The All Saints readings that we just heard are all about resurrection. We heard about the raising of Lazarus, the souls of the righteous in the hands of God, and the coming of the new heaven and the new earth, when death will be no more.
Our readings point us towards the culmination of our earthly pilgrimage, both as individuals who hope to pass into the presence of God when we die and for all of God’s creation, which will finally be restored and renewed.
Today is more personal, too. Today we claim that hope of ultimate resurrection and redemption for the people we love who have died. We name them in our prayers, and we ask God to bless them.
All of this directs our attention towards the end of the Christian story.
And today we also have a baptism—little Anthony. Today we welcome Anthony into the household of God. Today, in an important sense, Anthony begins his Christian journey.
Today, in Anthony’s honor, we will all renew our own baptismal vows, which point us backwards, to the beginning of our own Christian journeys.
So today we have both sides of the Christian journey: the beginning in baptism and the end in resurrection.
And the question before us, on this All Saints Day which is also for us a baptismal day, the question is, how do we get from here to there, from baptism to resurrection?
That question is most explicit for Anthony. Anthony’s family and friends are committing to raise him in the Christian faith and life. They are committing to help him grow into the full stature of Christ. We are committing to help them help him.
But we all face the same question: how do we grow in the knowledge and love of God? How do we grow in the love of our neighbors? How do we grow into the full stature of Christ? How do we come to experience resurrection?
At the deepest level, the answer is clear enough: we experience resurrection through the grace of God that we receive in Christ Jesus. Resurrection is ultimately God’s work.
But we have our own role to play, too. We have to live into our baptisms. We have to work at being the people God calls us to be. We have to turn away from the things that separate us from the love of God. We have to turn towards those things that enable us to know God better.
One way we turn from the negative to God is by cultivating joy.
We sometimes talk as if we have no control over our joy, as if joy is something we either feel or do not feel. At some level that is true enough.
But it is also true that we are constantly cultivating mental habits, good or bad, and that we can cultivate mental habits that inspire joy.
Let’s start with one of the big obstacles to joy. In a talk I heard a few weeks ago, the speaker told us that human beings naturally have what she called “a negative bias.” People are better at thinking negative thoughts and feeling negative emotions than we are at thinking and feeling positive ones.
Apparently this is rooted in our brains. She said our brains have something like twice as many pathways for carrying negative thoughts and feelings as positive ones, and negative thoughts and feelings tend to linger in our brains twice as long as positive ones. That means it is a lot easier to be negative than positive.
Worse yet, one negative feeling typically leads to another, and they can literally spiral out of control.
I experienced that last week. We were having computer problems in the Church office. I got frustrated. My frustration festered. I began to think about all the many reasons I had to be irritated. I spiraled downwards.
Now the fact that I was frustrated was not itself a sin. Negative emotions are not sinful. They are just a part of life.
But because of the way our brains work, we often dwell on our negative emotions in a way that is not healthy. And when we spiral down, when we are at our least healthy and most negative, we tend to become self-absorbed, mean-spirited, and judgmental. Certainly I do. And that is sin.
Whenever we enter that downward spiral, God calls us to change course, to do something that will take our mind off ourselves and our problems, to shift our attention back to the goodness of God, to our part in God’s work in the world around us, to our neighbors and our brothers and sisters.
Last week, when I felt myself heading in the wrong direction, I went for a walk and called a friend. Thankfully, it worked. Fall leaves and friendship restored my emotional balance and opened me back up to the goodness of God’s creation and the power of love.
But the speaker I heard last month insisted that we do not need to wait to feel bad to be intentional about cultivating positive emotions. We can be proactive.
She particularly emphasized cultivating gratitude and hope.
Christian gratitude starts with the recognition that everything we have and everything we are comes to us a gift from God. We should pause every day to give thanks to God for the many gifts we have received, starting with the people in our lives. Particularly on this All Saints day, we thank God for the people who are no longer with us in body but are still with us in spirit. Giving thanks, cultivating gratitude, opens up our hearts, gives us joy, and helps us to love a little better.
Christian hope also helps.
There are plenty of reasons to worry. Our world is damaged by pollution and our country is mired in debt. If I leave God out of the equation, the state of our world could be cause for despair.
But God is in the equation. Indeed God defines the equation. And so I know that, one way or another, God’s will will be done. I look forward in faith to the coming of a new heaven and a new earth. I look forward in faith to resurrection. Faith gives me hope. And hope makes joy possible, even in challenging times.
I think again about little Anthony, whom we will baptize in just a few minutes. Anthony is embarking on a long road. Anthony will hit some bumps along the way. We all do. But I hope and pray that Anthony will know Christian gratitude and Christian hope, that Anthony will experience the fullness of Christian joy as he journeys from baptism to resurrection.
I pray the same for all of us, wherever we are in our own journeys.
And so on this All Saints Day, I give thanks to God for all the people who have gone before us, for all the saints who are to come, and for Anthony, the newest saint in our midst. I give thanks to God who helps us to look backwards in gratitude and forwards in hope. And I give thanks to God for the divine joy that can and does fill our lives as we journey towards resurrection.
In Christ’s name. Amen.