As we heard in Father Andrew’s introduction to the season All Saints is the time when we celebrate men and women in whose lives the church has recognised the grace of God powerfully at work. It is a timely reminder, especially now when we feel more isolated from each other than ever before, that we do not walk our Christian journey alone but are part of something greater; part of the body of Christ and the whole company of saints.
Those of us who have been able to meet for Morning Prayer on zoom have been following the church’s cycle of saints days, festivals and commemorations. This calendar includes a wide variety of members of the company of saints from right across the ages. From familiar saints like Luke and most recently Simon and Jude, to less well known saints like Brigid and Denys. We’ve also remembered the lives of medieval bishops and kings, monks from Lindisfarne, translators of the Bible, African missionaries, Victorian reformers and many more besides. Each has their own story to tell of God’s grace working through them, and each offers us an example of a life lived in service to God.
Flicking through my diary I was curious to find the most recent addition which is from 2003 when seven anglican monks of the Melanesian Brotherhood who were martyred in the Solomon Islands. They were attempting to negotiate peace between warring tribes. I’m sure there is a Church of England committee somewhere who decides who gets added. But the vast majority of members of the company of saints are not commemorated in this way. It makes me wonder about the multitude of other stories that remain untold, forgotten or unnoticed. Saints who are remembered only by a few or perhaps only in the lasting effects of what they did, while they themselves are forgotten.
I wonder who you would add to the calendar? Who are the saints that have influenced your Christian journey? Perhaps brought you to faith, encouraged you, walked with you, offered you a glimpse of something greater, something beyond. Or perhaps they did nothing at all but you saw in them God’s grace at work, perhaps they don’t even know. At All Saints we remember not only the saints recognised by the church but the saints who have touched our lives, who have given us an example of God’s grace working through them, who by their lives and actions have brought us closer to God.
All Saints is a time for us to be encouraged by the example of the whole company of saints, those who have gone before us and those who are living among us, those who are well known and those who are unheard of, those who are remembered and those who have gone unnoticed. Even the greatest saints were only ordinary people, fishermen for example. To be a saint does not require greatness or heroism, it requires an open heart ready to allow God’s grace to work through it. Sanctity grows out of the ordinary circumstances of everyday life. As part of the company of saints we cannot know how God’s grace is working through us, how God will use us. But we know that he will. We can all be saints and to this end we have scripture to guide us.
The reading for All Saints is the beatitudes from Matthew’s gospel, familiar but challenging words. What are we to make of them in the light of this season? Are they written as a guide to saintliness? A spiritual checklist? If you do these sorts of things and behave in this way then you will be blessed. Well no, Jesus is not talking about the way the world is, we know that the poor, the bereaved and the persecuted are not happy or blessed. Jesus is talking about how the world could be. He is offering a vision of God’s kingdom which contradicts sharply with the world’s view of what it means to be blessed. The world tells us that those who are safe, comfortable, in good health, well fed, those who are wealthy and successful are blessed. Jesus tells us the opposite.
Blessed are the poor in spirit
Blessed are those who mourn
Those who are poor in wealth or in spirit and those who mourn know what they lack. They are not satisfied or fulfilled by what the world calls blessings. There is space in their hearts for the longing to grow, a space and an openness to God’s grace which leads to true blessings.
Blessed are the meek
Blessed are the merciful
Those who are meek are humble before God. Recognising their need for God’s forgiveness and mercy as well as their own humble dependence upon God’s grace.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Blessed are the peacemakers.
Those who long and work for peace and justice seek to establish God’s kingdom on earth.
Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.
Those who are pure in heart are are those whose hearts are focused solely on God and are not divided and distracted by wealth, success and other blessings of the world.
Blessed are those who are persecuted
Those who live not by the world’s values, but by the vision of God’s eternal kingdom will face opposition.
The beatitudes are not a guide to saintly living. Jesus is not telling us how we should be in the world but how the world could be if we allow God’s grace to work in us. The beatitudes offer us
us a glimpse of God’s kingdom which, through Jesus, he is bringing forth on earth. This kingdom will turn the values of the world upside down and it is those who realise this and depend on God’s grace who are best placed to see it now. Blessed are they indeed. God calls us, as he calls the whole company of saints, to the task of bringing about this kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. To challenge the values and priorities of the world and to offer a different vision.
Today we remember the all the saints, past and present who have shared this vision with us. We take encouragement from them for the saints we can be. Ordinary people living ordinary lives through whom the grace of God can do extraordinary things. As we face another lockdown and all the uncertainty and anxiety that brings we must hold firm to this vision. A vision that brings hope out of despair and life out of death. The vision of God’s eternal kingdom where we will be united with all the saints who have gone before us, where justice and mercy will reign and where every tear will be wiped away.
Blessed are those who rely on the strength of the Lord for they have glimpsed the kingdom of God. Amen.