Sermon for Ascension Day

Sermon for the Feast of the Ascension
St. Peter’s Cathedral, Charlottetown – Latin High Mass
May 24th, AD 2017

 “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven?”

 In nomine Patri, et Fili, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.

            This great feast of the Ascension is the day in which all other celebrations in our church find their consummation, completion, and fullness.

All other feasts days look to this celebration and depend on it, just as our salvation hinges upon Jesus’ ascension; without it everything we do here, everything we say, the scriptures, the church, every word of Jesus drifts away in the breeze and we are left with nothing.

And so this is a feast of great joy—it is the fulfillment of Jesus’ descending to earth at the Nativity, and it is the completion of his death upon the cross and resurrection from the dead. It is what he promised us would happen; it is part of our salvation.

And so be joyful, but know that this celebration is bound to disappoint us as well.

For through this Feast our worldly hopes, our desires, our ambition, and our loves will be crushed.

This is a disappointment and heart break that even the apostles felt, “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye staring up into heaven?” asks the two angels of them.

And indeed, why stand staring, agape at Jesus’ departure if not for sadness?

 

Their grief was great because they saw him for whom they had left everything being taken away from their senses and sight. Their fear too was great because they were left as orphans…not yet strengthened by the power from on high.”

 

Writes Bernard of Clairvaux.

Jesus told the Apostles that he would, after a time go away, and in his place he would send the comforter, but the disciples were confused and afraid and did not understand what he meant.

Would any of them who truly remembered his words, “Ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy,” stand staring up after him? So great is the apostles’ distress that the angels have to remind them of Jesus’ promise of return, “This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go.”

The apostles’ pain is one that we all know.

We all know what it’s like to lose or leave someone who moves us, someone who through their presence, their conversation, their friendship, and their love, allows us to know beauty and goodness in a deeper way. The sort of person we cherish, the one in whom we see qualities and characteristics we admire and wish that we had ourselves.

The pain that accompanies the loss of this kind of friend is the kind of pain the apostles felt at the ascension.

Alongside their pain is also fear, and a lack of trust, and I suspect it is the very same that we often find in ourselves, and is the reason that the collect tonight reads as it does.

In the triptych that is the collect, epistle and gospel for each week and feast of our calendar, the collect is often used to distill the lections and offer us a pointed note on what this week is about, it teaches us what the thrust of the readings are by what it gets us to pray.

And through tonight’s collect we pray to be helped with the very thing that caused the apostles’ disappointment, “like as we do believe thy only-begotten son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into the heavens; so may we also in heart and mind hither ascend…”

But therein lies the challenge. It is the same challenge offered by Paul in Colossians, “If then you are risen with Christ, seek those things which are above.” For us, easier said than done.

The apostles stood standing and staring up in to heaven because with Jesus’ ascension came the death of all of their worldly loves, hopes, and desires. “They could not be filled with spiritual understanding”, writes St. Augustine, “unless the object of their earthly love should go from before their eyes.”

This is the disappointment to which the Ascension leads us.

Our hearts break at the ascension because through it we see how desperately our hearts need transformation; we see how little and seldom we seek those things from above.

But we rejoice because we are shown what is our spiritual destiny as the children of God. We rejoice because we are shown that our bodies will be, “fashioned like unto his glorious body.”

This is why we gather together on the Ascension: to pray that our hearts might be reborn, transformed; that God might take all of our desires and passions, our loves, our ambitions, and transfigure them. That our minds and our hearts might “hither ascend.”

             Amen.

Sermon for the 2nd Sunday in Lent

Sermon for the 2nd Sunday of Lent
King’s College Chapel
May 16th, 2017

“Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously
vexed with a devil. But he answered her not a word.”

The silence must have been deafening.

His disciples, at first, at a distance. Jesus, alone with her.

Not a sound. Nothing from the one in whom she had put her hope.

No doubt she had heard rumours of this man whispered throughout the land, rumours of one who could cast out demons and offer miraculous healing, even to some who simply touched his clothing.

