A briefer than normal sermon I preached in two places this morning, on the (transferred) Feast of All Saints, November 2nd, 2014.
Today we celebrate the Feast of All Saints, one of the more important days in our Christian year. Christians have been celebrating this Feast, on this day for at least 1200 years, though it likely existed on different days even before that.
In our Christian year what we commonly call Halloween and the first few days of November that follow it are days that are dedicated specifically to remembering the dead and thinking about our own deaths. Many of you may know that Halloween is sometimes also called All Hallows’ Eve, which means the evening before All Hallows’ Day, or All Saints Day—yesterday. Today at this service we recognize All Saints’ Day as the greater feast, but also remember that November 2nd, today, is All Souls’ Day.
The Feast of All Saints is a day where we remember, honour, and offer our prayers for those saints—known and unknown—who have no specific feast day of their own in the Church year. Many of them died as martyrs in the early centuries of the church, nameless because of the great numbers of Christians who were being killed at that time.
We remember them with this day because their faith in and witness to the Truth of Jesus Christ is no less holy or part of the church universal just because their names are not known to us. Modern martyrs—those who even now give their lives for their faith—are part of that same witness. In fact you may have heard the phrase, “we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses,” before, and these centuries of martyrs and saints, the dead, is exactly what that phrase refers to. Their faith brought about their death, but also brought them into the glory of Heaven and now they are part of the invisible church, the part of the church that we are being united to. As Jesus says in our Gospel today, “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Likewise on the Feast of All Souls’ we remember all those who have joined into that Mystical Body of Christ through their death. We recall that their earthly death has separated us, and we should grieve that, but that they like the Saints we remember on All Saints’ Day, are now part of that invisible church. Think of the ways that we still connect with our dead loved ones; how many of us have been to the grave of a loved one in our lives? Planted flowers around it? Picked weeds? We pay someone to mow the lawns and maintain the cemetery grounds; some of us keep the cremated remains of our loved ones close to us. This is part of our grieving, but it is showing our joy too; it reminds us what is unique about our Christian faith from the largely secular world, “For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord,” St. Paul writes. This is to say: we should grieve death, but as Christians we also know that Jesus provided the means to overcome death, the Gospels show us that in death there is hope.
But aside from death there is life, and that is I think what All Saints’ Day points us to: the life and witness of saints. People who through their living, their faith, their witness, and their dying showed us true faithfulness. Their martyrdoms weren’t things written down, but things that happened—things that had to be seen by others, and those others shared their stories and many people came to a lively faith through it.
The saints became for us examples, role models if you will. We love characters like Batman and Spiderman because they do amazing things even though there is something impossible about them, but this is what captures our imagination.
I think the Saints appeal to us in a similar way. There is something totally impossible about the Saints. That Men and Women throughout the centuries of the Christian church would give up their own lives before they would renounce their faith in a God who loved his creation so much that he was willing to undergo crucifixion for us on a cross. Impossible though it may sound, those stories are true.
If the cross is a tree that bears fruit, then surely Saints are what is harvested and this day, All Saints’ Day, is the feast of thanksgiving we have after that harvest.
The Saints show us a glimpse of the perfection we are all striving towards. The perfection that comes through our salvation and place in the Kingdom of Heaven. We look to the Saints to see what human nature is like when it is perfected by God’s grace, we look to it and we pray that God may through his grace mold and work us into the same.