In 2011, I was asked to speak at Choral Vespers at Homecoming in Reid Chapel at Samford. While I’ve heard recent homilists speak of having 10 minutes for the address. On that occasion the goal was more like 5. I just tried to draw together the readings, which I believe were simply drawn from a lectionary, and connected them to the time of year, including the feasts of the last of the Twelve Apostles (Simon and Jude) and All Saints’.
Here is the address:
October 28, 2011, Feast of Sts. Simon and Jude
Choral Vespers, Homecoming, Reid Chapel, Samford University
Reading: Neh. 2:17-20, Rev. 6:12-7:4
Hymns included “Hail to the Lord’s Anointed”
Anthems include “Dies irae” (Lukâš) and Justorum Animae (Stanford).
Just as the yellow, orange, and crimson leaves and cold air outside remind us that it is autumn, so too do our scripture lessons. As we approach the end of the agricultural year, the traditional daily cycle of readings we follow at vespers leads us toward the conclusions of the stories of the Bible’s two testaments.
As with all good stories, their drama increases as we approach their ends. Drama vividly expressed in the anthems we have just heard or sung.
The vision seen by John is terrifying. The sky God stretched out in Genesis to create a habitable earth is rolled up like a window shade. The pillars which God sank to form the mountains are uprooted. Our home is gone, and not only Revelation’s villains, “the rich and powerful,” but all people are deathly afraid. But then comes an unexpected vision of hope. The bulldozing winds are halted so a great multitude can be protected. The vision challenges us to ask: Are we among them? Do we belong to that new Jerusalem, that true home, which God erects on earth in Revelation’s final chapters?
The memoirs of Nehemiah offer equal drama. In this, the last of the Old Testament’s historical narratives, Nehemiah recounts his deeds, pleading to God, “Remember me, … for my good.” Just before the passage we heard, Nehemiah astutely negotiated with Jerusalem’s Persian overlord and surveyed the walls of Jerusalem in a clandestine operation. He urges the people to repair God’s city. Most respond with enthusiasm. Nehemiah bluntly denounces those who do not as outsiders. Again the story asks us, will we conspire against God’s people or devote ourselves to “the common good”?
In this waning season of the year, Christians have for centuries reflected on last things: those who have gone before us, our own mortality, God’s judgment, and Christ’s coming kingdom wherein “all nations shall adore him.”
Today, October 28, many Christians remember Simon the Cananaean and Jude Thaddeus, the last two and most unknown of Jesus’ twelve apostles. In a few days, many of us may celebrate the festivals of All Saints, All Souls, and Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. These days make sure we remember all those, known and unknown, who have preceded us in the fate of bodily death we all share.
Many of us
will recall and indeed mourn loved ones who are no longer with us.
We will also remember their good example, and the good example of all God’s saints.
May we find assurance that the souls of the righteous are indeed in the hands of God.
May we rejoice that we are knit together with them in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of Christ.
And may we be stirred by the example of the unnamed residents of Jerusalem, of Nehemiah, Simon, Jude, John, and all the saints, to set our hands to repairing God’s city, God’s world of justice, hospitality, abundance, beauty, and love, now, in this autumn, and throughout our days.