It was a mother’s love and desperation that brought her to him, seeking help for her daughter who was possessed by an unclean spirit.

But she was a Canaanite. And what’s more, she was a native of the area into which Jesus and his disciples had entered. Tyre and Sidon were Gentile territory within the holy land itself; to disciples and indeed to most Jews it was a land of darkness, idolatry and false Gods.

Whatever interactions she had with the Jewish community in her life could most likely be summed up in the disciples’ response to seeing her beseeching Jesus for help, “send her away.”

To them she was no more than an annoyance.

And devastating as Jesus’ silence must have been for her, his next words—equally hard for us to digest, and seemingly un-Jesus-like—would be crushing, yet expected, “I have not come but to save the lost sheep of Israel,” which is to say, “I have not come for you.”

We ought, I think, to be somewhat puzzled by Jesus’ response here. His actions should, for you, as it did for me, stand out.

He treats her with silence, he refuses her, and then calls her a dog. This woman who in faith reached out to seek help for another.

Our Lenten pilgrimage so far has been shaped by readings that give us a sense of what torments and hazards we will face on our journey to Easter morning, and they have shown us Jesus at work, casting out devils and offering healing—they have shown us the pitfalls and dangers of our pilgrimage, but also show us the answer to them, the salve and medicine—that is, Jesus.

Today is no different, but with the curious—and perhaps difficult—reaction of Jesus to the Canaanite woman. This is not the Jesus we have seen, or that we feel that we know from other parts of the Gospels.

The easiest thing for me to do at this point, to make both a long sermon short, and to give you a take-away for tonight, is to point out that it is the Canaanite woman’s persistence in faith that had the unclean spirit banished, and returned her daughter to health.

Christ as God surely had the foreknowledge of how this event would go for he, “needed not that any should testify of man, for he knew what was in man,” as John tells us in his Gospel, and so his silence is simply about bolstering the Canaanite woman to be persistent, to not give up in prayer and faith until she got what she wanted.

I wouldn’t be lying to you if I ended it all here. But I won’t.

Because what is remarkable about this encounter is not just that the daughter was healed, but what she is brought to through Christ’s silence, and indeed his outright refusal of her.

Christ says to her, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and to cast it to dogs,” which is to say, “what I have, what I offer, is for the Jews; to offer it to Gentiles would be to offer it to dogs.”

And her response to Christ, “Truth, Lord; yet the little dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”

This image might conjure up a cute vision of puppies eating up the toast crumbs from the breakfast table, but the image is in fact quite terrible. It is an image of slavery, of the downtrodden kneeling on the floor waiting for even the possibility of a scrap to drop from their master’s table.

Her response illustrates a profound humility with which she approaches Jesus, but only after facing severe rebuke.

We all know the moments, or perhaps the long periods in our lives, when we, like the Canaanite Woman, have experienced Christ’s silence in the face of our pleas.

We know that in times of great uncertainty and anxiety, when everything we know and everything in which we have put our trust and to which we have given our lives seems to hang in the balance as we wait on Christ to speak, that the temptation to distrust grows in us.

Jesus’ silence before the Canaanite Woman shows us that those periods of anxious silence, of painful and fearful waiting, and of facing the temptation to distrust are given to us to help us distil our wills; to help us to weed out what is our selfish demand, borne of fear, and what is our true longing. This is humility.

The Canaanite woman came to Jesus with a plea, with begging, and maybe even frantic begging. And what parent wouldn’t?

But Jesus’ silence and his harsh words—which were his rebuke—brought her to a point of humility, of knowing, “not my will, Lord, but thine, be done.”

Jesus’ silence was not incidental to this encounter, it was essential to it.

And to learn to live in that silence is to know humility.

Without his silence, without that period of uncertainty and anxiety, the Canaanite woman would not have given up her pleas and her desires and surrendered them to God’s will. She would not have come to know her truest longing.

So it is with us.

