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.
In the first year of King Belshazzar of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head as he lay in bed. Then he wrote down the dream: I, Daniel, saw in my vision by night the four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea, and four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another.
As for me, Daniel, my spirit was troubled within me, and the visions of my head terrified me. I approached one of the attendants to ask him the truth concerning all this. So he said that he would disclose to me the interpretation of the matter: ‘As for these four great beasts, four kings shall arise out of the earth. But the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom for ever—for ever and ever.’
Daniel 7:1–3, 15–18
1 Alleluia. O sing to the Lord a new song;
sing his praise in the congregation of the faithful.
2 Let Israel rejoice in their maker;
let the children of Zion be joyful in their king.
3 Let them praise his name in the dance;
let them sing praise to him with timbrel and lyre.
4 For the Lord has pleasure in his people
and adorns the poor with salvation.
5 Let the faithful be joyful in glory;
let them rejoice in their ranks,
6 With the praises of God in their mouths
and a two-edged sword in their hands;
7 To execute vengeance on the nations
and punishment on the peoples;
8 To bind their kings in chains
and their nobles with fetters of iron;
9 To execute on them the judgement decreed:
such honour have all his faithful servants.
In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance towards redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love towards all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
‘Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
‘Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
‘Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
‘Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
‘But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
‘Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
‘Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
‘Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
Sermon on Sunday, All Souls
I would like to consider our collect for today because there is so much to learn from it. – I would say there is both complex theology and simple hope for us to explore.
Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord:
The image of knitting together a group of people is one that comes up in all sorts of discourse, doesn’t it? You hear of sports teams being so tightly-knit that each one instinctively knows what the other will do in any circumstance. The emergency services also work as tightly knit units, don’t they? They have to, so that more will be saved because of their well-coordinated work. Communities are the same. Everyone in the community is able to support each other. No matter the circumstances, whether it is helping when someone has a cold or is in the deepest of mourning at the loss of a partner, each one of a community that is knit together will be able to offer succour to another. I will offer my ear to someone who needs me to listen, or I will lend my arm to those who need a weight to be lifted. But this knitting together means that one is bound to the other – after all that is the nature of something knit, isn’t it? The ramifications of such an image roll on and on, if we were to think hard on it.
But that is only the first phrase – and we haven’t even considered the one addressed by our petition – “Almighty God”. This first part of the collect has so much more in it, doesn’t it? This part of the collect is the address, the salutation of our prayer, which sets out our relationship. We address God as full of power and might, the almighty, whose power affects “the elect” the next significant phrase we encounter. It is a heavily weighted theological term, isn’t it? “The elect” is a phrase that can cause division within communities. Who is “elect”, “chosen”, or “set apart” from the rest? Who is so very different, so very elevated from the mass of humanity, that their fate is so very exclusive? How are they chosen? Why is my ownmost possibility so very different from someone else’s? Don’t we both aspire to the Kingdom of God? Why will my neighbour attain those hallowed halls and I be excluded? But then, why should I attain those hallowed halls and my neighbour be excluded? This is the image of “the elect”, isn’t it? Some are taken in and others are left behind. The elect have a different end to everyone else – at least that is the story we have been told time and again, perhaps that is what we do hope. ‘Election’ is, theologically, a very difficult concept to grasp, as far as I am concerned, but it is so very tempting. However, I wonder about this principle of exclusion which is incorporated within it. When and how does one become one of the elect? Why are the elect fundamentally different to everyone else?
These are the questions we have to ask, if the anglican principle of the State Church is to be upheld. If we are the elect, then who is to be excluded, because everyone in the parish is by definition part of this one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church which is the paticular church here in this place. Everyone belongs and the name ‘elect’ must apply to everyone. So, should we ever forward the concept of an exclusive “election”? This is a very fraught question in these perilous times.
Then we should move on to the next phrase –
one communion and fellowship in the mystical body
This phrase should take us weeks to discuss, and I do not think this ten minute slot could ever do it justice. Weeks of constant conversation and theoretical argument would never reach any comprehensive and universally accepted outcome. We need to explore this over against our understanding of the elect and the Church, don’t we?
But let us test the concept of ‘communion’ and its companion ‘fellowship’. Many thousands of pages have been printed, many more thousands have been written in essays and diaries, and hundreds of thousands of hours have been spent in reflection, on the subject of this ‘mystical body’ which, I believe, is the revelation of communion and fellowship – of how the elect appear in the world.
The notion of “the mystical body of Christ” calls us to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, doesn’t it? This symbolic language incorporates the communion and fellowship of the Church’s liturgical action and experience. Don’t we feel at one with each other during the sacraments, especially, say, at the peace in this worship, or in collective prayer? That is an ineffable event, isn’t it, but I think we would all say it forms the basis of our fellowship and communion, that it leads to our participation in the mystical body, even if we can only point vaguely to it, hoping that others will see as we have seen..
All of this salutation to God has been a preparation for the formal petition of our collect. This is a spiritual preparation and has hinted at what will be our ownmost wish.
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
I wonder how many of our contemporaries would recognise “virtuous and godly living” as the marks of the course of life that leads to “inexpressible joys”. After all, don’t most people desire the easy life of luxury and idleness– they conceive of the “inexpressible joy” of winning the lottery or without any effort making more money they could ever spend, even if they tried just to give it away to friends and family.
What is our most earnest desire? Is it really that life of the idle rich? I do not believe that is the case, because I am sure Paul was right when he said that everyone wishes to br productive for the sake of other people. We can see this as we pray through our collect, can’t we? Don’t we petition God, to “grant us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living”? Is this the course of life our contemporaries heartily desire? No, only a few of us do that. After all who is willing to undergo the trials and torture of a St Ignatius of Antioch? Or who wants to undergo the experience of a death by slow wasting disease? These are the lives of the saints – these lives of “all virtuous and godly living” are so very different to the mass of humanity’s aspirations for their lives. So maybe we are the elect, who wish to live these extremely rare lives of “virtuous and godly living” Maybe we are the elect who choose to undergo lives which are so very difficult, lives which ultimately do lead to “inexpressible joys”. These are the lives of saints, people plucked out of the ordinary to experience the holy, the mystical communion with all of humanity, who offer it to us as the new generation of “the saints”, to all those souls we remember and celebrate today.