Seeing each other as saints

All Saints Day – 2014

Matthew 5:1-12

Marian Free

 In the name of God who calls us and who sanctifies us through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

 A fellow priest told me a wonderful story. When my friend was a priest in Canberra (where winters are notoriously cold) he used to celebrate the Eucharist one morning a week at 6:30am. Over time, the congregation dwindled to just one elderly woman. On one particularly cold winter’s day, the priest suggested to this woman that perhaps the time had come to cease that particular celebration, as it seemed as if it would always be just herself in the congregation. Her response was: “But I am never alone, I am surrounded by the communion of Saints.”

That story comes back to me on many occasions when I enter an older church and think about the hundreds of faithful people who have filled that space with prayer, day after day, week after week until their prayers and their presence seems to have soaked into the very walls of the building. I remember the story when I look at the wonderful windows of St Augustine’s, which, to the north commemorate New Testament saints and to the south depict saints from the church in England prior to Augustine’s visit. There is a sense in which they are looking down at the worshipers and encouraging and supporting them in prayer.

Today when we celebrate All Saint’s Day, the introduction to the confession will use the words from the Book of Hebrews: “We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses”. It is an image that, for me at least, conjures up a vision of the heavenly host and is a reminder that in our practice of faith that we are never alone, but that in our worship and in our lives we are not alone, but encircled by all the faithful who have trod this path before us.

All Saint’s Day is an opportunity to remember all people of faith who are now in God’s nearer care and particularly those whom we have known and loved. The letters of Paul, written some 20-30 years after the death of Jesus, refer to all believers as saints and while the use of this term has been narrowed down to a few representative people, it still embraces each one of us.

What that means is that even though we might think that we live dull, uninspiring lives we are still numbered among the saints. A few things flow from this reflection. One is to consider whether or not we think differently about ourselves if we apply the term to ourselves. Does knowing that we are “saints” encourage us to be the best that we can be? Do we fell that we would like to rise to the challenge of being more saintly in the conventional sense? If we are saints, are there things about our lives that we would like to change, things that we would like to strive towards. Perhaps the opposite results – that knowing that we are saints makes us less likely to live up to the expression and more likely to be complacent?

If we are saints then all our sisters and brothers in Christ are also saints. This includes those who share our theology and those who do not, those who hurt us inadvertently or deliberately, those who get under our skin and so on. How does our attitude towards them change if we see them through the lens of sainthood? Would our communities of faith (locally and internationally) look different if this was how we viewed those, who like us, claim to be followers of Jesus?

Last but not least, this more open use of the word asks us to think differently about all the “ordinary” people of faith who have trod this earth before us. Today, instead of remembering those whose acts of courage, fortitude or self-denial have brought them to the attention of the wider community, let us remember with thanksgiving the men, women and children who have been faithful servants of God day-in-day out for all of their lives. People who have never stood out from the crowd but who have lived out their baptismal promises in times of ease and times of hardship – those who have been overlooked because their service takes place behind the scenes, in the home or in patiently and diligently carrying out boring or menial tasks and those who to our minds have done nothing at all. All are saints by virtue of God’s saving grace in Jesus.

In order to be saints we need to nothing more than believe. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians, the work of sanctification has been done for us: “you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (6:11).

Francis Green wrote a hymn that goes:

Rejoice in God’s saints, today and all days!

A world without saints forgets how to praise.

Their faith in acquiring the habit of prayer,

their depth of adoring, Lord, help us to share.

Some march with events, to turn them God’s way;

some need to withdraw, the better to pray;

some carry the gospel through fire and through flood:

our world is their parish: their purpose is God.

Rejoice in those saints, unpraised and unknown,

who bear someone’s cross, or shoulder their own:

they shame our complaining, our comforts, our cares:

what patience in caring, what courage is theirs!

Rejoice in God’s saints, today and all days!

A world without saints forgets how to praise.

in loving, in living, they prove it is true:

The way of self-giving, Lord, leads us to you. (Francis Green 1903-2000

Today, let us remember all the saints whose lives have influenced our own and rejoice that by the grace of God we are numbered among them.


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