Sermon for Sunday November 4th, 2012
ALL SAINTS SUNDAY YrB
Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9
Day and night without ceasing [the living creatures] sing,
‘Holy, holy, holy,
the Lord God the Almighty,
who was and is and is to come.’
And whenever the living creatures give glory and honour and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne, who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives for ever and ever;
they cast their crowns before the throne, singing,
‘You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honour and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.’
Today is All Saints Sunday, the Sunday in the churches year when we remember those who have attained the beatific vision – who worship before the throne of God, those who See God. It is a Feast which to some degree or other sits rather uncomfortably with the Protestant tradition, but still lingers on. The sense of Saints as being special
I was approached by email this week by some people in China wanting to register the internet domain name stjohnsroslyn – not johnsroslyn. We still speak of our patron saint, St John the Evangelist. I thought it quite amusing that they had no sense of that with which they were dealing. But there is a fairly constant and as I see it growing tendency to try and cast aside the sense of Special Christians even amongst Christians. The sense that somehow there were some who lived far more fully and deeply into faith than most – and were thus worthy of special mention, and in the terms of the Roman Catholic Church ‘beatifying’, or giving the title Saints to. Those who are Examples for us, primarily examples of the Love of our Lord.
Perhaps it is in part because of our concerns about some of those practices that we shy away from ascribing due honour to some, but I suspect it may be more to do with a subtle even unconscious desire that we drag others down to our level. That such lives discomfort us, challenge us about the reality and depth of our own devotion to Christ – it is easier to find fault and thus feel comfortable, than to pay attention to their virtues and sense our own inadequacy, our own need for the mercy of God.
And there is undoubtedly an echo here also of what happens so frequently when we consider Christ – that the humanity of Jesus is expressed in such a way that it denies the purpose of the LIving one taking on flesh, that we might be raised to His Life, to the Life eternal, that we might share with Him in the life of God – drawn into the fellowship of Love that is the Triune God.
I have spoken of Saints as ‘examples of the love of our Lord’ – they are those who supremely amongst our brothers and sisters have entered into the Love of God in their Love for God. They are like Bartimaeus last week Hungry to see – they only have eyes for Him – as Jesus our brother and LORD only does what he sees the father doing.
I have used to define such Saints a strange phrase, one that may well be alien – those who have attained the Beatific Vision. What does this mean? Well it is quite simple, they Behold God and like the elders and the creatures in my opening words from Revelation, they perpetually worship God. The essence of being a Saint is one whose life is absorbed in the worship of the Living God – one for whom the transition from the life of this age to the life of the age to come is barely noticed, one who’s Life Is to worship God. One who has discovered the truth of one of the Protestant catechisms, that ‘The chief end of humanity is to Glorify God, and enjoy Him for ever’ – That the Worship of God is that which we were created for and that we most fully reveal our humanness in so doing.
As I said last week a dog is never more a dog than when it steals the Sunday roast from the table, We are never more human than when we take hold of the eternal life that is the Worship of the LIving God. Put another way, we are never more human than when we obey the life giving first commandment, when we worship God with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind and all our strength.
The Catholic writer GK Chesterton, a man of some considerable wit and wisdom said, ‘a man is never more ready for heaven than at the moment he dies’. Tied up in this short phrase is a simple apprehension, that as Christians we have already by virtue of our baptism been granted the gift of the life that is eternal and that there is no barrier now to our entering fully into it and so live the heavenly life, here and now. That when we die actually the truth will be made clear, that it was actually in our baptism that we died and our live was hidden with Christ in God. As I said at the Cathedral a week or so ago, Christians are those who get their dying over and done with, so that they might truly Live.
