Homily for the Principal Feast of All Saints, transferred
The Cathedral Church of All Saints, Halifax, Nova Scotia
5 November 2017
“…the Lamb at the center of the throne [is our] shepherd, and he will guide [us] to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes.” (adapt. Rev 7:17, NRSV)
I speak to you in the Name of God; + Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today we celebrate the Principal Feast of All Saints in the life of the Church. As a Principal Feast, All Saints holds the same significance for Anglican Christians as other Principal Feasts. Christmas reminds us of the presence of God within humanity. through the gift of God’s Son Jesus. Through the Incarnation, God reveals God’s self to us, present in creation. Epiphany reminds us of the worthwhile activity of the worship of God. This, we see, in the worship of the infant Jesus by the Magi-travelers from a foreign land. Easter and the Ascension remind us that the reign of God stretches beyond time and place. This is demonstrated through the great love that God shows for all in Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension. Pentecost reminds us of the gift of the Holy Spirit and the message of God’s good news. This Gospel, this good news, continues to today from the early days of the Jesus movement.
That brings us to this Feast of All Saints bearing witness that without creation and without the stories of all that have come and gone before, and without our own stories, God’s narrative is incomplete. All Saints reminds us that we, along with all of the saints that have come before us and those who will follow after us, live within a greater narrative that finds its source and its destination in God.
After all, to be a saint is to live in the overarching story of God. God’s story is the story of which we are all part. A saint is someone who lives a life loving God through faith in Jesus Christ. A saint is one who engages in the reality of God. In other words, a saint is one who practices the denial of the falsehoods of this world, and turns to a life in Christ as one whose decrease of self leads to the increase of God. Further, a saint’s life is a life that is energized by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit borne from within and sealed at baptism.
Those who live this way are members of the living Body of Christ, the Church. The Church is the action of God in the world. Life in the Church, in the past and the present, has the future consequence of renewal energized by God’s saving love. And so, those who die this way continue in service as their membership of and their service to the Body of Christ continues in God’s nearer presence. This is the story of God and the Church. It is within this great, beautiful narrative that all of our unfolding life stories are held.
If we were to wander into the bookshop Bookmark, just around the corner from here on Spring Garden Road, in search of a good story, we might pick up a book that looks interesting to us — perhaps because of the title or the author, or the cover itself. To quickly learn what the book is about, we might read the inside flap of the dust jacket, we might flip to the last chapter or even sneak a peak at the last paragraph. We might notice that the tension in the story seems to go unresolved, or it might end with a question to be answered in the future. Perhaps the author is setting the reader up for things to come in a story that has not ended — for a sequel. Our perusal might give us enough of a story to pique our interest, to purchase and enjoy this story and to anxiously await the release of the next volume.
In a similar way, this is the function of the Book of Revelation as the last book of the Bible. While the narrative of God may be present to this world, it is not complete in this world. That is because God’s story is still being written.
The back of this book — the Bible — is not so much about end things as it is about things lastingly restored in God’s eternal love. The story of God always gives way to God’s Love and the restoration of all of creation to that Love. Within the embrace of such Love, God holds all who have come before us, us and those who will come after. This story is about the ongoing mission of God of which we are part. This story is still being written. You, along with those whom you know and love, past and present are held within God’s story and mission.
Jesus refers to God’s mission —the restoration of all things — when he, in the second last chapter of the Book of Revelation, says — “See, I am making all things new” (Rev 21:5). So, the work of God is restoration through Christ that brings renewal. The reason, Christ tells us, is because the true dwelling place of God is with people (21:3b). This renewal of all through Christ, this restoration, — even through that which we experience as death — gives way to new life. One way or another, God will see to it that God’s dwelling will ultimately be with God’s renewed, restored people. This is the good news of faith in God through Jesus Christ.
