Bright Morning Stars

Sunday, November 5, 2017

A homily preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC November 5, 2017, celebration of All Saints Day.

Text:  Ephesians 1:11-23


“Bright morning star”—what a beautiful phrase.  Each word in itself radiates light:  bright…morning…star.  The “star” referred to in this phrase is actually a planet (Venus) that can be seen in the East brightly reflecting the light of the Sun just before dawn.  Down through the ages star gazers have noted this phenomenon.  There is an Appalachian folk song [we heard this morning] that picks up on the image, connecting it to the next life—the resurrection life—promised through Jesus Christ.  The song both mournfully and hopefully cries—“where are our dear fathers, mothers, children? They have gone to heaven, dancing, praying, shouting…day is a’ breakin’ in my soul…” Maybe it’s the strong strain of Ozark roots in my blood, but this lyric and melody always comes to mind as we near the celebration of All Saints Day.  Resurrection, new life, day breaking to bring light into the darkness…  The bright morning star is our sure sign that the sun will rise, giving us another day, another chance; the sun will rise assuring us that we are not destined to live in darkness; the sun will rise to bring light even into troubled times, even into the shadows of death, leading even those who have left this life into the promise of a new day, a new life beyond the veil. 


In other words, the bright morning star is a sign of hope.  Our reading from the epistle of Ephesians speaks of hope saying:  “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ… may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.  God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places…” (Eph. 1:17-20). 


On this day we celebrate All Saints and, above all, this day is about hope.  All Saints is an observance that began as a commemoration of all those martyrs from the early persecutions of Christianity whose names were never recorded and whose memory was in constant peril of being lost. Over time, this celebration was extended to remember all who have lived and died in the faith and now rest eternally and triumphantly from their labors. We continue this aspect of the celebration when we name those persons who have died in the last year and live now in the glory of God.


A second dimension of the word “saint” was added through the years by reclaiming the New Testament confession that all those who have been baptized into Christ and declared righteous by grace are, in fact, living saints of God.  If we pay attention to Paul’s writings, we will quickly understand that this doesn’t mean that “living saints” are perfect in any way—Paul addresses even the Christians in Corinth, those whom he has rebuked and castigated for many and various moral offenses, as saints, or holy ones (1 Cor. 1:1-9).  This understanding of what a “saint” is has more to do with what GOD does for us and less to do with what WE are able to do ourselves…that is, to be a “saint” is to know ourselves beloved and embraced by God’s grace.  This aspect of what it means to be a saint—to be one who is so deeply beloved that Jesus was willing to die in order to show us that we need not fear the grave or any darkness—allows us to see and celebrate our union with those for whom Christ died in every time and every place:  we are among the living saints of God who are connected in God’s love to all God’s beloved…Communion of the Saints!


What will come to mind for many when we think of “saints” are those exemplary persons throughout history who have acted with such courage, love, mercy, and wisdom that they inspire our deep admiration and our desire to emulate their lives.  Just as we ask people in this life to pray for us, there are many who ask that saints living the resurrection life pray for us as well…


In all of these understandings of saints, the common denominator is hope.  And that hope is made possible through Jesus Christ who proves to us that God’s love is stronger than death, stronger than any shadow or darkness.  Jesus is the Son who rises to bring light.  We can celebrate today that our loved ones who have passed into the next life are living in the light of God.  We can celebrate today that Christ’s light so permeates our world that there are those whose lives show forth God’s mercy, love, and wisdom—proving our own capacity to do the same.  And we can celebrate today that because of God’s love, poured out for us freely and fully in Jesus, we live in hope for our own lives and for the life of the world—we need not live in fear.  God’s grace shines on us and through us, granting each of us a new beginning, a fresh start, a new life each and every day!  Bright morning star is rising!  Not only on the other side of death, but day is also breaking in our own souls.  We celebrate today that a new day will dawn when our Communion with God and with all the saints, our Communion with generations past and generations yet unborn, will be brought to fruition around the banquet table of God.  Oh what a day of reunion and communion! 


Today, as we gather at the Table of Communion with God, we join our voices to the unending chorus of faith and praise.  And the beautiful promise is that standing and speaking and singing with us are all those who have sojourned with us on earth and now continue their journey with Christ in the heavenly places.  All are one in thee, O God, for all are thine!  Thanks be to God!