Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
“Almighty God, you have knit your people in one communion in the mystical body of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Grant us grace to follow your blessed saints in lives of faith and commitment, and to know the inexpressible joys you have prepared for those who love you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” I know you might want to hear about my trip, and let me tell you, I have some stories to share. But before we do any of that, let’s return to this perfect prayer of the day. Better than I can, it tells exactly what we celebrate this All Saints Sunday: the one communion of all the faithful in the mystical body of Jesus, the communion of people granted grace to live in faith and commitment, and who know the inexpressible joys God has prepared for them. If the Spirit of God moves in us with sighs too deep for words, the lives of the faithful are full of stories too beautiful to tell.
The stories of the saints are the true stories of grace: unwarranted, unearned, and sometimes even unbidden grace. They are the stories of the inexplicable movement of God’s Spirit, who delights in taking broken and unmatched peoples and weaving them into one body. You have a story that God weaves into my story, and into the whole story that turns out to be about the Holy Trinity, one story of love. That’s what we celebrate today: the communion in the mystical body of Jesus Christ, the inexpressible joys that God has prepared for lives of faith and commitment to Jesus Christ.
We don’t talk enough about those inexpressible joys. Of course, if they are inexpressible, by definition we can’t talk about them at all. But we can tell stories of faith and commitment to Jesus Christ and we can tell stories that evoke in us something we cannot express, but that simply courses through and around us, until we see that we live, not by our own power, but by the power of Jesus, who calls us and brings us into his mystical body, the church, which tells how all of our stories are one.
On Wednesday night, I sat in a gym in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, listening to a short man with a white beard, a quick temper, and a chronic inability to give directions talk about what it means to be a follower of Christ, and beside me, another man started shaking and uncontrollably crying. I don’t remember this second man’s name, but the short man with the beard’s name was John Floberg. It was he who, at the Standing Rock Sioux Nation’s invitation, issued a call for clergy to come and pray at the Standing Rock protest camp, just south of where a Texas energy company was building what they were calling the Dakota Access pipeline. He is an Episcopalian priest in his 25th year working on that reservation—and I think that he very well might be a saint.
He told us that he had hoped 100 people would come—in seven days over 400 registered, and many came that did not register. So he told us what we doing there, and what we were going to do at the camp the next day. He told us that all the churches of Western Christendom that had repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery, the papal bull which gave leave to colonizers to take lands and enslave their occupants in the name of Christ, were going to hand over copies of that bull so that tribal elders could burn it. And then he told us we were going to march to the bridge that forms the no-man’s land between the police and the protesters and form a circle and sing and pray.
He told us that he walked across the bridge, over the broken glass and past the burned wrecks of cars, to talk to the police about the plans for our day there. And he said that he told them that the pipeline that the police guarded was just another instance of the doctrine of discovery, the seizing and exploitation of other people’s land for private profit. And it was time, he said, for us to say: “We were wrong.”
I wish I could tell you the story so that you could feel what the man next to me felt, what everyone in that gym felt. But then the priest continued and said, “We are also going to pray for the police. Because they also rely on water for life. And because when Jesus was crucified on the cross, he prayed for the officers of his day, the ones that were taking his life.”
We hear today the sermon on the plain, in which Jesus, in a few sentences, explains exactly how one his disciples ought to live: “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those that hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you…Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I thank you for sending me to Standing Rock so I could bear witness and tell you that the mystery of Christianity lies in this willingness and discipline of loving our enemies, of forgiveness, and desire to repent of wrongdoing.
When we think of the stories of the saints, we think in terms of lifetimes. But the story of Jesus is longer than any life. The story of a church that has recognized its mistakes and trying to mend its ways is a story over 500 years in the making—half a millenium. Some strands in this story are longer and thicker and heavier than any single life.
But Paul says today that Christ brings us into his body, the church, the fullness of him who fills all in all. Christ’s body reconciles the world with God—and we are part of that reconciliation. This story I have told you about Standing Rock is actually a story about the steadfast faith and commitment to Christ that leads both to repentance and to service—and in that repentance and service, the church encountered an inexpressible joy, one of many that God has prepared for those of us who are in the body of Christ. You are part of that body; you, too, over the course of your faith and commitment to discipleship will find the joy of the Gospel. Your story will be beautiful, and your story is a part of the fullness of God in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Reverend John Flack