Any number of quotes come to mind as we move towards All Saints Day, Halloween, and perhaps the most consequential election in a lifetime. All in the midst of the scourge of the greatest pandemic since the so-called Spanish Influenza of 1917-18.
While the White House declared that the virus has been defeated, that we have “turned the corner,” I’m remembering the favorite quips of my grandpa, “He’s gone round the bend.” “Mission Accomplished?” — when we’re spiking new infections at the rate of over 90,000 last Thursday? One sixth of these will end up needing hospitalization. I don’t think so. The cruel trick’s on us. And no treat.
One survivor of COVID-19 writes of her recent recovery. Heather Sellers, in The Sun, a literary magazine of essays, poetry, journaling and personal biography, narrates the onslaught of her infection:
“March 28, 2020: This Afternoon, for the first time in what feels like a long time but has only been a week, I step outside my Florida home and into my garden, a small shady space ringed by a high wood fence. I’m hidden from the world. Barefoot in my damp nightgown, I walk slowly across the pavers. One step, one breath. I have one hand on my throat. I’m not sure why, but somehow this feels absolutely necessary.
“The virus is hidden inside of me. I feel its force and power. My body aches. Cold knots snarl in my calves and my thighs; my back feels frozen; shivers ripple up my arms. By the time I reach the birdbath, I’m sweating in the soft breeze.
“I close my eyes. The hardest part is taking the next breath. I must breathe very, very slowly, in a very specific way.
“Breathing has become like remaining steady on a balance beam over a dark pit.
“I’m stunned to find I cannot take another step. I don’t have the breath.
Thus, begins Heather’s nightmare odyssey through her infection. A month later she closes her journal, expressing gratitude in her trailing convalescence for the small gifts she does have – electricity, fresh water, cotton sheets, a car, a bottle of Tylenol, a washing machine.
‘I can’t see the virus, but feel its seeds in me. I can’t see my faith, but feel its seeds in me, too.
We Christians in the Episcopal tradition have tended to give the book of Revelation short shrift. It’s phantasmagorical imagery, looking like something out of a Halloween apocalypse, is too bizarre. It’s like a scene out of “Ghostbusters.” The symbols and metaphors are too distant from our time to be comprehended by us moderns.
But this is not a book of doom and destruction, though some churches use it as did Tim LaHaye to express their most twisted, distorted versions of the faith. Projecting the anxieties of their damaged souls onto the message of the life-affirming Jesus Movement, they do great harm.
Revelation, more than anything, is a message of hope. Hope for those who have endured great tribulation. The saints are those of the entire community of faith who have persisted in the face of enormous evil. These are they who stand in solidarity with one another, with all humanity, and with the natural world, to be the harbingers of a new, “Beloved Community.” The saints are those who have confessed the name of Jesus through deeds big and small. Acts of justice and mercy, knitting up the Church one halting stitch at a time.
“After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.”
Today we celebrate the Saints of God, known and mostly known to God alone. These saints are the entire company of the faithful, and not-so-faithful, who look to Jesus as their Lord and Savior. The exemplar and head of the Jesus Movement. The chief Cornerstone of the “Blessed Community.”
We “little saints” – “we feebly struggle, they in glory shine; yet all are one in thee, for all are thine…” Revelation is a book of hope for those of us who strive to sometimes do the right thing. And trust the results to God.
In bearing witness, Heather Sellers is one in my compendium of that Blessed Company, one who inspires and fortifies the soul. She is a member of the Hallelujah Chorus boldly making her confession of faith.
One of my Facebook friends, looking with despair at the long lines of voters being suppressed by indifference and massive incompetence posted, “Jesus help us. Or someone help us. I don’t care.” To which I responded, “Jesus has already given us the power and the grace to help ourselves. We’re the ones we’ve been waiting for.”
Let me tell you about some of us others we’ve been waiting for.
In hours at bedsides and in sweeping floors, way beyond human endurance, in countless unselfish acts, unacknowledged saints confess the name of Jesus. Around the bedsides of the dying, they gather, as around the throne of God. Though their white lab coats and PPEs be stained with blood, they are spotless in the reckoning of all that is Holy.
Clasping the hand of the dying at the moment of death, nurses, orderlies and doctors fill in for missing family members not allowed to be present. The hand of that nurse, that doctor, that janitor – is indeed the Hand of God.
As even one patient is wheeled down the hallway to go home – surrounded by cheering staff lining both sides of their exit – that is the best Hallelujah Chorus ever. These “indispensable” workers have left nothing on the field.
Accompanying Heather are countless nurses, doctors, therapists and “essential workers” to tend the victims of this pandemic in overloaded hospitals across the land. These acts of solidarity, big and small are witness to the ethic of the Jesus Movement. These are the Saints of God we celebrate this day.
Mopping up filthy hospital floors and cleaning soiled linens, saints at work. Those who assist the navigation of mountains of paperwork – saints indeed. And those who prepare the dead for burial, they are counted among that holy assemblage.
This pandemic has brought out the worst, and also the best of who we are. This virus has dipped deep into ancient fears and concocted a toxic brew of the most bizarre conspiracy theories and magical thinking. It has brought out denial and complacency. We are not learning to “live with it, we are dying from it.”
