have lived lives of hope, or even just attempted to do so. It is for all of us who have lived lives of faith, or even just attempted to. The promise of All Saints’ Day is for all of us, not just for those men in the windows above us.

All Saints’ Day is not a celebration of perfection, but the fulfillment of a promise made to us by Christ in our baptisms. Paul reminds us in today’s epistle that “in him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit.” This letter is addressed to us, not just to the believers in Ephesis for in baptism, when we were signed with the cross and marked as Christ’s own forever, we entered into that promise whereby we may know and receive the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints.

By entering into the promise of that glorious inheritance in baptism, we stare death in the face, and stare it down, for glory, not death is our final destination, just as the Empty Tomb and Ascension and not the Cross is the sign of God’s power to triumph over sin and death. God’s will for us is glory, not death, just as his will for Christ was glory and not the Cross.

So today we celebrate all those who have claimed their place in glory by living lives of hope and faith, or even just attempting to, and we make that claim for ourselves as well.

Just as we make that claim for ourselves, so too can we make it for others on All Souls’ Day, for while the promises of God are for all people, they are also for specific people: people whose names we know and whose lives have touched us. On All Souls’ Day we claim this promise of glory for people with names, and addresses, and telephone numbers. We claim this promise of glory for parents and siblings and children, for friends and neighbours and even our enemies. We claim this promise of glory for all who have lived lives of hope and faith, and even, dare I say, for those who failed to. We claim the promise of glory for all “whom we love but see no longer,” for even in death God’s love continues to heal, and reconcile and forgive and restore because God “desireth not the death of a sinner but rather that …they might live.”

On All Souls’ Day we claim the promise of glory name by name, name by name. We claim that promise of glory for Carol and Bev, Charlie and Mavis, Wes and Jessie, Florence and Adam, James, Robert, Bob and Frederick and countless others for they, like the nameless saints we remember today were claimed by Christ in baptism, just as were we.

There is an old evangelical saying: “name it and claim it”, and that is what this November Triduum is all about. We stare into the face of death each time death comes knocking on our door but we know we can stare it down, and stare it through for we have seen the vision of glory that is beyond death. We have seen the vision of glory that is beyond the cross. And today we name and claim that vision of glory, for the countless saints who have lived in all times and in all places, for those whom we love but see no longer, and for ourselves. We name and claim the vision of glory for the faithful, and even the faithless, for the hopeful, and even the hopeless.

I came to love these days, long ago when they were foreign, and novel and exotic. But now I love them because they are about people whom I love and about the promise of glory I share with them. Sure, these days are about the harsh reality of death, a reality I now know only too well, but they are also about the surety of glory promised to all whom God loves.

When death comes knocking on your door tonight, or any night, stare it down and claim your glory, and join the saints who include all those whom you have loved, but see no longer, and who now are at rest in glory.

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27 Comments

  1. Harriet on October 31, 2017 at 05:47

    Thank you for this lesson on All Saints and All Souls. It is good to remember those family members no longer here but have helped mold my life. Although I miss them, I know they are at peace, but I still miss them and grieve at the loss.

  2. irene dygas on October 31, 2014 at 18:35

    Dear Br. James,
    I have only left one comment during the years I have received the “Brother, Send us a Word” daily email. Yours is the second. Perhaps because I received it on the day Br. Tom Shaw was being waked??. I do not know. I only know that I will always think of these three days in a totally different way from before.

    Thank you.
    Irene

  3. Annette Foisie OSL on October 31, 2014 at 10:53

    My beloved husband Lou just died on August 21,2014, after 8 strokes. I was sitting beside his bed praying, when he drew his last breath, and then not another. It was a sacred time, and very peaceful. I was deeply aware of the very real presence of the Lord, Who is now caring for Lou with utmost love. So I do not fear my own death; I face it with reverence. Thanks be to God.

  4. CMAC on October 31, 2014 at 10:10

    Me again. This year my country mourns the inexplicable deaths of two of our soldiers here at home. Last Monday one Canadian soldier was purposely run down and killed in Quebec. Then, on Wednesday another, standing guard (an honor) at the War Memorial in Ottawa, was shot and killed.
    Their grieving family and friends, and thousands of citizens are having to come to terms with the fact that our complacency of Canada being a safe country has been shaken. So. I pray this All Saints and All Souls weekend for these two soldiers, and for their families and friends.
    As a postscript I would add that our country immediately received messages from world leaders expressing shock and sympathy. Your President, however, was the only one who immediately offered any assistance that America could give Canada. Thank you for your country’s generosity – you always step up to the plate.

