This is a day about beginnings and endings…and everything in between. It is All Saints’ Day, or more correctly, All Saints’ Sunday -
the day when we give special attention and thought to what we affirm in the Creeds as the Communion of Saints, the fellowship of all those who have been redeemed by Christ in heaven and on earth. And because we are named All Saints’ Church, this is our parish feast day; so this day which is meant for all Christians and all churches has particular resonance for us in our relationship with God and the practice of our faith.
The Feast of All Saints’ begins in baptism, in our own baptism. That is the start of our life in Christ, our entrance into the
Communion of Saints, the beginning of being made holy. “Now wait a minute,” you might say, “I’m not holy; and I’m not
even sure I want to be holy. Won’t that just take all the fun out of life?”
Well, holiness is not about being straight-laced, or a kill-joy, or even being impossibly good all the time. Holiness, as it is understood in the Bible, is about being set apart for the service of God – and that’s what happens at our baptism; we are set apart, made different, marked as Christ’s own forever. Holiness is also about becoming more Christ-like, being more infused with the light of Christ in our own lives and having it shine forth to those around us – not because we are so good, but because the more we draw close to God, the more we absorb and reflect God’s goodness and love and light.
Of course, this is something we can’t usually see (holiness shining forth from us or from others); but very early on in Christian art,
painters and icon writers and mosaic artists wanted to show the holiness of Jesus, and particular heroes of the faith that we know as saints; and so they illustrated this holiness, this divine energy, by depicting a halo around the head or sometimes the whole body of the person they were painting or drawing. While we can’t usually see this holiness in others, we can often feel it in their attitudes, or observe it in their actions, or sense it in their way of being.
And in fact God gives us plenty of opportunity to practice and develop holiness in ourselves; the theologians call this sanctification – being made holy, being made like Christ – and it’s really the work of a life-time. Each morning when we get up and put our feet on the floor and face the new day, we have twenty-four hours in which to let the Holy Spirit mold and shape us; twenty-four hours that we can offer to God for his use. And as we seek to do his will and walk in ways we will gradually, over time, become more holy.
Sometimes we look to those who have gone before us in the faith – particular saints whose story we know and are inspired by; it might be a saint from the New Testament or someone widely known and acclaimed in Christian history, but it might also be a person who has had a hand in shaping your faith and showing you what it means to be a Christian – a teacher, a grandparent, a friend.
God uses all these, his saints, to encourage, instruct and inspire us, whether we can see their halos or not.
And then there are those lifted up in the words of the hymn:
For all the saints, who from their labours rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
They have finished their earthly life, and have passed through the grave and gate of death into God’s presence in a new and more complete way – what the old Prayer Book refers to as the Church Triumphant. We hear about these saints, these holy ones, in John’s vision in the Book of Revelation: “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 [crying] out in a loud voice, saying, "Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!... Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen."
And in the wholeness of God’s love and power we are not separated from these saints, but instead we join them in their worship of the Lord every time we pray, every time we celebrate the Eucharist. Their worship and adoration of God is ongoing, like a stream that flows continuously – and we add our streams of praise when and where we can. On the Feast of All Saints we are particularly aware of this great Communion of Saints, a community of faithfulness that we joined at our baptism, and will fully realize at our death.
And in the meantime, the in-between time, we have the presence of the Holy Spirit to help us in our growth in holiness and Christ-likeness. Who knows: maybe one day someone will think of you and your faith, and the example you set for them, and the prayers you prayed for them, and the way you lived your baptism – maybe one day someone will recall all this and give thanks to God
for your life and Christian witness and encouragement, knowing you to be one of God’s saints.
Let us pray.
We thank thee, O God, for the saints of all ages; for those who in times of darkness kept the lamp of faith burning; for the great souls who saw visions of larger truth and dared to declare it; for the multitude of quiet and gracious souls whose presence has purified and sanctified the world; and for those known and loved by us, who have passed from this earthly fellowship into the fuller
life of light with thee. Amen. ~ Anon.
Victoria Geer McGrath
All Saints’ Church, Millington, NJ
All Saints’ Sunday
November 3, 2013