Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Communion of Saints: they receive but they also believe

All Saints' Day is November 1st, but it is common to celebrate the Feast on the first Sunday following.

All Saints' Sunday is one of the days favored for Baptism, emphasizing the addition of new people to the Communion of Saints.

Many churches using the Revised Common Lectionary will hear this lesson:

In [Christ] 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 is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people, to the praise of his glory.

This is expressed in the Baptismal action itself, as the newly baptized are anointed on their foreheads with the words, "(Name), you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ's own for ever."

The danger is obvious: Baptism is misunderstood as a free pass. We forget that the action is effective in those who "hear the word of truth and believe in Christ." The traditional Anglican/Episcopal model, in which the Baptized did not receive Communion until after being Confirmed at an age of decision and consent, understood Christian initiation in full, God's gracious gift and our transformation through response.

The Gospel for All Saints' this year expresses this fullness:

Jesus looked up at his disciples and said:

"Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
"Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
"Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
"Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
"But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
"Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
"Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
"Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

"But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you."

We are "blessed" because the Lord looks at us and says so; we inherit future glory by letting his life transform ours into something scandalously new.

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