Tag, You’re It
The Rev. Dr. Andrew Guffey
All Saints 2019
In the name of One God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + AMEN.
“The Holy Ones of God shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever—forever and ever,” as the Book of Daniel says. Or as the Letter to the Ephesians says, “We have obtained in Christ an inheritance.” What is that inheritance?
Well, let us now praise famous women and men, our mothers and fathers who begat us (Sir 44:1). That is what All Saints if for, after all, praising the Saints, those whose lives were so bathed in Jesus’s life that they have brought us to share some measure of their faith, by sharing their lives. On All Saints, we remember all those who have gone before us in the faith, and who, in their passing, turn back to us with tender and, I like to think, mischievous eyes, and seem to say, “Come on. I dare you.”
Do you remember playing as a child, and someone would say, “Come on. I dare you.” A social gesture that could only be topped by, “I DOUBLE dare you,” or, at the pinnacle of potentialsocial embarrassment or triumph: “ I double DOG dare you!” Maybe it was your friends daring you to ride your bike down a steep hill, which you were pretty sure you would never survive. Or maybe it was someone urging you to TP the Principal’s house. Daring isn’t always good. But sometimes we need a good dare. Because when we accept the dare, we’re able to stretch our wings wider than we ever knew we could.
That’s how I think of the Saints. The Saints turn to us with a holy wink and bathe us in the prayers of their hands and hearts, and seem to say, I dare you. I dare you to live your life in love. I dare you to live a life of blessing. I dare you find Jesus in every face you meet, every day of your life. I dare you to live like us. No, I dare you to live better than us. I dare you to let yourself be captured by the Crucified and find out you’re free. I dare you to chase me.
I wonder if you have ever thought of the communion of saints in that way, as a big game of tag. I’m sure you remember that when we recite either the Apostles’ or the Nicene Creed we have that line in there that says we believe in the communion of saints, which comes right after “We believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” I think the reason the communion of saints comes next is so that we don’t make the mistake of thinking that what constitutes the church is some impersonal institution, some collection of administrative tasks and property. That line about the communion of saints is there, I think, to remind us what DOES constitute the Church: it is a communion—a sharing—among the saints. It is a big game of tag.
So how does this game work? Well, like all games, first we are invited to play. That’s what baptism is. In the waters of baptism we join the great game. In baptism we are sealed as Christ’s own, and marked as his forever. And that means we have been called in baptism to the great company of the Saints. Your calling, my calling, our calling together is to be saints—to be holy ones—to take our place in the raucous festivity of God’s extravagant love, because we have already been set aside in baptism, especially for that. We are set aside, as we remind ourselves in our baptismal covenant, to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers. We are set aside to persevere in resisting evil, and returning to Jesus’s arms when we sin and err. We are set aside to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ, to seek and serve Christ in all persons, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are set aside to strive for justice and peace among all, and to respect the dignity of every human being. That is the substance of the game. That is way of life to which the Saints beckon us with Christ’s own invitation.
But, of course, the communion of the saints is much more than a game. The saints call us into this strange, beautiful life of being a disciple of Jesus; they also surround us and sustain us when this life does not feel much like a game. The sharing—the communion—of the saints is not just a sharing in the joys and the laughter, it’s also a sharing in the heartbreak, in the loneliness, in the pain of living, and the pain of dying. The saints know what it means to say good-bye. I have been talking about the Saints as though they might be those fantastical creatures you may have heard of—men and women who never wavered in their faith, who produce miracles with a dour face, and whose lives were lives of qualitative perfection. But the perfection of the saints has nothing to do with their own scrupulous rectitude. The perfection of all the saints is only a side-effect of Jesus’ perfection, only an after-effect of having dared to abandon themselves to Jesus. Another game: being a saint is like one big trust-fall, casting oneself into the abyss, and trusting like hell that Jesus will catch you. And, beloved, Jesus will catch you. Christ has not yet failed to catch anyone who showed such daring. Because God does not lose anything or anyone that belongs to him.
And the Saints are not just those who are famous, certainly not only those who managed to “do it right.” Since we are all called to be saints in baptism, each of us joins that communion. For every famous saint, how many have gone to their graves without being widely known? Some of the most extraordinary saints in your life and my life, those who have led us in the faith and who showed us how to play this game, are ordinary women and men who drew us on the tether of their love for us and ours for them.
