Not even including the turkey and dressing, November is chock full of good things, and the first of these, the very first, coming, as it does, on the day that begins the month, is the Feast of All Saints.
Near the beginning of Homer’s Odyssey, we are introduced to the character known as Mentor, whom Odysseus left in charge of his young son Telemachus, when he sailed off to fight in the Trojan wars. Under the guise of Mentor, the goddess Athena comes to Telemachus as he tries to protect his mother and Odysseus’ wife Penelope when the war has finally ended and Odysseus is wending his way home. Mentor, whether Athena is his guise or the genuine article, does not necessarily experience the adventures—and misadventures—of Telemachas, but is there alongside of him, his companion, in good times and bad.
From the guidance and companionship given to his charge, Mentor’s name has become a noun in its own right in English, signifying one who is trustworthy, one who is with another over a substantial period of time, one whose job is not so much to lead as it is to accompany.
In a way, the Feast of All Saints is for all the mentors and those whom they mentor, who walk together through adventures and misadventures, who share companionship along the journey, no matter how daunting—or sometimes how tedious—the journey is. And in a way, All Saints is a very brief respite from the challenges of the journey which we have shared with our own mentors, our own saints, and an offering of all that we have shared—the adventures and the misadventures—to God, who is always our companion as well.
All Saints is a thanksgiving for the good of the past and a prayer for grace in the future. I hope you will join us here at St. Thomas at 7 PM on Thursday, November 1st, for the celebration of Holy Communion, as we remember and give thanks for all our mentors, in this life and in the life of the world to come.
The other special liturgical day this month, of course, is Thanksgiving. Historians argue about that first Thanksgiving. They wonder why it took place. In fact, they argue whether or not it actually did take place, or whether it was just part of the legend of the Pilgrims in New England. It probably did take place and was part of the tradition of European harvest festivals. But then it stopped. There were no more thanksgivings until President Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday during the Civil War, again after a terrible year in the life of the nation.
In light of the origins of this Feast in its inception following brutal years where our forefathers sought little more than survival or in its revival during a cruel and costly war, it is fascinating that the Gospel appointed for this day is taken from the sixth chapter of St. Matthew, where we hear Jesus say “Be not anxious…consider the lilies of the field.”
Emily Dickinson was sitting in Amherst, Massachusetts in the middle of the 19th century, and she wrote, “‘Consider the lilies’ is the only command I always obeyed.”
“Consider the lilies of the field….. Consider the birds of the air.” Jesus is giving us an antidote to anxiety. He says, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat, or what you shall drink, or about your body, what you shall put on.” Don’t look only at yourself. Look outward. Improve your vision. See God’s grace all around you in the world. See that as a metaphor, as a sign, a symbol, if you will, of how God takes care of you.
A sacrament is a sign of God’s grace. Jesus is saying that nature is sacramental. “Consider the lilies of the field.” You can see a sign of God’s love for you there in the fields. “Consider the birds of the air.” They are all signs of God’s grace. They don’t deserve grace any more than you do. But, God loves them still. God cares for them.
Look around and you will see that. You can see the grace beneath the outward and the visible. Focus on that, and join us at 6 PM on Wednesday, November 21st, Thanksgiving Eve to give thanks for all we have received, grace upon grace.
And may peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now and always.