Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: grant us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living that we may come to those inexpressible joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
God of holiness, your glory is proclaimed in every age: as we rejoice in the faith of your saints, inspire us to follow their example with boldness and joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
God, the source of all holiness and giver of all good things: may we who have shared at this table as strangers and pilgrims here on earth be welcomed with all your saints to the heavenly feast on the day of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace. For though in the sight of others they were punished, their hope is full of immortality. Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good, because God tested them and found them worthy of himself; like gold in the furnace he tried them, and like a sacrificial burnt-offering he accepted them. In the time of their visitation they will shine forth, and will run like sparks through the stubble. They will govern nations and rule over peoples, and the Lord will reign over them for ever. Those who trust in him will understand truth, and the faithful will abide with him in love, because grace and mercy are upon his holy ones, and he watches over his elect.
Wisdom 3: 1–9
1 The earth is the Lord’s and all that fills it,
the compass of the world and all who dwell therein.
2 For he has founded it upon the seas
and set it firm upon the rivers of the deep.
3 ‘Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord,
or who can rise up in his holy place?’
4 ‘Those who have clean hands and a pure heart,
who have not lifted up their soul to an idol, nor sworn an oath to a lie;
5 ‘They shall receive a blessing from the Lord,
a just reward from the God of their salvation.’
6 Such is the company of those who seek him,
of those who seek your face, O God of Jacob.
Psalm 24: 1–6
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
‘See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.’
And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ Then he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.
Revelation 21: 1–6
When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’
Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’
John 11: 32–44
Sermon on All Saints Sunday
What are your children and grandchildren going to do tonight? Are they going to join their friends ‘trick or treat’-ing? If they are older have they been involved in any of the film fright fests that are on television? If they have left home, have they been involved in some dark practices we don’t know anything about? This is a spooky time of year, when the clocks change, the darkness lands earlier, and we are more inclined to think the worst.
Today is Halloween, the evening when we think about the other world. In line with the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church’s year, we have gathered to remember during this season after the green season of Trinity of those who have passed before us. This is the red season of Remembrance, the saints and souls during the week coming, with next week bringing Remembrance Sunday when we call to mind those who have died in service to the country, in war overseas and active service here.
Today, then, is All Hallows Evening, the day we anticipate the Feast of All the Saints, when we celebrate the saints who have passed before us. The Church is not the only entity looking forward to this celebration. The media has been full of ghouls and monsters, the scariest of the unworldly has made its way into public view. Why has Halloween taken on this frightening face, rather than remaining the anticipation of a day of celebration of all that is good and holy? The answer could be long and tedious, especially the way I tell it, but suffice it to say that we normally find it easier to frighten ourselves than to enlighten ourselves.
So let’s look on the positive side of this day of anticipation.
The other Sunday, someone said “You know, the Roman Church names ten thousand saints.” That person was amazed at the number of recognised saints. – How could there be that many? was the soeaker’s unasked question. But aren’t there more? We might retort? Couldn’t we ask: Aren’t there so many holy people who are unrecognised? Like all those heros in the background of our own day? In the bible we hear about the saints in Jerusalem, they were the whole congregation gathered in that place, and Paul writes to the saints in other places, doesn’t he? and they are all un-named. The implication is that all believers can be counted in that number of the holy. Don’t some of us use the phrase “of blessed memory” when we mention someone who has died? So don’t you think we attempt to sanctify those who have gone on before? How many of our remembered ones have not been officially named saints? Do we need to name each and every one? What if we forget someone?
A long time ago, a preacher was talking about the saints ambivalently. On the one hand, he could name all the wonderful deeds the saints had accomplished. The healings and teaching, the public witness to the gospel – all the deeds the saints accomplished, all sorts of great things. However, on the other hand, he delighted in listing all the recalcitrant and the ornery, all those difficult people who were named as saints. St Augustine for instance was one of that preacher’s examples, Augustine wanted to be good according to the Church’s teaching, “but not just yet!” as he says in his book, The Confessions. There are other demanding people who also became saints – some were misanthropic and wanted to live alone in the desert, others were happy to live in community, but they were difficult to get along with. St Ignatius of Antioch was one saint who was killed in a persecution of the Church. But he challenged the authorities to make him a martyr, and they obliged. His letters are full of provocation to the pagan leaders, goading them into making him the martyr he wanted to be. He became, just as he wished, the finest wheat milled by the teeth of the lions in the Colosseum.
There is such a range of personalities amongst the saints. Why shouldn’t there be an infinite number of these holy people in the sight of God? After all, salvation, which is entry into the Kingdom of God, is being offered to all of creation.
Then another question is: Why don’t we consider ourselves saints on a par with Anselm or Beckett? Mother Teresa or Joan of Arc?
One of the marks of a saint is the joy they have in life, like Francis of Assisi who looked at all of creation and saw his brothers and sisters in everything. His joy in creation overflowed to such an extent that people crowded around him and became the Franciscan Order, which continues with that joy of life in whomever they meet.
Let’s try to understand that. There are a lot of people around us who have joy in their lives, and they show it individually. You and I, for instance, may enjoy a piece of Bach the organist plays, but we show our happiness differently. But that joy, that deep joy, undergirds how we express it. I might go very quiet, and meditate on the notes and their relationships one to another. You might become very excited, perhaps even swaying or tapping in time with the rhythms being produced. The organist enjoys Bach in a very different way to us listeners. Through sight and touch, the sound is produced and the joy of heavenly melody overtakes. We have all engaged in the joy of Bach so very differently, but it is joy which unites us.
That common joy which underlies so many expressions of enjoyment is a profound reality, something we often lose sight of, when it comes to comparing ourselves with each other – for instance, when we promote someone to the status of saint. I think we should change our perception of who a saint is. Let us see that we all have the possibility to be considered holy through the lives we lead.
That underlying joy, that joy of faith, is the link for all the saints as they gather around the banquet to which Jesus called them. That underlying joy is our link to the saints and to one another. Even though we may not get along with everyone, we all enjoy that faith which drives us on.
Don’t we all say monks and nuns are close to becoming saints because they were driven to escape the world we live in? Their lives are lived in a holy order. They create a world of their own – a world which we all wish to understand in some way. In the earliest period of the Church universal, there were the people who fled to the desert to perfect their life in the presence of God.
The Desert Fathers had many people visit them in those desolate places where they struggled amongst themselves and confronted the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil. We all want to know how to win that battle, don’t we? Don’t we ourselves “visit” unworldly people ourselves? Perhaps even by just coming to church we dissociate ourselves from the everyday world for that holy hour. Our life of worship is so very different from our ordinary life that it does draw us to that other-worldly reality which we attribute to the saints, that it does make all the everyday worthwhile.
Maybe that is why the other-worldly and the unwordly come to prominence at Halloween. Perhaps even in our worldly everyday life we hanker after something the world itself does not offer. The orderly world of commerce and social respectability give way to the chaos of trick or treat. The ordinary is upset and so we revel in the orange and black of jack’o’lanterns. So, I would like to say – That is what happens when we celebrate all the saints. We recognise we want a different order in our lives, the order of heaven where the banquet is prepared for all – all the saints and souls we remember.