All Saints’ Sunday
3 November 2019
Today’s readings are:
Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
Click here to access these readings.
Today is not All Saints’ Day. Yes, today’s liturgical color is white, and, this morning, during out prayers, we’ll be reading the names of those who have gone before us, but today isn’t All Saints’ Day. All Saints’ Day in on November 1st, so Friday, the day after Halloween. But there are certain, few days in our calendar that are so important that we can move them around. And on those years when All Saints’ Day doesn’t fall on a Sunday, then voop, we can move it. It’s called a “movable feast.”
Now, this is all to say that this particular feast day is pretty important. The day has roots far back into Christian history. During the early church, Christians kept the anniversaries of martyrs who had died for their faith. And for a while, this was just fine: they remembered the apostles, those who had helped spread the Good News of Jesus Christ, and perhaps a few local saints who had seemed, even in this life, so close to God. But then came some hard times, and Christians were pretty harshly persecuted. Many were put to death. Some of their names were remembered, but many, many weren’t. And so there was a need in the early Church to remember these martyrs, to remember those whose names were known and those who were unknown. The date of this feast bounced around for a while, but eventually, here in the Western Church, it fell to November 1st. And we Anglicans keep this day, to remember.
Now, when we talk about saints in the Anglican Communion, we talk about all of those who have died in Christ, be they those whose faith is well-known or those whose faith is known to God alone. Normally in our culture, the word “saint” refers to those big names: St. Paul and St. Mary, Jesus’ mother, to the apostles and the authors of the gospels, and then to those big, important figures throughout history who made Christ so very real and present to those around them, people like St. Francis or St. Benedict. Churches are named after these folks, as we see with our own St. James. Saints, in this use of the word, are larger than life. They’re people who we might aspire to or look up to. They’re guides on the Path to God.
And that’s fine. It’s good to have guides, because the Christian life isn’t always a cake-walk. But the Biblical use of the word ‘saint’, and the way Anglicans generally use it, is to refer to just plain Christians. “All ya’ll”, as my friends in the south say. When St. Paul writes to the saints in Corinth or in Rome, he’s not writing to just John over there or Phoebe in the back, but no one else ‘cause you’re all not good enough to be called saints. No, he’s talking to all of them, to each and every one who is a follower of Christ, to those who have given themselves up to the God’s Love and Grace and Hope for us in Jesus Christ.
And all this says something very important about Christianity. For it’s easy to look at the saints and think that they’re somehow better than use, or deeper into God’s love, than anyone else. Saints who have stared ravaging lions in the eye and not been shaken, who have been rich and given up everything they own, even their shirt of their own back, and walked away, people who have struggled through hatred and anger and resentment just to in the hope of God – these people can seem like they’re not just people, but giants, and we might ask in our weakness, “Who am I in the face of such dedication and faith in the Lord?”
But that’s not where God begins. That’s not what God sees when he looks at us. God starts in love. God’s love isn’t an achievement that we can win, as if we were running a race, and the saints aren’t Olympic athletes who we have to beat in order to get into Heaven. The saints are more like a dinner bell, rung out on the front porch, calling everyone home to dinner, and it’s a feast! The saints are like the sound and smell of the ocean before you come in sight of it. The saints are the cold days of autumn that, no matter how grim or dark, remind us that soon it will be Christmas again, and that once again lights will shine out in the darkness.
And on this day in the church calendar, we don’t remember just those saints who seem larger than life, but those saints who we have known in our own lives. We remember those on our prayer list that we’ll read in just a few minutes, those loved ones who have entered into the true and final glory of God. It’s often difficult to think of these people, no matter how much we loved them, as saints. We’ve lived with them, we’ve seen their joys and their graces, but also their failings. We’ve often fought with them, argued with them, or gone to sleep frustrated with them. But they are saints nevertheless, for it is not our failings but Jesus’ love that speaks to our salvation.
And it is this, this love of Jesus Christ, that is more than any of us. It is a love that can move mountains, that can heal a heart broken and beset with sin, that can calm the storms of grief and despair just as he calmed the storms out on the sea. And those saints who are out there, ringing their bells as loudly as they can, calling us all home to dinner, they’re calling us to a feast that will never end, with dishes full of Joy and Love and Salvation. This Love of Jesus, this Love of God Almighty, is Life Eternal. It is more than any of us, and it is handed to us freely by Jesus himself.
And so when we turn to these names in a few minutes, we turn to those who have entered into True Joy. And that doesn’t mean, of course, that there won’t be some grief. Losing someone is never easy, and gulf that separates us from the dead can seem so wide that nothing could hope to cross it. But that is why we come together as a Church to remember them – not just as they were here in this life but as they are now in the fullness and glory of God’s Life. And know that they are now praying for you, that the Love of God comes to rest fully in your heart, so that in all the life you live, from this day until the day you too pass into that same Glory, that you walk the way of Jesus, speak the way of love, and live the life that can cross any chasm and the light that can pierce any darkness.