Today’s saints are both identified by their relationship to another person. Silas, fellow worker of Paul and Peter. Scholastica, twin sister of Benedict of Nursia. Silas worked with the heavy hitters, the authors of the New Testament, who formed our faith with the words of Christ. Scholastica’s brother Benedict shaped the whole of western spirituality, and is essentially the reason why you say prayers before you eat. Whether you know it or not, Benedict is also the reason you think you should read your Bible and do your devotions on a daily basis. Peter and Paul write most of the letters of the New Testament, and follow the spreading Gospel during their lives, heroically dying as martyrs in Rome. Silas and Scholastica? Well, Silas is a minor figure in the Book of Acts who sort of disappears. Scholastica, we know next to nothing about her, and maybe she didn’t even really exist. She gets a paragraph in Gregory the Great’s biography of Benedict.
This all goes to say that the church celebrates people who aren’t necessarily important. The church needs people that don’t seem important. The church appoints people who will be forgotten. Christ calls you, who the world will forget. My hunch is that no one here tonight is all that important. We might get big heads from time to time, but at the end of the year, the historians probably won’t be writing your biographies. One of the shocking things about growing up is finding out that you really aren’t all that special. School trains us to work for rewards. Grades. Degrees. Achievements. Points. And then, once you’re out, you really just kind of live, and do something relatively similar from day to day. The outliers are outliers for a reason… there aren’t many of them. You may be the next Benedict or Paul, but the odds are that you are more like Silas or Scholastica.
It’s my guess that you might even know this already. You’ve taken the hint. You’ve been stepped on. You’ve been cast out. You’ve been forgotten already. You’ve been embarrassed. You’ve been hurt. You’ve been not cared about. You think that no one will even notice.
Very early in the history of the church, shortly after Christ ascended into heaven, we thought it would be good to remember people that the world forgets. Christ Himself was left in a tomb, meant to be forgotten. The idea was that you would simply crucify this man, and He and His followers would just sort of go away. Ah, but this is not right! And it is not right for us to forget the forgotten. We remember. In addition to the preaching ministry, the church also established the offices for service of deacon and deaconess. They are not the same, and never really have been, but they helped the early pastors care for the least of these, those who mourn, those who are poor, and poor in spirit.
The church started selecting women to serve other women. A beautiful calling. Phoebe, the first called “deaconess” of course, is mentioned by St. Paul in Romans. We know little about her, other than that she is simply called a deaconess. And then we find them mentioned in the Fathers; Clement and Origen. The Roman investigator of Christianity, Pliny, reports that he tortured two deaconesses to find out information about the Faith.
Right off the bat, we find that the church is so much more than just a collection of passive laypeople who give money to the lazy priests on Sunday mornings. The deaconesses have no liturgical roles, but are given, consecrated to the work of serving the wellbeing of those who are often forgotten by the world, and even by the church! All of the sudden, the unnoticed ones are the ones whom the church exists for. The sick ones. The poor ones. The orphans and widows. You, who are lowly, who are heavy burdened, who are mourning, who are poor in spirit, who find little comfort in the world, yes, you are the ones to whom Christ has sent His word. Scholasticas and Silases. This is for you. Phoebes, once mentioned characters in the Scriptures, and all the rest who have been left out of the spotlight.
They thought they could get rid of us by getting rid of our Leader. Bury Him and they’ll go away. We’ll forget. And we might have, if it weren’t for the fact that Christ rose from the dead. That certainly isn’t something that’s going to be forgotten any time soon, and hasn’t been for a while, thanks to Phoebe, Silas, Scholastica and millions of other forgotten saints who have risen before us. Pastors who have preached. Teachers who have taught. Deaconesses who have served. Churches who have remembered together. We stand at the end of a long line of forgotten people who have remembered. We’re not done yet. We wait for the day that is surely coming, when the forgotten dead will be called to life, by their names, names with which they were baptized into the Great Name. You were baptized, and the Lord remembers your name. Silas! Scholastica! And then, you will hear. Your tears will be gone. Your feet will jump for joy. Lonely never again. Everything fulfilled. To God be the glory. Amen.