But it has also brought out sacrifice and humility.
A favorite hymn reminds us that the saints of God are just folks like you and me. You can see them at tea (read coffee, and over a beer). You can see them on trains or at sea. These days, you will find them on ICU wards and stocking shelves in grocery stores. They will be at computer screens teaching by Zoom. And they will be at home learning third grade history on the internet. They will be delivering the mail and answering calls at church offices.
Matthew’s “Beatitudes” is a window into the souls of these saints. We’re talking humility, patience, kindness, endurance, sacrifice. If ever there were cardinal virtues, we know those who show forth these in abundance. In ways big and small these gifts abound in the saints of God.
One man of such virtue is a politician. A politician! And a Muslim, to boot. Imagine that!
I tell you the story of Qasim Rashid, a Democrat (Alert! This is NOT intended as a partisan story) running for Congress in Stafford Virginia. He writes of a recent outdoor campaign event with about 30 supporters:
“Today, Trump supporters crashed our event.
“With a large RASHID FOR CONGRESS sign behind me, it wasn’t long before Trump supporters began driving by, honking, and waving their flags.
“Soon a few Trump supporters showed up on foot, waving their flags. Perhaps it was an attempt to interrupt or intimidate, or, just to exercise their free speech. After all we respect the First Amendment. In any case, I had a decision to make. Do I ignore them or do I tell them to leave?
“I decided neither. Instead, I called them over.
“I had the mic and called out, “Hey y’all, you don’t have to stand over there waving that flag. You can come join us. Our events are open to all. We’re expanding our tent, not closing it down.”
“To their credit, they came and joined our group and listened in.
“What’s your name?” I asked one of the gentlemen. “Chad,” he responded.
“The Q/A continued with our supporters. Eventually, Chad asked about the Supreme Court and the claim that Democrats want to ‘Pack the Court.’
Qasim explained his view that, if they were to have an honest conversation about “packed” – that hundreds of appointees submitted by President Obama had been held up for no reason whatsoever; then, after the 2016 election, replacements were rushed through blindly by the new administration by a compliant Senate.
“You can’t accuse Democrats of a hypothetical event that never happened while ignoring the actual court packing done by Republicans.”
“Chad, the Trump supporter, was silent and finally responded, “Yeah, I agree that’s hypocritical.”
“I gave Chad credit for being honest and calling out the GOP hypocrisy and responded to Chad, ‘Thank you. Here’s the truth. I’m running as a Democrat because I believe the Democratic platform is more aligned with justice. But if you’re looking for me to say that Democrats can do no wrong, and Republicans can do no right, then you’ve found the wrong guy because I don’t believe that. I’m committed to upholding justice as the supreme standard. You have my word.’
“Chad responded, “I can agree with that.”
“The tone changed from one of hostility and distrust to one of recognizing that we as Americans truly want the same things—justice and fairness. Soon after Chad left the gathering on his own, but not before sharing with our host that he walked in viewing us as the enemy, and left realizing we actually have a lot in common in wanting to uplift our nation.
“But it’s what happened after all this that truly left me in awe.
“As the event ended, at least 5 of the (Trump) attendees walked up to me and shared that they’re life-long Republicans who have never voted Democrat before, and have always voted for my GOP opponent. But now, for the first time in their life they’re voting for a Democrat—Qasim Rashid—for US Congress.
“They’re drawn to our campaign that refuses to respond to hate with hate. They’ve seen my opponent’s attacks on my faith and see us responding with compassion and justice.
That could have been any Republican, any Democrat, but regardless of who votes for whom, civility and respect won the day. E Pluibus Unum. Out of many kind and respectful conversations, the saints of God shine brightly, Red and Blue.
Neither Chad nor Qasim will forget that day, I suspect. Yes, there are a few saints, Republican and Democratic, to be found at political rallies. We differ on many issues, but the whole is stronger than the parts. Let’s work together on what unites us and save the rest for another day.
As we head to perhaps the most contentions election of any recent history, I offer up MLK’s watchword: “It is always the right time to do the right thing.” Let us remember that this whole election thing ought to be about making the American tent bigger.
And would that we Christians live out the virtues of our faith as well as a Muslim did on that day.
This Sunday, let us celebrate the Saints of God, both living and those having entered into Glory, all across the land. In ways big and small they confess the name of Jesus. Yes, there’s a Jesus Mosque in Amaan, Jordan. You can meet them most anywhere.
“And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
and hearts are brave again, and arms are strong. Alleluia. Alleluia.”
Now, get out there and VOTE. And do what you can to bring in the vote.
 Heather Sellers, “Just This Breath,” The Sun, June 2020, Issue # 534.
 Revelation 7:9-19. New Revised Standard Version, 1989, Division of Christian Education, National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.
 “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God,” The Hymnal 1982 (New York, The Church Hymnal Corp., 1985), p. 293
 I thank my friend Merrill Ring for passing this story along.
 “For all the Saints,” The Hymnal 1982, op.cit., p 287.
November 1, 2020, All Saints Day
“Sometimes We Do the Right Thing”
The Rev. Dr. John C. Forney
Revelation 7:9-17; Psalm 34:1-10, 22; I John 3:1-3;