In a very real sense this is precisely what the raising of LAzarus is all about, he was dead in sin, he was ill and he died. Jesus waits – he does not rush to heal Lazarus. He wants to allow the human tragedy to be fully revealed, that we who were created for the Glory of God are in slavery to sin and death. The relationship between sin and sickness is at once mysterious and not clear to us, and Also Real. Thus when we pray for healing in a sacramental context we also confess our sins – for we recognise our need of a wholeness. Sin and disease and death are inextricably linked – Jesus heals to reveal his authority to forgive sins. So Lazarus Reveals the human tragedy, and Jesus comes to the tomb ‘greatly disturbed’ – The God of Love is Wrenched within himself at human sin and its consequences – but in Love will not allow them to have the last word and so Lazarus is given New Life, eternal Life.
In Baptism we are also included in that New Life – we die to sin and rise to new life. So the old ways are no longer appropriate – they need to be discarded. Down through the ages it has been customary for those baptised to be given White robes in exchange for their old clothes as they put off the old life and receive the New LIfe that is in Christ –
And at the heart of it this new life is Worship. For some reason or other a question which has been rattling around in my heart and mind these past weeks has been, ‘what does the life turned towards God look like?’ What does the life turned toward God look like? and the only answer I can come up with is that it looks like one who is worshipping god night and day, it is the life of a Saint.
St Paul at the beginning of his explanation of the gospel, his letter to the Romans speaks to those whom he has addressed the letter as ‘those called to be Saints’ 1Elsewhere he often refers to the Christians to whom he writes as ‘the Saints’ – so as Christians we are at once already Saints, but also called to be Saints.
This sounds a little odd until perhaps we think about our birth – when we are born we are indisputably human, totally so – but we would think that it was something very very Wrong if after 3 score years and ten we were still In and through Baptism we were still clad in nappies, 40 cm tall, not speaking etc etc – Yes when we are born we are fully human, and also we need to grow into that humanness. So also when we are baptised, born again we are fully Saints, but we need also to grow fully into that Sainthood.
Those whom the church calls Saints are those who have known this and have devoted themselves to growing fully into who in Christ they are, and this is a path that is set before us all. We all are Saints, we are all called to be Saints.
One final thing, this is something we do together. In a few minutes in the Apostles Creed we shall declare that we believe in the communion of Saints – it is a phrase we all too readily skip over but we shouldn’t. First it reminds us that we are part of the heavenly community with those who have gone before us in faith – that we are as we gather here today surrounded by a great crowd of witnesses, and that it is only the dimness of our sight that prevents us from seeing them. Here as we gather in worship we participate in the feats of heaven, the Eucharist.
I remember vividly once going to a Requiem Mass for a dear friend – at the Eucharist all I can say was that heaven and earth met – we were all together, reunited around the table at the Marriage supper of the Lamb.
In the last rites at the time of our physical death, we administer the eucharist, the heavenly food as our brother or sister enters the Joy of the Lord in the fullest sense. So in the Eucharist we are always sharing in the life of heaven, in a most vivid way
But that phrase the communion of the saints also reminds us that we need each other to grow fully into our Sainthood, as much if not more than we need each other to grow fully into our human lives.
If I can take you back to that gospel from last week, Bartimaeus, called by Jesus Leaps up! he makes a bee-line for Jesus. In so doing we can imagine the crowd – looking – where is he going, they are being reoriented themselves towards Jesus as Bartimaeus rushes to Christ. So we need the Saints, living and departed, who are HUNGRY for Christ, to See him, to Know Him and to Love Him as examples that stop us also just milling around aimlessly in the crowd and once more to put all our heart soul mind and strength into this Life Giving business of devotion to God in Christ.
In a few minutes we will baptise Hannah – she will become a saint, cleansed form her sins she will begin to grow into her saintliness – she needs to be surrounded by Saints – she is surrounded by those who worship now around the throne of God, but she also needs you and I – Hannah needs Us to be living ever more and more deeply into the LIfe of God, that she also might see how to orient her life.
All the Saints are examples to the others called to be saints – and that means that each one of us is an example for the sake of the other and for the eternal glory of God