  5. Sister Teresa Irene OCD on October 31, 2014 at 07:36

    Thank you Brother for this wonderful sermon and the post today. I particularly like the idea of the three days…..and month of the dead. The Carmelites keep Nov 15, and 16, in addition. ..as Carmelite All Saints and Carmelite All Souls. Christ the King seems a very appropriate and welcome end to the month.
    Prayers for all tomorrow as you celebrate the padt and on going life of Brother Tom.

  6. Christopher Rivers on November 2, 2013 at 10:05

    It is hard to imagine a more apposite, more beautiful or more comforting sermon for All Souls. As I read it once again this year, I am once again deeply grateful.

  7. PAUL G TREMEWAN on April 16, 2013 at 11:29

    Two years ago I was diagnosed with rapid onset bulbar ALS. As my body slowly withers away, death and I come closer and closer. someday we will be eyeball to eyeball. It is GREAT comfort to know Jesus’ promise to me…I believe!

  8. Rev Steven Hagerman on April 16, 2013 at 11:14

    We make a point each year of giving special attention to this November Tridiuum.

    We have for several years done a specially created All Souls service to remember loved ones. I found it is good to give this focused attention as The Feast of All Saints has many other themes including the celebration of Baptism on All Saints Sunday.

  9. CMAC on April 16, 2013 at 09:17

    The last time this sermon was posted on MY computer on November 1st, I replied that Len, the caretaker at our church, had died unexpectedly the day before.
    And, here we are again, with our thoughts and prayers focused on those whose deaths came knocking at the door yesterday while hundreds ran with joy in the Boston Marathon.
    Do those who escaped the narrow door, the families and friends of those who died, those seriously injured, do they see the glory this morning?
    My prayers are with them and the people who tended them so speedily.
    Christina

  10. DLa Rue on April 16, 2013 at 08:45

    I would guess these are chosen far in advance, but how sadly apt on this day after the Marathon explosions.

    Prayers for those injured and those that died.

  11. Anders on April 16, 2013 at 08:31

    I disagree that we stare death through for we have seen the vision of glory that is beyond death. Sometimes we know only death and darkness, and visions of glory are some abstract sermon up in a pulpit preached to us a long time ago, a faded intellectual memory. Sometimes we stare at death because that is our only reality. Sometimes we feel shame, sorrow and abuse for that is all we relate to in the immediacy of our world, and the immediate becomes the most profound and intimate and it defines us. At times we are lost in darkness and feel unable to love, for there is no one to love and we are too alienated to love ourselves. At times the best we can do is to be loving, and once we make that choice, we crack the code of the darkness. Slowly, the light comes in. “There is a crack in everything. That´s where the light comes in.” as Leonard Cohen sings. Help us as Christians to be willing to face the darkness, complete and utter darkness, or we are simply part a of our death-defying culture that occasionally burns incense.

    • CMAC on April 16, 2013 at 13:46

      Another thoughtful email from you. Only this morning, I responded to your November 1st email.
      My spirit weeps for the pain in Boston and around the world.
      Christina

  12. Carolyn on April 16, 2013 at 06:12

    Prayers today for all in Boston and around the world who stare down death today and stare through to love and glory. Blessings for all

  13. Terry Dougherty on November 1, 2012 at 17:37

    to commentor brent and others; it is hard to view the “afterlife”, but a good overview can be obtained – and can fire hope – in the writings of N.T. Wright.
    See especially “life after life after death”. Thank you, brother James, I know I’ll be going through my list.

  14. brent on November 1, 2012 at 11:58

    I share Cathie’s question (“What does Br. James mean by ‘glory’?”) and hope he will answer it (he probably already has, in some other sermon …). Whatever his reply, I have been moved to think through own incomplete, work-in-progress answer, and offer a few thoughts:
    First, what I think it DOESN”T mean: I don’t believe my dear parents and elders and all the others who have died somehow still have the capacities they had in life, to perceive, reflect, to be in God’s presence in the way we are in each other’s in this life. They aren’t in this life or any like it; their brains, their senses, are no longer functional, and wishing that by some miracle this weren’t true doesn’t really make it true–not for me.
    So where and what are they? I start with the assertion that I don’t really know, can’t know, but nonetheless would like to believe, and (in my best moments) DO believe, that they are somewhere in God’s glory–to return to that vexed term. What might that glory be? I have seized on an image which I want to share: they are lodged in that infinite Archive of God’s creation, part of God’s permanent collection, so to speak. What they were, how they lived, everything about them is there, along with all the other lives, souls, beings that were, are, and will be God’s creation, a vast panoply of ways of being. Their sins and failings are on record there, as mine are or will be, their hopes and aspirations and resolutions to do better, to draw closer to God’s plan and away from their own conflicting impulses and desires–it’s all there. We are collected, bound together, made part of that singular, durable, eternal, lovingly curated collection, each of us in our own particular niche, for which I’ll use Br. James’s term–in our ‘glory.’

