Apocalypse 7:2-4; 9-14 I saw an immense crowd beyond hope of counting, of people from every nation, race, tribe and tongue.
Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
1 John 3:1-3 We shall see God as he really is.
Matthew 5: 1-12 Rejoice and be glad your reward will be great in heaven.
As kids we used to go round singing the old hymn “Faith of our Fathers, and promising to be true to our faith till death!” In the early Church of course, thousands of new believers didn’t have long to wait before they faced death because of their Christian faith.
We ride on the backs of these heroic people as we celebrate their memory today. In the early Church this Feast was known as “Martyrs’ Day” and by the seventh century we hear it being called “All Saints’ Day”. I guess by then, not all the Saints were martyrs so it was an early attempt by the Church at being inclusive!!
These Saints are like our family Photo-album. They give us glimpses of the past and glimpses of what it looks like to live a life of faith, holiness and sometimes even heroism.
They not only give us a glimpse of the past of course, because somehow we believe they are still with us in spirit, to inspire us and give us a nudge in the right direction when we need it. Not actually having them in a photo album of course, we use lots of other ways to remember them, such as their Feast Days, their pictures in our stained glass windows and our statues, the names we chose for our Confirmation, and the memories we have of learning about one or other of them as children.
It might be a good idea to look one of our featured saints up on the parish website. All the ones you see in both our churches, are written about there thanks to Mark Mullins, John Keneally and Arthur Boyd, who have all in recent times joined the great Communion of Saints themselves. (For those for you reading this who are not in the parish www.hnom.com.au is the place to look.) A lovely thing about the Saints of course is that they weren’t perfect. They were often as not, confused, troubled, neurotic, eccentric, extreme in their views, unwell. They’d have fitted very well into our parish, or any other parish really! Along with their wounded selves, and sometimes because of and through their struggle with their wounded selves, they learned to become very, very good at living the gospel.
The Beatitudes became some of their guideposts and they learnt to give these odd, paradoxical declarations of Jesus, some shape and colour and credibility. They showed us that gentleness could work, that a hunger for justice could accomplish change in our wider world, that freedom from slavery to possessions or ideas, could open us to new growth, that embracing our grieving times could indeed mean new comfort and peace, that taking the risk of being peace-makers could actually change lives, that being true to their own truest selves could open others up to see God’s face. They dared to imagine that God’s Kingdom could really come.
It’s a sad thing when people lack any sort of imagination and end up settling for the present as the best of all possible worlds. Nothing’s going to improve, and the human family is doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past endlessly. One of things that the Saints give us is a marvellous gift of imagination.
They have lived lives that remind us that it is possible for us to be better than we usually are.
They have lived lives that remind us that hope is a more realistic option than despair. They have picked up Jesus’ words in the Beatitudes and run with them, words that are full of imagination. Imagine if we could be peacemakers or creators of justice, or merciful…..Imagine what that would be like! The Saints then stir our imaginations to hope and to a hope that is shot through with joy.
Up till now, we’ve mostly been speaking about the headliners, the saints who have been recognized by the whole family of the Church, and who have been honoured by being canonized and mentioned in the liturgy now and then. Now of course there are countless others who have found their way home to God through lives of quiet holiness and heroism. Their names are written just as surely, to use St John’s phrase in Revelation, in “the Book of Life” and they too are part of the great story of God’s Kingdom coming alive among us all.
In fact you will know many of them personally. Perhaps your Mum or your Dad, your husband or wife, your grandparents, your brothers or sisters, your friends from school days or your workplace, your fellow parishioners, and perhaps little angels you knew for only a little while, who died long before their time.
Hold them all in your heart this day, and give God thanks for the many ways in which they have shaped your heart’s own story. Hold them close in your memory, and call out to them to keep an eye on you as your journey continues here. Remember their beauty and grace, and with a smile, remember their wounds as well. They were once as we are now, wounded, fearful sometimes, unsure of things, forgetful, obsessive and needy. They were also fun to be with, tender in love, passionate about the issues of their day, faithful and in their own way, in touch with God’s heart.
As they touched us and our lives, so now they touch God. They are all still worth knowing!
Take them home with you when we finish celebrating here and hold them close. Let them still nourish you and call you forward that you too may join that immense crowd beyond numbering of which St John speaks in our first reading. Invite them in to pray with you when you pray, to wait with you when you need to wait, to weep with you when it is your time to weep and to celebrate with you when you know deep joy. Invite them in that they might open up for you, your own path to God’s Kingdom.
This is the people that longs to see God’s face, and we celebrate with sure hope and growing faith, that it is God’s face too, that will welcome each one of us in our turn.
Happy All Saints Day to you all – let’s live it well and with great good cheer.