We believe that our desires and our longings, our pleas that are borne out of fear are good and just, and that if only we throw them at Christ’s feet and demand mercy, we will get what we want. The woman’s plea was for another, it wasn’t wrong or bad, but humility is knowing that the only way to know our truest longing is to know, “not my will, Lord, but thine.”

As much as we attend to the moments when our hearts are the most filled and our souls the most quickened, so must we attend to Christ’s silence, which is the rebuke of our demands. We must listen to it, live in it, and by it, allow our hearts to know and to utter, “not my will, Lord, but thine.”

Amen.

Sermon for the 5th Sunday After Trinity

St. George’s Round Church
June 26th,2016

Sunday by Sunday, year by year, our reading of scripture brings us through what Father Crouse called a programme of practical spirituality that contains within it the design of our salvation. That is to say, each year—each cycle of the prayer-book lectionary—we hear the story, even the guide, to our salvation.

And each season within our church year has its own place and part to play in this practical spiritual system.

If the first half of our year from Advent to Trinity is the telling of the glorious life and works and love of Jesus Christ through which our redemption and reconciliation to God is accomplished—then Trinitytide, the second half of the year, is what gives us the practical and moral example of how to live into the first half. Trinitytide is about our sanctification.
We need only look back over the last four weeks, beginning with the collect of the First Sunday after Trinity, to see that we begin this season with a recognition of our frailty and our reliance on God’s mercy for all things, “because through the weakness of our mortal nature, we can do no good thing without thee” says the Collect. And in the following weeks we pray to be protected by God’s mercy and providence—another recognition of our wills being insufficient without God. We ask for such things as protection from dangers and last week we prayed for God’s help to see us through this temporal world such that we do not lose those eternal things to which we are called.

The rationale of the Trinity season readings, Father Crouse tells us, is that we begin with purgation, and are moved to illumination and finally to union with the divine. We hear this desire for purgation in our collect today in which we pray for this disordered world to be set straight, that war may be turned to peace, that noise may become quietness, and that the Church in all its parts may serve God truly. Put in another more fitting way given the octave we are in: we are praying that every valley may be exalted, every mountain and hill made low, that the crooked will be made straight and that rough places will be made plain. The collects we have been hearing and will continue to hear for a few weeks remind us that above all we are yearning for that highway in the desert to be made straight, as the prophet Isaiah foretold regarding the forerunner John the Baptist.

These recent Sundays call us to no easy task: to purge ourselves of those things which cause disorder within our soul. It is exactly these things that Paul is wants us to consider in today’s Epistle, “be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous; not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing.” Paul so calls us to love as brethren and be courteous and pitiful, because even the smallest acts of discourtesy or moments of uncharitableness are as much a violence against neighbour as any physical violence we could commit.

So often these acts go unnoticed by us and are more a result of the disorder of our fallen natures and our susceptibility to the powers and principalities that occupy this disordered world than they are intentional ill will. St. John Cassian, a 5th century monastic, speaks to the seemingly irrational ways we can behave to one another out of the disorder of our interior selves. He writes:

But sometimes without any apparent reason for our being driven to fall into this misfortune, we are by the instigation of our crafty enemy suddenly depressed with so great a gloom that we cannot receive with ordinary civility the visits of those who are near and dear to us; and whatever subject of conversation is started by them, we regard it as ill-timed and out of place; and we can give them no civil answer, as the gall of bitterness is in possession of every corner of our heart.

Cassian and Paul, speaking of the same despair and disorder, offer us the same path to and ordered soul. Paul tells us that we must do good, rather than bad, refrain from speaking guile or lies and, perhaps most importantly, we must suffer this disorder, “But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye…” indeed our answer to the oppressors’ terror is not to be afraid nor to meet it with our own violence, but simply to praise and sanctify God in our hearts and suffer with patience whatever is done to us, “For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers.” And Cassian likewise says:

And so God …commands that we should not give up intercourse with our brethren, nor avoid those who we think have been hurt by us, or by whom we have been offended, but bids us pacify them, knowing that perfection of heart is not secured by separating from men so much as by the virtue of patience. Which when it is securely held, as it can keep us at peace even with those who hate peace.

