Parade of Saints

In the past week Philadelphia got a lot of religion. That that religion was baseball hasn’t done much to advance the kingdom of God, but it has been impressive to watch, and sometimes to be a part of.

On Wednesday night, I was surprised to find myself watching the final innings of Game 5 in the World Series. I am a fair-weather baseball fan, at best (although I did predict from this pulpit two weeks ago that the Phillies would win the Series in five games!) I was even more surprised to find myself out on the street, when I took Baxter out for his last walk of the day, being drawn toward Broad Street, where we found an elated, hi-fiving, red-capped throng had taken over the streets.

What was I doing there? I have no idea. But what were any of us doing there? There was nothing to see and nothing to do but come together and cheer. There was no one even there to cheer for! But it didn’t matter There was no place to go and nothing to do, but somehow everyone knew where to go and what to do. While it’s true that some damage was done later in the night, when you consider how many people filled the streets (and how drunk some of them were) it was an amazingly happy, good-natured, spontaneous expression of joy. I can honestly tell you I have never seen or felt anything like it in my life.

And the raucous throng that I was part of on Wednesday night was reconstituted and enlarged on Friday afternoon, when the Phillies came in triumphal parade through the city. Hordes of people had been filing into the city all morning. Folks around here were inevitably heading toward Broad Street. The fair weather having continued, I still considered myself a fan, so I too headed into the streets with Baxter.

As we headed up Locust Street, across 15th, we could just see the tail end of the parade: a trailer on which someone was holding aloft the Commissioner’s Trophy. Around me people figured out that the parade had stalled briefly and we had missed most of it. But we also realized that we could head south on 15th Street and try to catch up too see the team we had come to cheer.

And so we did. People were running down 15th Street to catch up to the parade, to see those pin-striped heroes of the baseball diamond. As we passed Spruce Street and looked to our left, we could see again, the tail end of the parade, but it had stopped again. So we sped up – we all sped up! We raced down to Pine and turned left, and as we did, we saw a horse-drawn carriage, and a bulldog sitting up there on the carriage: Pat Burrell’s bulldog, Elvis – he lives around the corner from us, so Pat must have been up there too!

And then came the truck with the Philly Phantatic, and the team members and their families, and a few more buses with unidentifiable people from the Phillies organization. And the trophy again! And we cheered and cheered and cheered! It didn’t matter that we didn’t know exactly who was who (except for the bulldog). We knew who they were, and why we were there. We cheered for these heroes who somehow made us all feel good about ourselves and the world.

Now baseball analogies in American culture are often trite – all the more so in church. I ought to know, I used one at the center of my sermon two weeks ago. But today it’s not so much a baseball analogy I want to ask you to consider, though it may have sounded that way up till now.

For today the church invites us to a parade of heroes. Our procession around the church singing “For all the saints” is a kind of ultra-dignified version of the Phillies parade. If only we could imagine the raw enthusiasm this city showed for its baseball team directed at the saints whose lives have built up the kingdom of God. If only we could muster some of it ourselves.

If only we could look up at what Bruce Nichols so beautifully described last week as these thickly populated stained glass windows and see people whose stories we recognized – or at least their dogs!

If only we could run breathlessly to try to catch up with the saints: those who gave their lives for their Lord, or who lived them so spectacularly or prayerfully or thoughtfully or with such reckless generosity.

If only their promised arrival on our street would bring us out to cheer, to claim a part of their victory as our own, and to project our own best hopes for our own lives onto them.

Back on Broad Street throughout the day, most of the time there was no team to cheer, no Philly Phanatic, no Pat Burrell or his bulldog; there was only the crowd. And remarkably, beautifully really, the people gathered here in that vast crowd just cheered for one another, smiled at one another, hi-fived one another. The slightest patch of red on your clothes was taken as a clear indication of your total commitment to the cause. Your mere presence on the street was proof of your citizenship in the Phillies nation. And if the parade of heroes could only pass by for so long then we would see heroes in one another, at least for an hour or two.

And can’t we share that outlook in our commemoration of all the saints? If we tire of chasing the saints up there in the windows, or if we are convinced that they have passed us by, or if we simply never could tell who they were anyway from this distance, cant we see saints in each other? Can’t we project our own best hopes for our lives - that were projected onto these windows in vivid color – onto one another? Can’t we give each other the benefit of the doubt that we are committed to the cause – even without having to display a uniform of certain color? Can’t we accept each other’s mere presence in church as proof of citizenship in the Christian family?

Long after the euphoria of the Phillies championship has worn off, there will still be the saints to catch up to, to run after breathlessly, to admire for no other reason, perhaps, than that they can handle it when we project our own best hopes for ourselves onto them. And there may be saints who we recognize because they lived just around the corner from us, or because we recognize their dogs.

Or there may be saints who have not passed us by with the parade, but who are right here next to us, raising their voices in song with us, passing the sign of peace with us (a low-five, if you will), looking us in the eye, as we look at them, and cheer each other on with the unspoken hope that, by God, we mean to be saints too!

Preached by Fr. Sean Mullen
All Saints’ Sunday, 2 November 2008
Saint Mark’s, Philadelphia

Posted on November 3, 2008 .