Let me tell you about Helen Jones. She’s not a saint that you have heard of; she’s not famous. I called her, “Auntie.” Auntie loved to spoil us. Perhaps it was making up for not having children or grandchildren of her own, but she enjoyed a certain amount of doting on her grand-nephews and grand-niece. I remember when I was little—perhaps six or seven—it was close to Halloween. We were shopping in a grocery store, and Auntie was with us, and I saw a vampire make-up kit in a rack in the store, and at that moment all I was aware of was just how much I suddenly wanted to be a vampire for Halloween. And so I asked Mom, and she said no. But I lingered behind, looking at it longingly, and Auntie picked one out, bent down and whispered, “Shh. I’ll get it for you. But let’s not tell your Mom just yet.” I was a vampire that Halloween.
Auntie slid into that odd geographic distortion of the mind we call Alzheimer’s by the time I was in middle school. And she passed when I was a sophomore in high school. But Auntie’s prayers lingered; her heart outlived, and her life outlived her. I told you last week that I was known to my college friends as Jesus Boy. Well, at the end of my college years I became unsettled. I was restive, and needed something to ground me and my prayers. And that is when I happened to pick up the Book of Common Prayer Auntie had left behind. And it seems to me now as thought that Book of Common Prayer said, Tag, you’re it. And here we are.
When Auntie died, she wanted to be put in a cheap pine box and put in the nearest cemetery. Those were her wishes. Sure, in part that was just Auntie’s frugal way, but I think it points to a grander truth. The Feast of All Saints and the Commemoration of All Souls, Hallowtide as we sometimes call it, is not just about the great saints of old, not even about the unsung saints of our lives, but also about Easter and about what this thing is that we call Church. Auntie’s wishes for a simple death point to one of the deepest truths of the Christian Faith. That Death is no ending; it’s only a stop along the way. “To the well organized mind,” says Saint Albus Dumbledore, “death is but the next great adventure.”
What does that mean, though? It means Auntie, all our loved ones, all those whose names are inscribed on the list in your bulletin—all of them are beckoning us. All of them reach out their hands to us and say, “Come on. I dare you.” Those whose hope has grounded our hope, whose faith and kindled our faith, whose love suffuses our love. And. Even those who lost hope. Even those whose faith faltered or failed. Even those whose love was broken, halting, or withheld. Those who cast themselves into the unfailing arms of Christ look back in love and call us onward, because they know what is waiting for us.
This is a great mystery friends, but it is true. The communion of the saints is, after all, not a communion of the dead, but of the living. Because God is not a God of the dead, but of the living. And not just those of us living on this side of death. Consider what we say during the heart of our worship, which we call Holy Communion: “And now, joining our voices with Angels and Archangels, and with all the company of heaven….” And just who do you suppose is that company of heaven? Have you ever stopped to think what it means that we join our voices with theirs at our Holy Feast? Have you ever wondered what it means? It means this: Every Sunday is a little Easter, and Every Sunday is a little Halloween. If we take the popular notion that Halloween is a time when the veil between our world and the world of those who have passed on is thinnest—even if we misunderstand that other world to be populated with ghosties, ghoulies, goblins, and monsters—nevertheless, that is what we celebrate at All Saints: that the communion of saints means that veil is extraordinarily thin, and the tether of love remains unbroken, because it is not held together with our fragile sort of love, but it is threaded through by God’s indestructible Love.
And there is more. What we mean by “joining our voices…with all the company of heaven” is that they are here. Not just who they were, who they are in theirmemories, but who they are now in the bosom of Abraham, who they are now in the transfigured shine of God’s everlasting glory. What we mean is that the veil is its thinnest just here, just now, and that all the Saints and martyrs, doctors and confessors of the church—yes, and even Auntie and all those we love but see no longer, are here, are holding us, are joining our voices in praising God and partaking of that everlasting Feast with us, until kingdom come, Amen.
Today, the Saints beckon us on, daring us to chase them into the Land of Unlikeness, as Auden once put it, into the vast expanses of the fields of God’s delight. Keeping in mind that they were tagged first, by other Martyrs and Confessors, Doctors and Holy Ones. The funny thing about this game is that there is actually ever only one person who is It. Even as we join in this fantastic and never-ending game, we realize that whoever it was who tagged us, whatever hand stretched out to us, whatever joyful face was turned toward you, it was always ever Christ. The game is not ours, after all. This communion is not ours; it’s God’s. Come on. Take your place in the communion of the saints. I dare you.