All Saints Day.  Sunday, November 1, 2020

November 1st, is the exact day of celebration for All Saints Day.  It’s considered a principle feast of the church, which means it is to be celebrated in church and move to the Sunday following as needed.   I find the history of these church celebratory days interesting.  So let me share some information with you from an Anglican publication called For All the Saints.  It is a publication that lists Saints celebrated across the Anglican Communion, providing suggested scriptures, prayers and some history about these Saints and the dates on which we may celebrate them.  You’ll find these same names on our Anglican Church calendar too.  So, the festival of All Saints

… had its origins in the fourth century, when churches in the East began to celebrate “the feast of the martyrs of the whole world” on the Sunday after Pentecost. Several Western churches adopted this festival and kept it on various dates in April or May, but in the early Middle Ages the church of Rome assigned it the much later date of November first and broadened the feast to include all the saints.  (I personally don’t think it a co-incidence that is was scheduled the day after the originally very pagan celebration of Halloween. Western Christendom has followed this custom ever since. Saints are Christians who in various ways, often against great odds, showed an extraordinary love for Christ. The Holy Spirit acted in their lives so that they chose to bring aid to the needy, justice to the oppressed, hope to the sorrowful, and the divine word of forgiveness to sinners. For the sake of Christ they were servants to the people of their day; and the service they rendered in the past makes them examples to the rest of the people of God throughout history.[1]

Interestingly, only once is the word saint used in the Old Testament in Psalm 31:23 “Love the Lord, all you his saints.”  The apocryphal books of Wisdom and Macabees mention the word twice each. The apocrypha is the seven books that were not considered to be the inspired words of God by those who were deciding which books would make up the Protestant bible, however were considered valuable none the less, so were categorized differently and separately.  The concept of saints it seems; is more fully developed in the time after Christ.  Matthew is the only gospel to use the word,   at the moment of Jesus’ death on the cross, when the earth shook and “The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.” (Matt 27: 52) We find the word ‘saint’ or ‘saints’ scattered throughout other books of the New Testament. Revelation gets the prize for the most times in a single book with 15 references. St. Paul, however is the author with the most references to the saints of the church, 23 times just in the letters that we know he wrote. I do think it’s reasonable to say that Paul has moulded our Anglican understanding of who the saints of the church truly are.

In his opening greeting of his first letter to the people of the Corinthian church, Paul says: “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

“To those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints”. To be sanctified– that means those who are called to be holy, they are the saints. And who may these holy people be? Since the time before Christ, since the time of the Exodus, those who believed in the one Holy Almighty Creator God, they were called to be a nation apart.  It was the people of Israel whom God called them to be a holy people. Exodus 19:6: ‘you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation’, the Lord said to Moses. From this ancient calling is the formation of our faith too, our beliefs began here. From this ancient line of people came Jesus, son of God, born to a woman Mary, from the line of the great King David. Jesus, the Christ, God embodied, God as man, come to earth to remind people, to show God’s people of their calling as God’s holy people.

 So, who are the saints of the church? We are: Gods’ people, we who call ourselves brothers and sisters of Christ.   We have been sanctified —we have been called to be holy, by our baptisms into the body of Christ’s Church, baptised as Christians “together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  When we are baptized, we are not baptized into the Anglican, or the United or the Presbyterian—or any specific denomination’s church—we are baptized into Christ’s universal and holy Church.  

It is good to remind ourselves of this call to be a holy people, we who are members of Christ’s holy Church. So today, All Saints Day, we remember and celebrate our call to be God’s Holy People and remember the saints who have gone before us; to remember the legacy they have left us — and that we are a part of the legacy for the saints yet to come. When the time comes, we will join those gone before us, those who are at now peace with the Lord.

Let’s spend a moment on the Beatitudes, our gospel reading for All Saints Day.  It’s one of those scriptures that may cause you to give your head a shake and wonder what Jesus means.  How can someone be blessed if they are poor in spirit, which means unable to sense the Spirit of God, or are mourning, or hungering and thirsting for justice?  These are situations we strive to avoid, not revel in!  It comes down to what you see as the definition of ‘blessing’.  If you think of blessings as material things that God provides when you’re doing all the good and proper things, well, the Beatitudes don’t make a lot of sense.  If you think of God’s blessing as receiving Christ’s love and being strengthened or empowered by the Holy Spirit, well, the beatitudes start to mean something more.  This week I leave you with the words of one of my favourite commentators, David Lose, a Lutheran biblical scholar and professor.  Some of you may recognize that name; we did a study using one of his books:  ‘Making Sense of the Christian Faith’.   I found his thoughts on the Beatitudes compelling. 

Jesus’ words stretch our imagination to see God present and at work in so many other – and often counter-cultural – ways, particularly in our service to others, but also in the dark and difficult elements of life.  … We are invited to transform our sense of where God is at work. Not simply, or even primarily, in places of strength, but in places of vulnerability – amid our grief, alongside those who exercise mercy and work for righteousness, and in so many other activities the world considers not just meek but weak. The God we know in Jesus always shows up where we least expect God to be: in a feeding trough in a stable rather than in a jeweled crib in a palace, among the poor and destitute rather than with the rich and powerful, and on the cross of an outlaw rather than astride the war horse of a conquering hero. Similarly, God shows up in our acts of sacrifice and mercy rather than through assertions of will and attempts to collect worldly power and goods. This, in turn, invites us also to stretch our notions of what God’s presence means. God promises not to remove our grief, but rather to transform it as we see in the resurrected Christ the promise that God’s love is more powerful than death and that, therefore, life, rather than death, will have the last word. Similarly, what can feel like “small gestures” of being merciful in a world where “an eye for an eye” still reigns, or working for justice in a world where injustice rages, are precisely the places where God is at work blessing, sustaining, and supporting God’s beloved children and world. In light of God’s character and promises, that is, there are no small gestures and we are reminded that nothing done in love is ever lost or attempted in vain.[2]

In these unusual pandemic times when life is full of uncertainty, when many are grieving, or are filled with despair or feeling anxious, remember, you are not alone.  God is still on the job.  Jesus walks the path right alongside us, offering the strength of his Holy Spirit.  We are not alone, because you too, my friends, are blessed.  Amen The Rev’d JoAnn Todd, Rector.  The Regional Ministry of Hope                                                                                                                            

[1] Stephen Reynolds.  For All the Saints (ABC Publishing:  Toronto. ON 2007) 328

[2] David Lose. In the Meantime.  This is an emailed commentary to which I subscribe. Received to my in-box October 26.20