As I have mentioned to some of you before, the summer when I was 13 I and a friend joined a junior navy program called the Naval Sea Cadets. Each week we had to go to class, march around, and learn everything you would if you were in the real Navy. They also offered Summer training programs where you could learn the different areas of expertise. My choice was the program that taught you how to be a jet pilot.
But, as with the real Navy, the first Summer wasn’t about your specialized training. It was about Boot Camp! And since the summer of ’87 was my first summer I was required to go to the base in Cape May, NJ for two weeks. When the time arrived I didn’t want to go because I was working on the staff at our Church camp. And not only that, I had also found a new girlfriend. I mean, who in their right mind would want to leave that kind of happiness for two weeks of Boot Camp?
So I pleaded and begged not to go. But no matter how much I pleaded with my parents when they arrived at the camp to take me away I couldn’t convince them to let me stay. They told me, “You made a commitment and you need to fulfill it!!” So off I went for two weeks of agony and pain. I arrived at the base a few hours later and as we pulled in I could see the obstacle course on the one side, the buildings on the other, and the parade grounds in front of us. All around real recruits were marching. And surrounding the entire base was a fence. There was no escape.
In my driving desire to escape this “prison” I contemplated going AWOL—Away without leave. But I had sense enough to know that plan would not work. So I decided to go another route. I decided to get as many demerits as possible inorder to get kicked out. Surely that would work. What could my parents do to keep me there if I continually broke the rules?
I had accumulated enough demerits to warrant my release but yet I still was not sent home. The reason I wasn’t kicked out was because of my parents. Oh, I had done what I could and they were ready to kick me out but my parents wouldn’t let them. They called my mother and her response to them was, “Throw him in the brig if you must but he’s not coming home until he finishes.”
It was at this juncture that I decided to shape up and do what I was supposed to. And after two weeks I was one of the proud cadets who marched in formation to graduate from Boot Camp. To this day my parents say that Boot Camp was the best thing that ever happened to me. They say that because I learned discipline and some respect. But in my own view it wasn’t so much that. It wasn’t even boot camp that has had the most impact on me. It was my parents. It was their insistence that I persevere and finish what I started in the best way that I could.
My parents, through that whole ordeal, taught me not to run from my problems. They taught me not to look for escape routes. They taught me to not look for the easy road. They taught me to fulfill my responsibilities even if it caused me to forego personal enjoyment. They taught me how to be someone who can live up to his calling. They helped instill the perseverance that is needed to live the Christian life.
Tonight we celebrate the feast of All Saints. It is a night when we remember the Saints that have gone on before us. The proper preface for this feast, which I will sing before the Trisagion, reads, “Who, in the multitude of thy Saints, hast compassed us about with so great a cloud of witnesses that we, rejoicing their fellowship, may run with patience the race that is set before us, and, together with them, may receive the crown of glory that fadeth now away.”
There are four things to note in this preface. They are: 1) the idea of sainthood; 2) our call to run the race of a saint; 3) the examples of the saints that have gone onto the Lord; and 4) the fellowship with we have with the saints.
First is the idea of sainthood. In Exodus chapter 19 God calls the Israelites into covenant with Him. In verses 5 and 6 God says, “Now therefore, if ye will indeed obey my voice, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all my people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.”
Likewise Peter writes in 1 Peter 2:9, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth, the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
Sainthood involves being set apart. It involves being holy. Sainthood involves cleansing and purification. And this all stems from being in Covenant with God. Listen to verse 10 of Exodus 19 which continues right after the passage I read a moment ago, “And the Lord said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes, and be ready against the third day: for the third day the Lord will come down in the sight of all the people upon Mt. Sinai.”
We see the idea in this passage of being cleansed - of conquering the filth of this world. And on the third day the purity and glory of God is shown. This should ring some bells in our minds. Christ died and was in the tomb and rose again on the third day in glory. In baptism we die and are buried with Jesus Christ so that as Christ is raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live a new life. As we are united with him in a death like His, we are also united with Him in a resurrection like His. It is a death to the things of the flesh and a rebirth unto the things of God. We are washed, we are cleansed, we are those who have washed our robes in the blood of the Lamb. At our baptism, as the initiatory sign of covenant with God, men and women of the world enter into a life of sainthood.
But there is more. The second thing the preface brings to
our attention is that of running the race that is set before us-- of living
the life of a saint. There is a mandate to live according to God’s covenant.
In our Baptism we do not have a simple and gentle invitation to strive to live
a good life. It is a harsh command to die and to be resurrected in Jesus Christ
unto good works. It is a command to be set free from all the burial wrappings
of our past that bind our feet and hands and cover our face. Baptism is a command
to die in order that we might live the life of a saint, that we might run the
race that is set before us until one day our sanctification is complete and
we are glorified and given the crown of glory that fades not away.
Thirdly, the preface mentions the cloud of witnesses that we have in the saints. We are not left alone to run this race. As we gather tonight, we celebrate not only our birth into Sainthood but we also remember and rejoice in the faithful servants of God who have gone before us.
I am sure that each of us can think of several people in our lives who have taught us how to live and how to persevere in the Christian life. Some have written those names down on our list for remembrance in our prayer tonight. We rejoice because they have trod the paths that lie before us and we rejoice because they are now standing before the throne of God in glory worshiping Him. We rejoice because they have run the race, because they have received the crown of glory, because they have been fully cleansed, and because they have experienced the fullness of sainthood. We also rejoice because they have helped us in our race.
St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:11, “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon who the ends of the world are come.” In this passage St. Paul is actually listing negative things that the Israelite Nation did that caused God to be angry with them. They were to be examples to these new Christians of how they were not to provoke God to anger. But the opposite remains true as well. Those that went before are also examples as to how we are to please God. The right attitudes, behaviors, and actions of the faithful ones before us have taught us what it means to be servants of God. They have taught us what it means to be saints--- to be holy and set apart ones striving to keep God’s covenant.
Lastly, the preface speaks of the fellowship we have with
the saints. So often do people visit the cemetery to visit their deceased loved
ones. There is nothing wrong with this but the true place of fellowship comes
not in the cemetery. It comes in the Supper and worship of the Lord. As I will
sing just following the proper preface, “Therefore with Angels and Archangels
and with all the company of Heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious name, evermore
It is at the Eucharist that both the heavenly hosts of Heaven and the servants in the militant church on earth come together as one body to fellowship in the union we have with Christ. The Lamb of God on the throne is their Shepherd, feeding them with the bread of heaven. Today this same Lamb is truly present here-- that Lamb of God who gives us heavenly food, His very Body and Blood together with the Bread and Wine, heavenly manna, His very Self.
The saints stand before the throne and the Lamb, praising God for their salvation. The angels join in the praise. Today we also join in the song of heaven in the Holy Eucharist. We acknowledge that it is truly meet, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks unto our Holy Father, almighty, everlasting God.
Here we have a foretaste of the bliss that the saints enjoy in heaven. Here is the Lamb, here He feeds us with Himself, here we occupy ourselves, as do the inhabitants of heaven. May we, as we gather before the throne and the Lamb today in praise and adoration, become conscious of the fact that we are experiencing a foretaste of heaven and are in communion also with the saints that with whom we are rejoicing tonight. AMEN