The fruit of such patience, the fruit of desiring and seeking after order within ourselves even in the midst of a disordered world is what our Gospel shows us today. Jesus, at the lake of Gennesaret, gets into Simon’s boat and gets him to cast off into the lake first teaching the people on the shore for a while and then going farther out into the water where he instructed Simon to cast his net. The dejection and violence that arises from our disordered souls, the same that Cassian spoke of, is heard in the cry of Simon when he at first complains to Jesus about having fished all night but caught nothing and reluctantly tries again. The ensuing miracle of the draught of fishes turns Simon Peter not to rejoicing at the size of the catch, but to repentance at Jesus’ knees. Jesus then tells Simon Peter and the other fishermen that they are called to be something greater than simply fishermen; the fruit of this ordered interior life that we so much need and desire, and for which this part of Trinitytide calls us to prepare, is the capacity for deeper love and deeper union with both Christ and others, such that we, like Simon Peter and the Disciples, may rather become “fishers of men.”
And so we pray may God grant that our hearts may be peaceably ordered so that our Church may serve Him with one mind, that every valley will be exalted and rough place made plain. Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

Meditation for the Feast of St. Luke

A brief meditation I delivered at St. George’s Round Church at Choral Evensong on the Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist, October 18th, 2015.

Over the last number of weeks my wife has been updating me from time to time about some friends of hers from out West, from her University days, friends whom I have never met.

My wife made friends with the Jamie in her second year of University, during the course of their friendship Jamie met her future husband at their church, eventually getting married, and having three children.

Sean, a pastor, has a website where he has, for the last year, been posting things like sermon templates and other resources for their church in British Columbia, as well as updating friends and family on what’s happening in their lives.

On July 26th of this year he posted the first in an ongoing series of posts on his blog. This is how that first post starts:

Title: I have cancer.

Never did I think I would utter those three words. Even as I write this I cannot help but think this is all a dream. I can’t have cancer. I am a healthy, 39 year old male. This page is to capture the journey my family and I are about to embark upon.

Initially his diagnosis was colon cancer, but as time wore on and he was subjected to more and more medical tests he found out that it was not just colon cancer, but liver cancer as well. What he writes on his website are brief snippets of the everyday: worries, thoughts, fears—not of someone who pretends to have the answers, but of someone facing this to the first time, someone afraid, someone suffering.

Just this week he wrote this:

The past few weeks have been quite difficult around our household. I have been the sickest I have ever been and have absolutely NO energy to do anything. Depression has wrapped itself around me and is tightening its grip. Last night I went to put my son to bed. We went through our evening ritual: the brushing of teeth, the emptying of the bladder, story, prayer, song and snuggles. It wasn’t a normal evening though as I hadn’t been feeling all that great. I was nauseous and just wanted to curl up on the couch and feel sorry for myself. We got through the first few evening routines but it was story time now. I started to read him his story but only got 3 pages into the story before I had to make a mad dash to the bathroom. Let’s just say throwing up is not something I enjoy doing. After my bathroom experience, I returned to his room to finish off our evening routine. I sat next to him, he placed his book into my lap and I began to read. After I finished reading, ‘Awesome Trucks’ we snuggled under the covers and I began to pray over him and sing him his favourite song, Be Lifted Up. It was great laying there with my son, watching him fall fast asleep, but before his eyes closed, he uttered the 7 most powerful words I have heard in a long time. He grabbed my hand and said, “Daddy, I want Jesus to heal you.” That was it! Those 7 powerful words pierced my heart.

I am not sure that there could be a more perfect or succinct way of phrasing what is the deepest longing of each and every one of our hearts and souls: to be healed.

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Luke the Evangelist, St. Luke the Physician.

We do not know a great deal about St. Luke. We know that he was from Antioch and that he authored both the Gospel that bears his name and the Book of Acts.

