Sermons 2002

Sermons 2003

In the Parade of Saints

Revelation 21: 1-6a

All Saints Sunday/ 2nd November 2003

© Reverend Kenneth E. Kovacs
Catonsville Presbyterian Church
Catonsville,  Maryland

Two weekends ago I was in New Orleans for the wedding of a friend.  Both the rehearsal dinner and the wedding reception were held in the lively French Quarter – and what a reception it was, held on the site of an old bank on Royal Street.  One room was set apart for dancing, where a band played contemporary music and spicy-hot, Louisiana Cajun pieces.  The reception began at 5:00 p.m.; at 8:00 p.m. the party was winding down.  Everyone was gathering around the dance floor.  It seemed odd to end a wedding reception at eight o’clock, especially in the French Quarter in New Orleans – which doesn’t come alive until eleven o’clock!

Then through the bank windows I could see flashing lights, reflecting in the glass, but didn’t know why they were there.  The bandleader thanked everyone for a wonderful evening and then said, “We’re all going to Pat O’Brien’s where the party will continue.  Just follow the man with the umbrella.”  In walks this very tall black man in a black suit, with a white sash across his chest, and carrying an opened, white umbrella blowing a whistle.  He marched around the dance floor and we formed a line behind him.  We followed him out into the hallway at the back of the bank, leading to the street.  In the hallway we were met by a brass band that struck up a jazzy tune, heading for the street, with all the wedding guests joining rank.  Left, out onto Iberville Street we went.  Ahead of us were two police motorcycles, followed by the bride and the groom dancing in the street, followed by the man with the umbrella and whistle, followed by the brass jazz band and the rest of the guests.  Joyously we marched and danced through the streets of the French Quarter, not too fast, but not too slow, either.  Stopping at the intersections and intentionally blocking traffic.  On the sidewalks people were lining up to watch and celebrate with us.  Left onto to Chartres Street with the spires of the Cathedral of St. Louis on Jackson Square in the distance.  More crowds gathered as we paraded through the streets.  Just before making a left onto St. Peter Street, where O’Brien’s is, the band started playing “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In.”  We were singing and the crowds lining the streets were singing, “O how I want to be in that number, when the saints go marchin’ in.”  Then up St. Peter Street and a left into O’Brien’s club, through the carriage gateway into the courtyard that was just full of people, where we partied into a new day.  What a celebration, what joy!

I heard later that night from a fellow wedding guest that as we were making our way into the courtyard, a guy at the bar was awestruck by the spectacle before him.  He was actually moved to tears by the beauty of the procession.  All of us in the parade of saints said that it was one of the most memorable experiences of our lives.  It was almost quasi-religious for me.  Life had an intensity and brilliance in those moments, especially as were singing “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In.”  Saints and sinners alike, the vast assortment of humanity in the streets, under the banner of God’s love were celebrating life and the life to come.  I’m sure not everyone saw that parade through a theological filter, but I did.  It’s what we’re supposed to do as Christians.  Aren’t we supposed to have sanctified imaginations?  Nothing is profane — nothing is profane or beyond the ability to mediate the higher truth of God’s love for the world.  For those people struck by the beauty of a procession, that was a religious experience (whether they knew it or not). That’s what worship is supposed to do.  I know someone last week here on Reformation Sunday said they just love when we do processions.  It’s all part of the movement, the drama that is worship, which is life, which calls us to celebrate and praise and be grateful! 

Today, on this All Saints Sunday we are reminded of our role in the great parade of saints, that noble procession through the ages from Abraham and Sarah, Peter, James, John, Lydia, and Priscilla, down through the centuries, millions strong, to this moment in space-time.  Christ is blowing his whistle, dancing in the streets, and calling us forward into the realm of all goodness and life and truth.  Some in this great parade have already passed through the gates – not into Pat O’Briens – but into an even more festive place where the party continues forever around the throne of God in the New Day of the kingdom.   Today we remember those people, those mentors, and those leaders, those people who loved us and whom we loved and continue to love.  Today we remember all those people who by God’s grace invited us to join in the parade, who told us about Christ, who brought us into the family of the church, who taught us what it means to love, to be graceful, to be kind and merciful. 

On this All Saints Sunday we must not forget the saints who are behind us in the procession; those folks who have not been invited to march with us yet, even those unborn.  We who are alive today have to be concerned about those who follow us.  That’s one of the reasons why we invest in the church of today so that there will be a church for tomorrow.  This is why God calls us to be stewards of all our gifts and resources so that others might know what we have come to know.  Yes, all of us here are products of those who upheld the faith and invited us into the church.  But we’re also products of those people in the noble procession that either knowingly or unknowingly fought against the faith, stood in the way of where Christ was leading the church, stood in the way of the Spirit’s movement.  “We are products of those who fought for the faith and those who fought against the faith.”  Saints, nevertheless, but not all the saints are the same.  We have a choice.  Which one do we want to be?   The Lutheran minister, Mary Anderson, recently wrote, “Congregations are the spiritual grandchildren of wonderful stewards who gave their all, and of generations of curmudgeons who threw water on the Spirit’s fire every chance they got.  Why type of ancestor do we, who by baptism are part of the communion of saints, hope to be?”[1]

Later in worship this morning we will invoke the names of friends we’ve lost this year and we will toll the bell.  One of these All Saints Days our names will be read in worship.  Maybe a bell will toll after our names are read.  We must remember we are the saints for future generations.  We are the shoulders on which others will stand.[2]  Will we be ancestors who sat on their hands or ancestors who raised their hands in praise and used their hands for the healing of the nations and building up of the church?  What kind of saint do you hope to be?  

[1] Mary W. Anderson, “Saints and sinners,” The Christian Century (October 28, 2003).

[2] These reflections  and questions are taken from Anderson’s article, as well as the quotation for the Sunday worship bulletin:   “As we remember these strong shoulders on which we stand, we are challenged to strengthen our own shoulders.  We are ancestors in the making after all, saints for a generation yet unborn.  It is an awesome opportunity.  Rise up, O Saints of God!”