I wonder what we think of this good news today. Is it good? It seems that every day that we awaken, there is one more thing to be frightened by — one more story of someone experiencing a great ordeal. If it’s not a hurricane decimating an island, it’s fires that flatten entire communities and take lives. If it’s not civil disparity, it’s mass movements of civilians — people desperate for a place to call home. And, in places people visit or call home, life all too quickly and shockingly ends by the driver of a vehicle on a city sidewalk. If it’s not outright acts of violence and wars, it’s careless rhetoric that threatens to blow entire countries from the face of the planet. With so much of the world focused on fear and destruction, I wonder how we hear and share God’s good news.
The writer of the Book of Revelation addresses the “fearfully-filled” audiences of his own day. In so doing, I think that the writer is not only addressing his own fearful age, but is addressing our fears, the fears of humanity in a world in need. The world at the time of the Book of Revelation and of our world are not too far apart. The world of God’s creating called “good”, still falls short of God’s glory.
Just a few decades before the Book of Revelation was written came the destruction of the Temple and the City of Jerusalem by the Romans. The original audience of the Book of Revelation — dispersed and living in fear, practicing their faith mostly in secret for fear of persecution in the midst of mass killing and uncertain futures — they surely knew the horror and fears of their own time. Still, the radical message of God’s restoration and God’s desired dwelling with people remains.
In today’s reading from Revelation, we are given a radical glimpse of who God’s people are with whom God desires to dwell. These are they restored to God: the ones who have washed their robes, the ones who worship God day and night, the ones for whom Christ is both Shepherd and Lamb of God, the ones for whom God wipes away every tear and…there are so many that no one can count. Notice the inclusion of not some, but of all. Notice the inclusion of people from all nations and tribes, all people and all languages. This is a vision that reminds us that God is fulfilling his promise to Abraham in Genesis. “I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore…and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice” (Genesis 22:17,18).
The message of All Saints is one of blessed hope and reassurance. As people of God gathered in this place, do we see ourselves and those around us as living in the hope and reassurance of God’s greater narrative? Moreover, do we think of ourselves and those around us as dwelling places for God? After all, hope and new beginnings are major themes in God’s mission no matter the time or place that we find ourselves.
I can’t think of a better place to celebrate the Feast of All Saints than in this Cathedral Church of All Saints. Here we are, literally surrounded by the saints of God engaged in the mission of God.
The Great Window above the high altar depicts the exalted Christ reigning over all. This is an image of Christ, front and centre, taken right out of the pages of the Book of Revelation. And, from there we see many Saints from many times and places from the Old Testament to the New Testament to figures in Anglicanism.
Consider the window above the Cathedral entrance.
It is a rendering of the Parable of the Sower. Have you tried to pick yourself out in the window? Have you found your image in the window? Who are you in it? Perhaps you are the shepherd keeping the sheep safe in your arms, perhaps you are the sower on the distant hillside, perhaps you are the disciple in the boat, perhaps you are the one with your arms open in a gesture unrestrained praise. Perhaps from week to week your sense of who you are in the window changes. Notice that in place of a sandy beach, there are people too numerous to count. Notice that you, from wherever you are, are part of the crowd. Whether you are outside in the park across the street, whether you are inside this holy place, regardless of whether you are staring directly at the window or not, you are part of the crowd. The window of the Parable of the Sower is a powerful reminder that we are part of the ongoing narrative of God’s work in the world.
Now from the windows, turn your gaze to one another. See the saints of God around you in one another. Give thanks for the saints of the Church. Give thanks for the saints in your life who loved you and shaped you and for those who love and shape you still. Be renewed in your life as a saint. It is we who are called to carry God’s mission forward from our baptism into a world that is desperate to know good news. Meet the needs of the world with God’s restorative love. Let the world know that God’s preferred dwelling place is with them. When we do these things, we participate in the ministry of all the saints in heaven and on earth.
There is something about God’s story that desires relationship with the saints of God to make it complete. We as God’s saints, need God’s narrative to make us complete in Christ, restored in God. Our own narratives find their fullness in God…the point of our narratives is to live the life of God that we’ve been given as members in Christ’s Body, and to help others to claim their place as partners in the story of God. May this be so.
I speak to you in the Name of God; +Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
© 2017, Douglas A. Beck