For all the saints, who from their labors rest, who thee by faith before the world confessed…
And so begins the famous All Saints hymn, remembering those whose labor is done, who have professed their faith with their lives. As one person put it:
“We are part of a wider communion of saints that unites us to those who have borne witness down through the centuries to the truth of Jesus Christ. Our belief in a communion of saints asserts that the boundaries between the present and the eternal, between this world and the next, are an illusion.” (Br. Robert L’Esperance, Society of Saint John the Evangelist)On this All Saints Sunday we are reminded that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, the communion of saints, those who are with us in Spirit, and are always with us. They are right here with us, right now…
One day a visitor asked the parish priest on a small Greek island in the Aegean Sea, “How many people usually worship here on Sunday?” The priest’s answer was, “Oh, about ten to twelve thousand, I would suppose.” The visitor was somewhat bewildered. “This is a tiny island,” she said, “and the church is small. Where do all these people come from and how can they possibly fit into so small a church building?”St. Peter’s Church is over 200 years old… consider all those who found this their spiritual home these past two centuries, they continue to be with us now. And we too are called to be like them, saints in our own day, living out our baptismal faith. But what does this mean?
The priest smiled and then said to the visitor, “All the people who ever lived on this island since it received the gospel message are still here. Just think of what we say in the sacred liturgy: ‘Therefore with all the angels and the saints and the whole company of the faithful we praise your glory forever.’
“Don’t you realize,” he added, “that when we sing we are joining with all the holy ones who have ever worshiped in this church?”
“In the New Testament, the word “saints” is used to describe the entire membership of the Christian community, and in the Collect for All Saints’ Day the word “elect” is used in a similar sense. From very early times, however, the word “saint” came to be applied primarily to persons of heroic sanctity, whose deeds were recalled with gratitude by later generations.” (Lesser Feasts & Fasts, 2000)When we think of saints, too often we think of saints as sinless, perfectly pious and moral, who got everything right.
“How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been: how gloriously different are the saints,” wrote CS Lewis.How different are the saints:
Francis gave up the family wealth, the ready made job, glory in war & life of the upper class, and chose instead to heed the voice of God and rebuild God’s church and care for all creation.
Elizabeth, Princess of Hungary, gave away her great wealth to the poor of her land, setting up hospitals and caring for those in need, even as the elite in the court did not like her extravagant almsgiving.
Martin Luther King Jr., preached a prophetic call of racial and economic equality, even as so many fought against what he and so many others were doing to right the wrongs in our country.
What’s true of the saints is that they found joy and hope by doing what God called them to do.
In the words of William Stringfellow, “In truth, all human beings are called to be saints, but that just means called to be fully human, to be perfect—that is, whole, mature, fulfilled. The saints are simply those men and women who relish the event of life as a gift and who realize that the only way to honor such a gift is to give it away.”Life is a gift and the saints found by listening to God, they would find fulfillment and happiness in what they did. “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Jesus said. Life as gift and joy begins ritually in our rite of baptism, remembering the past, connecting with our life now and hoping for the future.
Today, Paige & Macy will join the household of God. And through the witness of parents, Godparents, family and friends, and this parish, they will be baptized and will grow up and learn about the gift of life, a gift to be lived and enjoyed and given away.
This joy and hope is grounded in our lives. How we follow Christ, living our lives as witnesses to this faith… and how we live in faith is the Gospel message for today, the Lucan Beatitudes were given to the disciples, where Jesus taught…
Blessed are the poor, the hungry, those who weep, and are hated for Jesus sake, for God will correct this. But woe to us that fail to live into this, for we will have received our reward. Instead, we are to love, to do good, to bless and to give. These are the marks of one who lives the Beatitudes and one who is baptized and lives into following Jesus on the way, just as the saints have done.
In a society that lives on wealth and prestige, on aggressiveness and displays of power, the Beatitudes are a very different way of living our lives. They challenge us to see that the saints and the faithful departed were committed to their faith, their community and their God. They lived these Beatitudes in their lives. We account them faithful and numbered in heaven.
Let us commit ourselves to the faith of Christ, and let us in hope, remember the saints, our faithful departed, knowing that one day we will join them. Our challenge on this All Saints Sunday and always, is to remember the saints and listen to God like they did, for God calls each one of us, to do unto others, by giving of ourselves (time, talent & treasure) and find that indeed our life is a gift, it is joy, and it is meant to be given away. Amen.