The communion of saints

Rev. Paul Escamilla | November 7, 2021

November 7, 2021      All Saints’ Sunday      Isaiah 25:6-9               The communion of saints

Later in this service we will offer up the names of beloved friends in Christ within the Laurel Heights family who have been lost to us in death since last November. Some of these loved ones filled out their lives across ample and generous years. When death drew near and they breathed their last, their passing felt like fulfillment, the final gift of love and rest. Others were lost from us too early, too soon; they went to sleep before the sun had set. There was more of life to be lived, savored, shared than their abbreviated time allowed.

Whether death for these was timely or untimely, we are left to grieve, to experience the absence of these loved ones from our lives, our church family, and our world. O for the touch of a vanish’d hand, and the sound of a voice that is still.

The prophet Isaiah, who in later chapters will prophesy, “Comfort, comfort, my people, says your God,” comforts us here as well, offering a promise of God’s faithfulness to tend to those whose hearts are broken by grief and loss. In place of emptiness, Isaiah promises a fullness: death forever vanquished; tears gently brushed away; and hunger—could grief be described as a hunger, one that over time grows more dull perhaps but never goes away? The prophet assures us that our hunger will be met with a nourishing feast.

The holy meal we partake of today is a foretaste of that feast, in which we’re invited to share the goodness of God in Jesus Christ; to know the care and comfort of the church family that has wiped away our tears, and holds us in love; to taste at one and the same time the bread of heaven and the gift of the good earth; and in some mystical way draw near in spirit to those we have loved and lost, as though to kneel at this altar is to kneel beside them. We call this communion.

There is a phrase in the Apostles’ Creed that belongs especially to All Saints’ Sunday. It’s the sort of phrase we may overlook for years, until one day we discover its deep and personal meaning, and our reading of it is forever changed: I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints. That last phrase speaks of a mystery—in which we are united with those we see no more; bound in mystic, sweet communion with those whose rest is won. I believe in the communion of saints.

Holy Communion, we believe, is communion with Christ, and with one another, and . . . with the saints who’ve gone before. Imagine the table extending invisibly beyond this chancel, this sanctuary, into an invisible realm, and the banquet we share here, shared there as well. And there becomes here; and now becomes then.

K.C. Ptomey was a beloved pastor and then an esteemed professor just up the way at Austin Seminary until his untimely death eight years ago. In his dying days, he was visited by loved ones, colleagues, parishioners. At the end of these visits he was known to say as he looked them in the eye to bid them farewell, “I’ll see you at the table.” Which table did he mean? The heavenly banquet table, where one day we will all be united in the unimaginable joy of the new heaven and the new earth, the new us and the new world? That table? Or did he mean this table, this holy meal, where we draw so near to the memory, the spirit, even the mystical presence of those we have loved and lost? I’ll see you at the table, he would say. Did he mean that table . . . or this one? I think he meant that table.

And this one.