ALL SAINTS DAY YR A St Dunstan’s Anglican Church Camberwell 1 November 2020
Revelation 7.9-17; Ps 34. 1-10, 22; I John 3. 1-3; Matthew 5.1-12
INDIVIDUAL SAINTS DAYS
In the Anglican Church we have days on which we commemorate individual saints—say, St Andrew, on 30th November, who was one of the disciples whom Jesus first called; or St Francis of Assisi, on the 4th of October and whom we specially associate with the love of animals and God’s creation; or Saint Hildegarde of Bingen who was a visionary, a writer and composer of music, whose day is the 17th September. These are all saints who are famous. Often we know quite a lot about their lives and their special faith on Jesus. They have churches named after them; they are made the patron saints of schools and organisations and cities and even countries.
But today is different, it is called All Saints Day because on this day we recognise that there have been many other saints whose names we may not know, the details of whose lives have now disappeared into history, who were never famous, but who nevertheless had great faith in Jesus Christ and who showed deep courage of their convictions. Who did small or large acts of unselfishness or kindness, repeatedly placing other people’s needs before their own. Perhaps you have known someone who was this kind of saint—a relative maybe, a teacher at your school when you were a kid, someone in your neighbourhood or parish. A Christian through whose life you somehow caught a glimpse of what Jesus was like. Who left a lasting impact on those around them and a lasting impression on you.
Our gospel reading today from Matthew chapter 5 tells us some of the qualities which these saints display. Verses 1 to 12 of chapter 5 make up a section of the gospel known as the Beatitudes. They are called this because in the Latin language Bible all these sayings started with the words ‘beati sunt’, which translates as ‘blessed are’. So, Beatitudes. Blessed are the merciful, blessed are the meek, the peacemakers, the pure in heart and so on. These are the kinds of qualities which saints show and for which they are blessed and loved and cherished. Blessed and cherished and loved definitely by God but maybe not by the society in which the saint lived. If you stand up for what you believe in and you act accordingly you may be much loved, but you may also evoke a lot of opposition or criticism. The Beatitudes in verse 12 sums it up when it says ‘Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.’ Being a saint is not about agreeing with everyone and being liked by everyone. It is about knowing whom it is you serve and whom you love the most.
ALL OF US AS SAINTS
But there’s even more to All Saints Day than all this. In the Christian faith we use the word ‘saint’ also to all of us who are believers in Christ. This is how Saint Paul referred in his letters to the members of the communities of Christians around the Mediterranean that he was in contact with. He sent greetings to ‘the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi’, to those ‘in Corinth who are called to be saints’, to’ the saints who are at Ephesus’—I’m quoting now from three of his letters. And Christians down through the ages have also used the word ‘saint’ in this way, to refer to the ordinary, faithful members of Christian communities everywhere. Probably this usage has been more common again since about the middle of last century. So, this is you and me. We are the saints in this place of St Dunstan’s Camberwell. This is indeed a high calling. Each one of us needs to take seriously what it is to be a saint of God. What in particular God has gifted us with, what it is he calls us to be and do. Both in our Church community and more widely. And we need to know these things collectively too—what we are called as a community loved and cherished by God to be and do.
So, in summary, we have the saints who are in heaven – those whose names we know and commemorate annually; and we have all those saints of deep faith and action whose names we don’t have the record of, but we have All Saints Day for them; and we have ourselves and all the member of Christian communities throughout the world. All together this includes people who are living and those who have died.
THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS
And together we make up the community of God’s people. This is entirely unlike any other community of which we might be a part. The community of Jesus Christ’s saints is not limited by place or time, it’s not limited by nationality or ethnicity, it comprises men and women, children, young and old. It is defined solely by the relationship of every person in it to Jesus Christ.
And this is what we call the communion of saints.
In the Apostles Creed, remember how we say:
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of the saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
The communion of saints here isn’t a reference of some kind to the Eucharist or to Holy Communion. When we say the Communion of Saints, we are referring to communion in the sense of being spiritually united. All the saints, those who are living—you and me—and those who have died, those who are famous and those known only to God—all the saints are united with Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit and through our faith, and we all share with Jesus in his suffering, death, and his resurrection. And also we are united with all the other saints through Jesus Christ in a close community that is much closer than ordinary human community.
What does this mean in practical terms? Well, one thing it means is that the saints who have died are more than examples of lives that are to be an inspiration to us. Yes, the saints, all the saints, led holy lives and we should follow their example and give thanks for them. But the communion of saints means that it is not only what the saints were that matters, it is also what they are that is important. The saints who have died pray for us in heaven, just as we pray for other Christians throughout the world. The prayer of the saints in heaven, their fellowship and communion, nourish ordinary Christians everywhere, especially when daily life is a struggle, or for those Christians who are isolated or lonely or suffering persecution. We are all a part of and are held up by the communion of saints.
The saints in heaven are with us during the celebration of the Eucharist. They stand around us and above us and below us, and sometimes we can sense their presence. They remind, as our reading this morning from Revelation chapter 7, says that one day we will be part of:
a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’
And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, singing,
‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
and thanksgiving and honour
and power and might
be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.’ [Revelation 7. 9 – 12]
Bishop Alison Taylor