ALL SAINTS DAY, St Laurence Hawkhurst, NOVEMBER 5 (3), 2023
All Saints Day is a special day, a red- letter day in our Calendar.
One of the gifts of our Anglican tradition is the way through the year we remember holy men and holy women from New Testament times, from the early church, the Reformation, and on up to today, and we keep adding to the list those we recognise as holy men and women in more recent years. The Roman Catholic Church has a special process for canonising saints, while Anglicans tend simply to pass a motion in the General Synod! Thankfully, we don’t any longer hoard saints to ourselves but often celebrate them together.
I’m grateful that Father Rodney puts in the service sheet each week the saints, the holy people, we remember that week. It reminds me that in the Apostles’ Creed, we confess our faith, in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit and go on to say we believe in the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. The saints, that cloud of witnesses, belong right at the heart of our faith. I remember someone saying that in our remembering of them they hallow our life in time, they make holy our life in time.
The striking thing is that saints don’t always fit into the preconceptions that we have of sainthood, they struggled, like us, to be faithful. St Peter denied Christ three times, St Thomas doubted, St Augustine is said to have prayed – ‘Make me chaste but not yet!’ Some of them are weird and wonderful like St Simeon in the fourth century who retreated to the desert near Aleppo in Syria to pray. He built a pillar and lived on top of the pillar for 37 years only climbing down to get food left for him at the bottom of his pillar. I wonder if you have a favourite saint. Perhaps Julian of Norwich, that mediaeval mystic, who, in her thoughts on God’s love in a time of danger wrote, ‘All shall be well, all manner of things shall be well’. This thought of Julian’s was constantly remembered by the Queen Mother during the awful bombing of London in the second World War. I’m sure Julian’s message speaks to many in these days of terrible suffering, death and loss, in Gaza, in Israel and Palestine, in Ukraine and Russia.
There are so many saints to inspire us who are role models for us in our faltering attempts to live Christian lives of holiness. It’s comforting too to know that the saints struggled, as we struggle.
But these saints are only a part of the story of today’s Feast of All Saints. What we celebrate today are not just those men and women from the past. St Paul frequently used the term ‘saints’ of people he met on his missionary journeys. In the opening greetings in his letters he writes, to the saints in Rome, to the saints in Ephesus, to the saints in Philippi, the saints in Colossae. And I like to think that if Paul had visited us last week he would have written a letter to ‘the saints in Hawkhurst’.
The word saint means someone from, or someone like, God, (Greek, hagiois) someone who belongs to God. It’s their relationship to God that makes them holy people. It’s those who live in the orbit of God’s love, who reflect God’s love and show God’s love to the world, by who they are and by what they do. I don’t know about you but I have known a few people who radiate holiness in their being and by what they do and I am sure there are saints among those named on the altar today.
And if you want a portrait of what a saint was in Jesus’ eyes, read again slowly and thoughtfully today’s beautiful Gospel, the verses we call the Beatitudes. At the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus describes to his disciples the blessed ones, the holy ones. He is saying to his disciples then – ‘these are the attitudes I want you to show in your lives now’. ‘ These are the things by which you bring in God’s kingdom here on earth These make the experience of heaven tangible here on earth.’
Blessed are the poor in spirit – they are the humble ones – humility;
Blessed are those who mourn – those who feel the way the world is deeply and grieve over the pain of others and stand with them, those suffering in Gaza, in Israel and Palestine and Ukraine and in many places in our hurting world and the homeless sheltering in the doorways of shops in our towns.
Blessed are the meek – those not pushy, not boastful, not self -centred.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. How we need saints like that today to help us make this world a fairer, caring, a more equal place.
Blessed are the merciful. Those not swift to anger, not eager to complain or judge others, those with compassion, always ready to forgive.
Blessed are the pure in heart, the peace makers. How we need saints like that, peace makers today where wars rage. We need them in the UN, in this country, in our political parties, and we need them in our churches and we need them in our homes, in our relationships.
And, blessed are those who rejoice even when persecuted. Many persecuted Christians around the world today show us what it is to keep faith and hope alive, in the midst of terrible suffering, torture and humiliation.
What a challenging portrait of sainthood Jesus gave his disciples then and us now. These are attitudes, characteristics, we see in the saints through the ages and in the saints today. This portrait Jesus offers his disciples in those verses in Matthew’s Gospel is the picture of saintliness we are to called to live in our daily lives. Frightening isn’t it?
The good news is we are not alone. ‘I am with you always’, Jesus says, and the power of God’s Spirit is with us to strengthen us, and nowhere more than in this service of Holy Communion where we share in the gift of God’s own life, Here we share in the communion of all the saints, living and departed, and we are sent out from here to live and work to God’s praise and glory, we are sent out to be saints.
Amen Mary Tanner
(Three years ago, Pope Francis beatified, a step on the way to sainthood, a young boy who was born in London, lived in Milan and then tragically died of acute leukaemia at the age of 15. Carlo, like many teenagers today, like my grandsons, was a wizard at computers. Carlo used his skills to foster devotion to the eucharist especially among those his same age. He is now the world’s youngest prospective saint and a model of holiness for young people especially for those who use the internet.)