It is time for my annual plea for my Episcopal readers to petition their bishops for the use of the old Book of Common Prayer All Saints’ Day lectionary. I do this not because of my general disdain for the RCL, which I readily embrace, but because, quite honestly, the Ecclesiasticus reading is just too good to miss, and as one of few Protestant denominations that holds the books of the Apocryphal to be sacred texts, we shouldn’t forego an opportunity to read from it.
What makes a random lesson from a random book worth writing the Bishop for? It is because we need a vibrant and deep understanding of sainthood in times like these. Our news cycle is full of stores of famous men, mostly because they are doing terrible things. Our lives are inundated with stories of violence, power, manipulation, and oppression. Daily, we endure an almost constant barrage of the names of men who are famous for doing despicable things. Violent racists and anti-semites have become the famous men of our time, and it seems reasonable that we should listen to the author of Ecclesiasticus and focus our attention on those who “have perished as though they never existed.”
It is the custom here at Christ Church to hold a service of choral evensong on the Sunday after All Saints’ Day. During the service, a necrology is read. There, in the midst of sacred space, in the middle of our worship of Almighty God, we pause to remember those whose names are not written on monuments or carried by the news, but regular folk who have lived their lives seeking the Kingdom of God.
You see, the reality of All Saints’ Day that Ecclesiasticus names so well is that it is a day set aside to remember any and all who have died in the faith of Christ. It is our opportunity as the Church on earth to give thanks to God for those who have worked toward justice and peace, those who have tried their best to respect the dignity of every human being, those who have fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and cared for the marginalized, those who have prayed and worked for the Kingdom of God to come to earth as it is in heaven.
In a world that prefers to name the infamous men, it is the church’s job to lift up as holy exemplars those who might become as though they were never born, but in their day, did what they could to make this world a better place.