Day: All Saints with All Souls, 30th October, 2016
O.T.: Daniel 7.1-3, 15-18
Epistle: Eph 1. 11-23
Gospel: Luke 6. 20-31
Today we are keeping the feast of All Saints, with a hint of All Souls. All Saints is the feast of the ordinary saints of the church, that great multitude mentioned in the Revelation of S John the Divine. They are impossible to count and come from every nation, race, tribe and language.
This is the feast of those who live out the Beatitudes we heard in our Gospel lection today. It is the feast of mums and dads who have been gentle and merciful. It is the feast of the grandparents and neighbours who have mourned and been pure in heart. It is the feast of the children and young people who have been peacemakers and thirsted for what is right. It is the feast of those who are meek and those who have been persecuted in the cause of right. In this feast we remember the ordinary Christian people who have lived extra-ordinary lives.
This feast is not about remembering all the canonised and beatified Saints of the Church. It is about those who are not formally recognised by the Church. Some of them will be remembered as kind old relatives, or as neighbours who were always there and for whom nothing was too much trouble.
Others we will have met; but we never realised the depth of their gentle and merciful love. All Saints is a feast of the peasants and the plumbers, the care-givers and the children, not the rulers and important ecclesiastics.
All Saints is a sign of hope that heaven is full. The Church is not, as the world keeps telling us, a small isolated band of eccentrics, but a communion of women and men united in faith, hope and charity. All Saints is a sign of faith in the forgiveness of sins. Heaven will be full of prostitutes and there will be lots of thieves there; they will be those who have repented. Our hope that heaven is full is based on our trust in God and the goodness of creation.
Heaven is full of the people referred to as 'the poor' in the early chapters of Luke's gospel, people who quietly trust God whatever war, earthquake, flood, disease or famine brings their way. Love is shown by these, who are as numerous as the stars, to neighbours whatever the colour of their skin or their legal status. I expect heaven to be full of people who washed their sick neighbour's clothes or gave a cup of tea to that little old lady whose husband had just died.
This feast is about heaven being for ordinary, normal people, not for a carefully self-selected holy huddle of like-minded bores, such as so often make up the church. The saints are people who are able to love their neighbours as themselves.
The saints are those who dare live out the fully human life. They are lovers, in love with God our creator. Like God, in whose image and likeness we were all created, the saints love. It is a boundless overflowing compassionate love, not restricted by expectations of financial or emotional reward. It is a love which is motivated by faith.
All Saints day is an important reminder to us today about how central to our lives Christian faith should be, and what a great gift it is. After having received the Sacraments of Baptism and Confession, and as we are nourished by Christ's own body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar, we are meant to grow in intimate friendship with Jesus through our earthly pilgrimage. This growth is the work of the Holy Spirit, who is working in us in mysterious ways.
Martin Luther formulated this beautifully as he wrote the third article of his Small Catechism:
“I believe that I cannot come to my Lord Jesus Christ by my own intelligence or power. But the Holy Spirit called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers together, enlightens and makes holy the whole Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus in the one, true faith.”
It doesn't matter if it's the wisest theologian or the criminal on the cross; we are all called to enter into relationship with our God and Saviour in an ever deepening way. The Holy Spirit works in us, but God also calls for our cooperation. The loving relationship God wishes for also involves our will and our whole being. We must seek God where he is to be found. He comes to us in the Sacrament of the Altar and in the life of prayer of the Church. He reaches out to us in the Sacrament of Confession. And he touches us through the love lived out in meeting with those we encounter and those who are around us.
The almost natural response to such love is what we call worship. The word for worship that is most often used in the Greek of the New Testament is προσκυνεω. This word means to bow down, to make obeisance, to kiss, to worship. It also has about it a sense of movement – moving towards something. It suggests that in our worship we are moving towards God to kiss him. This movement is what we call liturgy.
In the Scriptures we glimpse the heavenly liturgy, with saints worshipping and angels prostrating. In our own liturgy, we join in this same ceaseless eternal worship of God by the Thrones, Powers and Dominations, by Seraphim and Cherubim, singing the trisagion with them: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God of Hosts!”
That is why liturgy is so important: because it is simply the best prayer we have. It is the prayer and offering of Christ himself, and should never be tampered with by individuals because some things are so deep that we need the sighs and groans of the Spirit to express them. What we have come to through the liturgy is the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal array, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven; to what the Epistle to the Hebrews calls “the spirits of just men made perfect”. (Heb 12.22-23).
In our liturgy we are part of something much greater, something that makes us much greater: the children of God. United with all the saints in the one Body, we reflect God's own inexhaustible beauty. In the meantime, as the hymn says, 'We feebly struggle, they in glory shine'. When we die we hope to be prayed for in the annual commemoration of All Souls’. But our great hope is that one day we will join the eternal liturgy of those whom we are commemorating today.
May God bless you as you live out the life of love to which God calls you.