Radical Preaching

Can preaching again have something to say?
This blog marks the attempt to bring the theological vision of Radical Orthodoxy into the worship and preaching of the local church.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Remembering & Re-Membering: The Glory of All Saints Day


Last night, I was flipping around channels late and found the movie, Final Destinations 2. The first Final Destination movie begins with a character's premonition that a horrible accident is about to occur. He convinces his friends not to fly to France because he dreamed that the plane would crash. They don't go, and sure enough, the plane crashes, killing everyone on board. However, in this movie, Death will not be cheated. So, the remainder of the movie pits the friends' attempts to outwit, outlast, and outplay Death itself, usually losing. The message of the film brilliantly portrays the end of secular reason, a valiant struggle to conquer and overcome that final and most mysterious of adversaries, Death. In a recent talk at Baylor University, Stanley Hauerwas remarked, "In the Middle Ages, the prayer books indicate that people prayed that death would not come quickly upon them that they might have time to repent properly. In modernity, we pray that death will come quickly, that we will not tarry and be a burden to others. You see, in the Middle Ages, they believed in God. In modernity, we believe in death. In a chapter entitled, "Asyndeton" in The Postmodern God, Catherine Pickstock states, "The unspoken objective of modernity is to relinquish death by means of death, which is to say, to abolish time" (297). In abolishing time, modernity reveals not only its ahistoricity, but also its inability to accept saints. You see, to abolish time is to abolish saints.

Today is All Saints' Day, a most holy day, and a day for us to remember why it is that we reject secular reason. For the world exemplified in Final Destination, to live is to live in a "heroic" struggle against death, an adversary who remains one step ahead, having already charted the place and time for everyone's demise. To cheat death is only to delay the inevitable. The best that one can hope for is a "noble" death; however, this is impossible for modernity because in an effort to overcome death, modernity attempts to abolish time, to make life both ahistorical and atemporal. Thus, modernity cannot remember saints, because to remember saints means to allow time to pass, to realize that death cannot be succesfully managed, nor can it be overcome by will or power. To remember saints requires the remembrance of Christ, His death, His resurrection, and His glorification. Finally, to remember the saints requires the acknowledgement that the salvation offered by the nation-state is a parody of the salvation offered in Christ Jesus.

In the Eucharist, we remember not to forget the story of Jesus. First, we remember that He died in a very specific way at a very specific time. We remember that when accused and reviled by evil men, He went like a lamb led before the slaughter, uttering not a word in His own defense. Jesus does not attempt to overcome death through the technologies at His disposal. Remember the Elders taunt, "He saved others, let him save himself!" Jesus allows Himself to be handed over to death; however, this handing over is not an easing into the peaceful slumber of thanatosis. Jesus surrenders himself to death by fully trusting God to raise Him from the dead. Jesus' death on the cross is the ultimate note of his faith, trusting God even unto death instead of surrendering to the powerful temptation to seek an alternative path, an alternative form of salvation.

Second, we remember that Christ was raised from the Dead, having descended into Hell. We remember that Death does not have the last word. He has been defeated as have sin and evil. In faith, Christ surrenders to death, and faithfully, God raises Him from the dead.

Third, the Eucharist reminds us that Christ will come again, in all majesty and glory, to create the new heavens and the new earth, and to reign with His saints forever. At long last, the sting of death will be removed. The veil that shrouds the holy mountain and clouds the holy feast will be cast off, and Christ will remove our sorrows and sufferings, washing us clean, and inviting us to the feast of all feasts, in His glorious and eternal kingdom. Death, evil, and sin will be no more!

All Saints' Day helps us to remember not to "modernize" the Eucharist, to make it function as a promise of a far off day in the sweet bye and bye. Instead, All Saints' Day reminds us to remember that in the reception of the Body and the Blood, we become that which we eat. We become a part of His Body, in all of our temporality. In our local communities, we are charged to be His saints. All Saints' Day helps us to remember our identity by remembering the stories of those who have gone before us, who have faithfully embodied Christ's presence to the world. Modernity cannot tolerate the memory of saints in the Church because it cannot control and manage those memories. In Pinochet's Chile, the state went to great lengths to destroy the Church's ability to form saints (See Torture and Eucharist by William Cavanaugh to this point). The modern nation-state offers us an alternative form of salvation that is a parody of Christian salvation, just as the nation-state is a parody of the Church. This alternative form of salvation ushers us into a Final Destination world, where we must devote our lives to learning how to escape and outwit death. Our lives must be filled with the constant tension that if we let down our guard, allow ourselves to grow weak, fall asleep, even, that death will creep in and rob us of our life. We fail so often to see that this is not life, but a series of compromises with death that ends in our worship of death. William Stringfellow states, "Death in his ultimate cruelty entices us to believe that only he can offer salvation" (paraphrase). Our strength and smarts will not deliver us from death, but only worship in the Triune God. In remembering the saints, we remember those who refused death, exposed death, and now enjoy the fruit of resurrection, gathered in the bosom of our Lord!
14"These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

15"Therefore they are before the throne of God,
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
16They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
17For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes" (Revelation 7:14b-17, ESV).

2 Comments:

Blogger David said...

Scott,

Christ is in our midst!

You have to get your hands on the following book. It will be very helpful to you.

You Crown the Year With Your Goodness: Sermons Throughout the Liturgical Year by Hans Urs von Balthasar.

Two excellent sermons (12 pages each) for All Saints entitled God's Holiness In Us and Communion of Saints.

November 02, 2005 8:15 AM  
Blogger Scott said...

Thanks David. I will definitely put it on the list.

Grace and Peace,
Scott

November 02, 2005 10:12 AM  

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