Celebrating the Saints

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The Twenty Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
The Celebration of All Saints’ Day
November 6th, 2016
The Rev. John Kilgore
St. Paul’s Within the Walls

‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you…
Do to others as you would have them do to you.’

Today we celebrate the Feast of All Saint’s Day.

Technically the Feast Day was this past Tuesday 1st November.

But this is one of the major feast days of the Church, ranking fourth behind Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas.

While most feast days are celebrated on the actual day, this is one very peculiar in that the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer mandate transferring to the following Sunday and celebrating it as a major feast day, and a day particularly appropriate for performing baptisms.

The feast day has its origins in the second and third centuries, when the focus was primarily on celebrating those who had either been imprisoned for their faith or martyred for it.

Gregory Thamaturgus refers to the observance of a festival of all martyrs in the 3rd century and Ephrem the Deacon, as well as St. John Chrysostom in the 4th century, mention a festival of All Saints.

By the fourth century, thanks to the conversion of the Emperor Constantine, the church was able to openly remember its heroes and the day became a time of primarily celebrating its martyrs.

A little local history here — in the seventh century either 609 or 610, on 13th May, Pope Boniface IV received the Pantheon from the emperor and dedicated it to St. Mary and All Martyrs.

And then, also in Rome, Egbert of York was ordained deacon and took the celebration of All Saints back to England.

That is probably the reason for the change in date from 13th May to 1st November, either ‘replacement’ of a pagan holiday, or the mists and frosts of late autumn suggesting the visitation and presence of spirits.

We know that by the 8th century the feast of All Saints was celebrated in England on 1st November, the beginning of the Celtic Winter.

The Celts believed that on the Eve of All Saints, the “wall” between the living and the dead thinned, allowing the dead to come back and mingle among the living, especially those who had died during the previous year.

And after partaking of the feast set out for them, the ghosts were then led out of town by masked villagers dressed in costumes representing the souls of the dead.

Halloween!

There are actually three holy days in a row.

All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints Day, and All Souls’ Day; respectively 31 October, 1, and then 2 November.

All Souls Day is also called the commemoration of All Faithful Departed. Scriptural warrant for the idea of saints is present in the Apocrypha (Judas Maccabeus in a dream sees Jeremiah with ‘outstretched hands invoking blessings on the whole body of the Jews’); the parable of Lazarus and Dives, the rich man sent to Hades who asked that Lazarus dip the tip of his finger and cool his tongue from the flames of Hell; and the description of the saints of the Old Covenant as a ‘cloud of witnesses’ which we Christians are to imitate.

Revelations also talks about martyrs who pray before the throne of God. And, again local history, St. Paul in his letter to the Romans here talking about all members of the faith having their ‘particular office’ and describing them as ‘fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.’

And in our reading from Ephesians today, “marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit…and your love toward all the saints…”

So what is All Saints’ Day? What is a saint? And who are the saints? What is All Saints’ Day?

Synthesis, a religious liturgical commentary says, “All Saints’ Day is the Church’s Memorial Day.

We remember today those who have lived and died in the faith.

We remember not only the great heroes, heroines, martyrs — but also the countless host of believers in every age.

The day challenges us, as living members of the Body of Christ, to live into the faithfulness, obedience, and dedication of those who have passed before us into eternal life.”

To live into the faithfulness, obedience, and dedication of those gone before us.

What is a saint?

Google, that current bastion of repository of knowledge and almost a replacement for The Merriam Webster Dictionary (of which I could not find a copy in the rectory!), defines a saint as a person acknowledged as holy or virtuous and regarded in Christian faith as being in heaven after death.

It also has a second definition of a ‘very virtuous, kind, or patient person.’

And Nathan Soderblom says saints are persons who make it easier for others to believe in God.

Shouldn’t all we Christians all be doing that, making it easier for others to believe in God?

Who are the saints?

If I ask you to think about saints, many will likely come to mind depending on your experience and history, and whether you have a history of the Roman Catholic Church or not.

St. Benedict of Nursia, founder of monasticism as we know it and whose Cathedral near here was destroyed by an earthquake just a week ago today. St. Francis of Assisi.

Mother Teresa, lived in our lifetimes, and just recently canonized, made a saint. St. Christopher, patron saint of travelers.

St. Paul for whom this church is named.

St. Peter, the Basilica and the Vatican.

In our gospel reading today, Jesus talks about saints and saintly life when He says, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh…”

This passage from Luke which is called The Sermon on the Plain, will seem familiar to you, perhaps because it is very similar to the passage from Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount.

Matthew’s is a bit longer and has nine blessings rather than Luke’s four.

You know them as “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted…blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth…blessed are those who hunger…blessed are the merciful…the pure in heart…the peacemakers…the persecuted…the reviled.”

The Beatitudes they are known as; moral and spiritual qualities of Christian discipleship.

Luke, in contrast to Matthew, pairs his four blessings with contrasting woes: poor/ rich; hungry/full; weeping/laughter; rejections/acceptance.

And he adds an epitaph: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Lesser Feasts and Fasts makes the point that “From very early times the word ‘saint’ came to be applied primarily to persons of heroic sanctity, whose deeds were recalled with gratitude by later generations.”

But it also says, “In the New Testament, the word ‘saints’ is used to describe the entire membership of the Christian community…”

And listen again to our Collect today that we prayed at the very beginning of this service, just after Stefano’s beautiful Gloria, “Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living…”

Follow in virtuous and godly living…. Jesus tells us how to do that in the gospel reading today, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you…turn the other cheek…give not only your coat but also your shirt…give to everyone who begs from you…”

And, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

The Golden Rule.

So what is All Saint’s Day?

An observance of the intercommunion between the living and the dead; a remembrance of those who have made it easier for others to believe in God.

What is a saint?

A holy, virtuous or kind person, living or dead.

And who are the saints?

Saints are not only the faithful departed but all of us who are the body of Christ.

The giants of faith and those of us who strive to emulate them.

Persons who make it easier for others to believe in God.

For through the Incarnation of Christ, God is in us and we see Jesus in every one we meet.

How do we live saintly lives?

Mother Teresa put it best when she said, “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.”

From the front page of your website, the website of St. Pauls within the Walls, “To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints; grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:7).”

It really comes down to a common denominator, a leveling.

Our station in life counts for very little, and for nothing on the last day.

We all die.

The desire of Christian people to express the intercommunion of the living and the dead in the Body of Christ, as mentioned in LFF, may have something to do with our desire to deny our mortality, but I believe it is deeper than that.

If anything can be distilled out of what Christ taught us, it is that we are all equal before God.

We are all born, we all live, and we all die.

And we are all beloved of God during all that time.

No matter what we do, no matter how great or how small by worldly standards.

That’s why it is All Saints’ Day.

All Saints.

You and me and those gone before us.

We are all saints.

Not because of what we do or who we are or into what we were born, but because we are beloved by God.

Celebrate that you are a saint of God.

And live into it!

There is a great hymn for All Saints Day that doesn’t get sung enough. It is actually more a children’s song but it is lovely. It starts, “I sing a song for the saints of God, patient, and brave and true…” and it ends, “…and I mean to be one too!” I have never done this for a homily, but I ask you now to take out your hymnals and open to Hymn 293.

And let’s sing this together….

I sing a song of the saints of God…

“The saints of God are just folk like you and me, and I mean to be one too…”

When you meet people, see a saint… when you greet people, love a saint… and when people see you, show them a saint.

Amen.


 

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