Blessed All Saints. And, Woe, it’s All Saints.
The Gospel writer of Luke uniquely includes blessings and woes in Jesus teaching his followers. Blessed are the poor, hungry, weeping, and if people hate you, now; Woe you who are rich, full, laughing, and if people speak well of you, now; for all will be reversed. Blessed All Saints. And, Woe, it’s All Saints.
I attended a lecture and book launch at UVic on Monday. Carolyn Whitney Brown, a fellow of the Centre for the Study of Religion and Society, launched two books, because, as Paul Bramadat, Director of the Centre said, two books at once makes us all feel like underachievers! Both books are about L’Arche. One is titled, Sharing Life, Stories of L’Arche Founders; from around the world; and the other, Tender to the World, Jean Vanier, L’Arche, and the United Church of Canada. L’Arche, founded by Jean Vanier, is a global network of communities of intellectually and physically challenged adult residents sharing homes with assistants who provide care. Carolyn, who has studied Vanier and L’Arche, and traces the history of the relationship between Vanier and the United Church, also lived at Daybreak, a L’Arche community in Richmond Hill, ON. She spoke about Jean Vanier, who died in May of this year, and about his ability to invert typical ways of thinking and acting, and particularly the inversion of seriousness for fun. And he credited the residents of L’Arche for teaching him and others these truths. Carolyn spoke of her own experience of first arriving at Daybreak, and meeting Bill, who greeted her, as he did everyone who arrived at the community, with his joke. He asked, “How do you keep a turkey in suspense?” He’d pause, and then say, “I’ll tell you tomorrow.” And laugh every time. She spoke about how laughter and fun are so much a part of L’Arche, and that this pleasure sustains these fragile communities, with people who experience much suffering and many challenges, but are also living up to their capacity for good. Though Vanier was critiqued for idealizing, even infantilizing the residents, still he was credited with pioneering communities of joy for both residents and assistants, with some concluding, perhaps having fun could be considered normal. Carolyn referred to a carnival like experience, with things “stood on their head in an interlude between imperfect structures.” In response to unjust treatment, with “no hierarchy, and no sense of who’s changing whom,” having fun together offered “a healing model from the margins,” and “communities we all hunger for, and fun we all hunger for.”
Often asked if he was a saint, Vanier laughed and quoted the words from today’s Gospel reading: “Woe or beware, when people speak well of you, for that is what they did to the false profits.” In contrast to this title of Saint that Vanier rejected, Carolyn showed a picture of Vanier and L’Arche residents all together for his receiving the prestigious Templeton award. It is quite a picture of “absurdity and fun.” A picture of All Saints.
It occurred to me that L’Arche communities embodied Jesus’ blessings and woes that we hear today. Following Jesus, Vanier and the residents and assistants are turning things on their heads, in absurdity and fun, blessing those who are hurting and challenging those who have much, to give it and their lives away for God’s intended purpose, to live in service together. As Vanier said, it isn’t so much that you have a home and a fridge and a car, it is about who you invite in, who you share your food with, who you offer a ride to; it’s about life together.
At the ELCIC National convention in July of this year, I spent much of my time with the tech crew, with Perry at the sound board, and beside Dave who was running the camera for the screens and live streaming the convention. I met them on set-up day, and they were friendly enough, but clearly skeptical when I went over the list of mic requirements for worship and said I would be standing beside them with a script and giving sound cues. But we kept talking. At opening worship, I was there as expected and we worked closely together, and they followed the cues for sound and suggestions for camera shots. When it came time for sharing the peace and Holy Communion, I offered the sign of peace to them and invited them and others at the tech tables to feel free to commune if they wished. They looked a little shocked, but then Perry quietly said, “No, but thanks for offering.” After worship, I thanked them for their good work and assistance, and they made a point of thanking me for the help. After that, for each worship, and at other times, we worked along side each other, and talked and got to know each other, and we had fun. I learned Perry had been a sound tech for the Grateful Dead at the Coliseum Area in Oakland, California. Of course he was, and now working sound at a church convention in Regina, Sask! He showed me old black and white pictures on his phone of the wall of speakers they would set up each night, and by the end of the concert they were all blown. He said techs at the JBL speaker company did nothing but re-cone speakers for Grateful Dead concerts. I imagine he could have told many wild stories, but a nod from Dave would slow him down a little and then we would laugh. We didn’t talk much about what was happening on the convention floor. I wondered what their impressions were of the motions on reconciliation with the earth, with indigenous nations and multifaith neighbours, on racism and inclusion, public ministry and journeying faithfully with those who are dying. They didn’t say much, but they were listening and watching. During one worship, as the words of the Holy Trinity were spoken, I noticed Perry made the sign of the cross on himself. I didn’t say anything, but I figured he had some background in the church and I wondered if he was feeling more at home. At the closing worship, a young man wearing a turban joined us at the tables, filling in or training, I wasn’t sure. Dave introduced us. When it came time for peace sharing and Communion, I shared the peace and offered the same invitation to everyone. Dave looked at the young man and they had a good chuckle between them, and he and I exchanged a smile. I wondered for a moment if Perry was going to accept. He hesitated but then declined. But again, he said, “Thanks for offering.” At the end of the convention, we shared warm handshakes and thank yous for the good work and time together. Dave talked to me about his background in the church, that included some Lutheran relatives, and that he was impressed with all he heard and saw. It gave him faith, he said. Perry didn’t say much, but his handshake was firm and long, and I said, “God bless you.” He said, “You too.” Life together for the few days was a blessing.
Blessed All Saints. Woe, its All Saints. Those who are poor, hungry, weeping and persecuted, that they see the grace and love of God as well as the justice of enough to live on, food to eat, comfort in sadness, and relief from hatred, persecution, oppression and violence. Blessed All Saints. And, if we are rich and full and laughing and honoured, Woe! stop, listen, be warned, it will all be reversed. Because we can’t live only to ourselves, because life is fragile, and humanity is prone to hatred, power over, abuse and violence. Blessings and Woes, its all, All Saints. We are all, blessings and woes, All Saints.
From Jesus’ words, it isn’t simply: here are the saints, bless you, and here are the sinners, woe to you. Jesus is acknowledging God’s blessing those who are hurting, and God’s challenging those who are blessed to generous loving and living in the world, toward a great and absurd reversal of all that is unjust and unloving, in favour of God’s love and justice and even laughter and peace. It’s All Saints, blessings and woes. We’re All! Saints by God’s grace though the love and Spirit of Christ Jesus, now and forever. Let is be so, in all our relations. Amen.