  15. Christopher Rivers on November 1, 2012 at 11:10

    Stunning wisdom, stunning beauty. Thank you.

  16. CMAC on November 1, 2012 at 10:24

    St. George’s Cathedral, Kingston, Ontario. Death came knocking at our door this morning, All Saints Day, when we received the news of the sudden, unexpected death of our caretaker, Len, from an aneurism while on holiday in Jamaica. // In my mind’s eye I can see him in and around the sanctuary, and standing on the steps at the front of the Cathedral. Please pray for him and his family and friends. Christina

  17. The Rev. Dr. Christian Brocato on November 1, 2012 at 10:17

    Thank you, Brother James, for your reflection that is both thoughtful as well as provocative. I’m deeply moved these days in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and mourn alongside those who have lost loved ones to God. Let us pray that they are now in ‘glory’ and in light everlasting. ~ Christian+

  18. Thank you for your reflection, Brother James. It is very meaningful and provocative on this day and for tomorrow as well. Peace and thanks….Christian+

  19. Polly Chatfield on November 1, 2012 at 09:41

    Thank you, dear James for your loving insight. I had not thought of these days as a mini Holy Week, but since they are, just as you say, then we are assured that the emptiness of loss we felt and still feel will be filled with light and life and joy. Alleluia!

  20. Margo on November 1, 2012 at 07:28

    Thank you ‘Father’ James for the bits of education about the November Tridium and the wonderful hopefulness. Some of my older parishioners will derive much comfort from this too.

  21. Anders on November 1, 2012 at 05:59

    It’s so true that our culture is a death denying one. But do we remove ourselves from death in the character assassination of our election process, in our crumbling infrastructure, our fascination with firearms and the violence they bring, our lackadaisical attitude to climate change and our shock over frequent natural disasters, our lowering taxes to fight outrageously expensive wars? Or do we just attempt to shield ourselves driving in our cars on our highways from our fortress homes where “reality TV” is blaring?

    We are afraid to stare death in the face because we know that it is knocking on the doors of our neighbors and fear that it may be knocking on our door next. Our neighbors who are ill with preexisting conditions called life but lost their health insurance along with a job, who are food insecure despite their granite countertops in attractive zipcodes, whose best and brightest children can’t get a job despite a college degree and its 5 or 6 figure debt. We go to church looking for solace and find pews with barely if any children and chitchat from 50+ year olds about what coffee to serve. We are afraid. I am afraid, and don’t think I’m the only one.

    Help us to fall in love instead, to discover the abiding love in the harsh reality, knowing that the real glory lies behind the appearance. To know that the harsh reality does not offer a hint of glory, but is the glory. Our vision of glory is not beyond the death of this life, it’s in trick or treating death out of those everyday things that scare us so. Let us fall in love together into life with all the saints on our shoulders, today.

    • CMAC on April 16, 2013 at 09:30

      Dear Anders:
      I don’t know if you will see my reply – nearly six months after your posted response to Brother James’ sermon.
      I have just re-read it a couple of times. Thank you for your thoughts. I despair (as a senior, senior citizen) at the state of our lives, our world. You cover all my thoughts and concerns for where we are all headed.
      Christina

  22. Cathie on November 2, 2011 at 09:00

    What do you mean by ‘glory’?

    • DLa Rue on November 1, 2012 at 07:52

      I’d want to hear James’ answer but I would guess from the context he’s referring to the “shekinah,” the “glory of the Lord,” sometimes described as a glow or an emmanance of light reflected in the countenance of those who have “seen God,” and experienced at first hand the indescribable, aweful wonder of God’s presence and might.

      Moses is described thus after descending with the commandments, the prophets and psalmists are given to referring to it, the transfigured Jesus in his conversation with Moses and Elijah might also be seen that way.

      But again, I’d be glad to hear James’ own intention in this reference.

  23. Gail on November 2, 2011 at 06:50

    The Communion of Saints sings “Oh death, where is thy sting”, reminding us that in God’s love all relationships will be healed.

  24. DLa Rue on November 2, 2011 at 04:25

    Prayers asked for my father, Don, who died July 18th, requieset in pace.

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