All Saints' Day

Here are the sermon notes from our All Saints' service:

Shorter days and long dark evenings are a reminder to us, as if we needed it, that another year is beginning to draw to a close. Winter is coming.

This time in the Church’s calendar, around All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, focuses our attention on the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, and life everlasting.

Today is All Hallows’ Eve, or Halloween! In this country, pagan festivals to honour the dead were celebrated at this time of the long before Christianity got here.

And, in an attempt to Christianise these festivals, All Saints’ Day was moved from May 13 to 1 November sometime in the 9th century, around the year AD 834. Therefore, 31 October became known as All Hallows’ Eve.

As the word hallow means Saint, it could equally well be called All Saints’ Eve. Later on, in the year AD 988, the Church designated the second of November as All Souls’ Day, a feast for honouring all the dead, not just those regarded by the Church as saints.

The Church wanted people to remember and pray with the dead rather than pray to them, and to re-focus their lives on the lives of the Christian saints, rather than pagan practices like trying to appease the spirits of their ancestors.

As people were converted from the old pagan ways, and came to believe in Jesus Christ, they were encouraged to fashion their lives on those of Christian saints, and to follow their example of godly and virtuous living.

We remind ourselves week by week in our Communion Service that we worship with angels, archangels, and the whole company of heaven. But perhaps it is only when we come face to face with our own mortality, that the Communion of Saints really becomes important to us.

The BCP speaks to us of the Church militant, i.e., the body of believers here on earth, and the Church triumphant, those who have died believing in Christ, and who abide in God’s nearer presence, that place we call heaven.

Christians are often described as sojourners, or pilgrims, travellers on a journey. This earthly world around us is only our temporary residence. And this earthly pilgrimage has a heavenly destination: Jerusalem the golden, the Holy city we heard about in Revelation 21.

For the Christian, death is not something to be feared. Instead, it is the Gate of Glory; when we graduate from the Church here on earth to Church Triumphant, the church in heaven.

As Christians, we should remember that although our church family here on earth diminishes every time a believer dies and goes to be with their Lord; … the Church triumphant is growing hour by hour and day by day as the faithful come home.

… and soul by soul and silently her shining bound increase, …

Jesus tells us in John 14:2, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you.”

One thing the peoples of long ago knew well, and modern man tries to forgot, is that it’s very natural to live with the constant cycle of birth, death, and new birth. The never-ending cycle of spring, summer, autumn, winter, and spring again is the most natural cycle known to us.

Before the Covid crisis, more and more people were flying off in search of winter sun. This being one way in which people insulate themselves from the harsh realities of winter!

In much the same way, people will go to great lengths to insulate themselves from the [harsh] realities of ageing.

Ours is the age of pensioners in jeans; of botox, liposuction, and multiple facelifts; and of the glamorous granny.

Linked to this, is an idea some people have that anything to do with death is morbid and to be avoided at all costs. Therefore, old age and maturity becomes something to run away from, … not something to be embraced.

When we think about aging, we tend to talk about wrinkles and ill health! Change and decay in all around I see, etc.

But is this the whole story? Might there be joy and satisfaction in getting older too? What about contentment, maturity, wisdom, and the joy of seeing your children and grandchildren grow up? And that sense of finishing the race well; of completing our journey!

From time to time, someone will tell me about a humanist funeral service they have attended and how they were impressed because it was ALL about the person who had died. When you stop to think about it, a humanist funeral has to be ALL about the person who has died.

The humanist celebrant is hardly going to spend 30 minutes telling the mourners their loved one no longer exists! And all they have to look forward to is a loss of consciousness and the fire at the crematorium.

There are people who don’t believe in any form of afterlife, and they are not going to pretend that they do. But the prospect of this life coming to an end with no hope of an afterlife must be pretty depressing.

This feast of All Saints reminds us that Christianity think differently. Christians believe that the saints who have gone before us are very much alive in God’s nearer presence. And that, united by faith to Jesus Christ, we will one day partake in the life that is to come.

For the Christian, eternity is an essential part of the equation. It helps us make sense of some of the injustices of life. This world rebelled against God and is riddled with injustice. This is not the way God intended it to be.

In the Kingdom of God, all will be put right:

“Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.”

There is a world of a difference between the prospect of nothingness, and passing through the Gate of Glory to take up residence in the heavenly Jerusalem, “… with saints and angels and the whole company of heaven”.

On this All Saints’ Eve, we celebrate all those who have “… fought the good fight, who have finished the race, who have kept the faith.” These saints no longer worship in Church buildings on earth, … but with the Church triumphant.

As those who belong to Christ, may we, when our time comes, rise in triumph, and take our place, in that blessed company, in that place we call heaven. Amen.

But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day; the saints triumphant rise in bright array. Alleluia, alleluia!

Revd Stephen Robertson

31st October 2021