We know too from St. Paul’s epistle to the Colossians that Luke was physician—a doctor—who practiced in his home city of Antioch, now in modern Syria. He was a disciple of St. Paul’s, following him until his (That is, St. Paul’s) martyrdom, and tradition holds that Luke himself was also an artist, a writer of icons.

He may be called the Apostle or the Evangelist, but it is Luke the Physician that our propers for the feast from the Book of Common Prayer direct our prayers towards; as our Collect says for today, “Almighty God, who calledst Luke the Physician, whose praise is in the Gospel, to be an Evangelist, and Physician of the Soul…” In the Sunday Lections for a few of the Sundays around the Feast of St. Luke we have been hearing and will hear of Jesus healing various infirmities: the man sick with palsy, the sick son of the nobleman at Capernaum, and in a few weeks’ time the story of the healing of the woman with the issue of blood and the bringing-back-to-life of the Ruler’s daughter. It seems that even the lectionary at this time of year is drawing us into a consideration of what it means to suffer, what it means to be healed, and what the source of our healing is.

But what about those times when we are not healed?
What about all those people for whom we have prayed for healing, but who have succumbed to their illnesses? What about our friend with cancer in BC?

Our first reading for tonight, drawn from the book of Ecclesiasticus, gives praise to physicians and like our collect keeps us mindful that the health of body and soul are together linked, but that it is the health of our soul that should be desired most, Ecclesiasticus reminding us that before calling on the physician to heal our bodies we must first turn to God to heal our souls.

The healing offered by Jesus the Great Physician of our Soul is, as we know from our own lives, not always a healing that will take away someone’s cancer, nor is it a healing that will patch up the struggles and pains we have in our daily life, emotional, mental, or physical.

Rather, the healing that today’s collect looks forward to and that this feast calls us to recollect is that healing which has already been given, that healing which is our end, and is our salvation.

We suffer here and now as a consequence of our being mortal, but the here-and-now is not our end. It is not the place to which we are bound ultimately, it is not the place where the fullness of our salvation and healing is realized. Our end is in God and there is our health and there is the fullness of healing that Sean’s son desires for him, the same healing that  we all desire.

Above my desk at home I have a post-it-note with a quote of Jesus’ from John’s Gospel. It has been there since last Winter and has been more of a help to me than I could have imagined when I wrote it. “In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”

Amen.

Sermon for the 5th Sunday After Pentecost

Sermon for 5th Sunday after Pentecost

Parish of All Saints by the Sea

June 27th-28th, 2015

 

 

In the late 1960s there was a scientific study done in the maternity ward of a hospital involving over 20 very new mothers and over 20 very new infants.

The study was called, “Maternal Recognition of Infant’s Cry,” and what the researchers wanted to learn was how well mothers—especially new mothers—could recognize the cry of their own baby, a cry that was new to them and as we all know sounds a lot like the cry of every other new-born baby.

Now any of you here who have children or who take care of children maybe have a sense of what the study found. How many of you have ever experienced that moment when the cry of your child or the child you are caring for rings out almost deafeningly above the hum and buzz of a crowd of other children? How many of you have heard that and instantly felt that moment where your heart leaps to your throat and adrenaline begins to pump through your blood because somehow—even through all the noise, and yelling, and laughter of a playground full of a children—you know that the cry came from your own.

The study found that up to 48 hours after giving birth over half of the mothers recognized the cry of their own baby. After 48 hours all the mothers recognized the cry of their own baby.

The study also looked at a multi-bed room in which 10 new mothers were staying with their babies. The babies woke and cried 23 times through the night, and 22 of those 23 times the mother of the crying baby woke at the sound of her own child.

There is something impossible not to respond to in the cry of an infant. Perhaps because it is the voice of a being so helpless and unable to care for itself, so deeply in need of care that something born right into us, something we are created with, is triggered to respond to that need.

In today’s Gospel lesson something similar takes place.

Jesus had taken a boat across the Sea of Galilee and as soon as he lands on the other side he is swarmed by people pressing up against him and all around him on every side. Jesus’ fame went before him and word of his miracles had spread far and wide—the crowds that followed him were desperate to be a part of those miracles, desperate to receive some shred of Jesus’ power.

And when he lands on that shore and as he begins to push his way through the crowd he is approached by a man in need, a man by the name of Jairus who was an important man, a leader, within the synagogue. Jairus tells Jesus that his daughter is dying and he wants Jesus to come and to heal her, to save her from death.

Jesus agrees and starts off through the crowd once more until something happens that causes him to stop.

Jesus stops and asks the crowd, “Who touched my clothes?”

What a silly question that must have seemed to his disciples and others in a crowd where many people were probably brushing up against or touching Jesus as he walked. But yet amidst all of that contact, all of those people, and all of that commotion Jesus, just like the mothers in the maternity ward and their babies, could feel the touch of the woman looking for healing.

He could feel that a person in need, a person of faith reached out and touched him and was healed.

And at first the woman hid in the crowd, her sickness—the issue of blood, hemorrhaging—was something to be ashamed of, something which made her unclean in the eyes of many, but when Jesus looked around and asked who had done it she came forward and threw herself at his feet.

Jesus simply responded to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease,” and with that moved on to Jairus’ house and to his dying daughter.

When he gets to Jairus’ house the crowd gathered at the house mock him and laugh at the impossible task of healing a girl who is now dead. Jesus only calls them to a similar act of faith to the woman who touched his robe when he says, “Do not fear, only believe.” Jesus visits the daughter, the young girl, tells her to rise and she is healed, just like the woman with the hemorrhage.

What binds both Jairus and the woman together is that Jesus addressed their need in the midst of a crowd pressing on him for attention.

There are many moments throughout the gospels when Jesus is faced with demanding crowds. Sometimes he flees from them to be alone in prayer in the desert, only to find them following him. Sometimes he turns to speak to the crowds and teach them, and other times he does not and simply pushes through them.

People came to Jesus because of his fame and because of his power; people were in need, people needed healing just like Jairus and the woman with the issue of blood, but what makes them different? Why them and not someone else in the crowd who was in need?

The crowds that followed Jesus swarmed him and demanded his touch, demanded his attention and demanded his healing. There was something frenzied about it, like the way people crowd around a celebrity just to touch them, shake hands with them, or get an autograph.

People’s pain, sickness, wounds, and their need drove them to seek out the man who had healed others, but their fear made the meeting into an idol.

They pushed and shoved others, squeezed through the crowds, yelled and hollered to get close to Jesus, but it wasn’t any of their touches that Jesus felt. It was the touch of a woman too ashamed of her own sickness to ask Jesus directly. The touch of a woman with so much humility and such great faith that when Jesus asked the crowd who had touched him she threw herself down at his feet in front of everybody, risking shame and embarrassment.

Jairus came to Jesus having faced the mocking crowds at home who laughed at him, knowing that his daughter was dying and then dead, but yet he came to Jesus and like the woman with the hemorrhage, threw himself at Jesus’ feet and begged his healing.

In the crowds there is always a frenzy and a demand, a fear for ourselves and a yell…more than a cry…for God to help us.

In Jairus and in the Woman there was a cry. The cry of helplessness, the cry of someone powerless to help themselves and who could be helped by nobody else than Jesus, the one who is Lord of all, even their suffering.

Like in the maternity ward that cry of true need pierces through all the other demands and falls on the ear of Jesus who hears the need, the helplessness, and the faithfulness.

Our healing comes when we recognize that God is the Lord of our joys and our suffering and it is to him that we must turn over all of our faith.

It is at his feet we must throw ourselves without any demand but with trust that He is the one who will give us rest and heal our suffering.

Just like in that maternity ward, when our cry is one that recognizes that we are helpless without Christ he will hear and he will respond to us.

Amen.

Sermon for the Feast of All Saints

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.

Amen.