Sunday 1st November – All Saints
The service is now live-streamed and can be found on the church Facebook page.
God of holiness,
your glory is proclaimed in every age:
as we rejoice in the faith of your saints,
inspire us to follow their example
with boldness and joy;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying ‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, singing, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.’ Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, ‘Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?’ I said to him, ‘Sir, you are the one that knows.’ Then he said to me, ‘These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: ‘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 and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.’
Post Communion Prayer
God, the source of all holiness and giver of all good things:
may we who have shared at this table
as strangers and pilgrims here on earth
be welcomed with all your saints
to the heavenly feast on the day of your kingdom;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Reflection – All Saints
Various prayers and writings about All Saints tide use the phrase: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses”. But what is a witness?
Witnesses establish the truth by giving evidence. It really is as simple as that. When we celebrate the Saints, we celebrate those who have given evidence, who have made God believable by how they have lived and how they have died. The saints are the people who recognise that arguments will finally not win the day. God does not make himself credible by argument. God does not respond to our doubts, our intellectual querying, our uncertainty, by delivering from Heaven a neatly annotated list of logical propositions with which we cannot disagree. God deals with us by our life and death, by Jesus. And God continues to deal with us by lives and deaths that make him credible, that make Jesus tangible here and now.
Do we think it is impossible to live a Christlike life in this or that setting, with these stresses or those, in the presence of dark evil and deep suffering? If we doubt it, it is not argument that will settle the matter: it is the bare reality of life lived in a Christlike way in such circumstances. In the very early Church, local congregations would write eagerly to one another to describe the sufferings they’d been through and the martyrs who had glorified God in their midst. They were telling one another, ‘It is believable. We have seen and touched with our hands, the word of life. We have seen lives lived in desperate and reckless generosity to the point of death, and God has become credible afresh to us inthose lives. That was the exchange, the common currency of the early Church and I suspect that the faith of the Church today might be a bit different these days if our main currency of exchange was to let one another know how God had become credible to us.
They’re not perfect as individuals who have scored exceptionally highly in the examination of Christian faith. They are parts of the body of Christ to which we too belong. Our life is bound up with theirs and amazingly and humblingly, their life is bound up with ours. And yet that is the bold and startling doctrine that the Bible puts before us as a reminder that no-one’s holiness is their property and that the holiness of the Christian life is one given into the lives of others. That is where it becomes fully itself.
So at All Saints’ tide we give thanks that God in Christ has made himself credible; credible in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus; credible in the lives of those in whom Jesus has come alive. And we thank God for that extraordinary promise: that the great Saints of the Communion of Christ’s body depend on us as we depend on them in growing together. But two more thoughts may be in order, very briefly here.
One is indeed something to do with our contemporary anxieties. We need to tell the stories of the Saints to remind ourselves what is possible and within any Christian family. We need to tell the stories of those who have made God credible to us. We need to be reminded of what we have to be grateful for in the lives of those who have lived out God’s presence and made him credible here in this place. God knows what the future holds for any of us, but we can at least begin with what we can be sure of; that God has graced us with the lives of Saints; that God has been credible in this fellowship with these people. This church is one small but significant facet of that great mystery and that great gift. And it doesn’t hurt simply to give thanks.
The second thing is this. One day people are going to look back on us and it would be nice to think that they would look back with gratitude and that they would feel that we in our generation had helped to make God credible and helped to show what was possible to them, so that they could gratefully and joyfully help us through the gate of glory by their response, their faith and their thanksgiving. So because time is not of great significance in the kingdom of Heaven, All Saints’ day is, it seems a celebration of the future as well as the past. On All Saints’ Day we may very properly look forward to the Saints we have not yet met and the Saints who have not yet been born, with whose holiness and salvation and welfare ours is bound up. We can ask what witness we want to leave to them and turn back again to ask ourselves what is possible for us if God in Christ is truly credible in the lives of his holy people. And in doing this, hopefully, the Beatitudes which formed the Gospel reading might not seem like some sort of list of unachievable virtues, but become a living reality in our lives.
In his letters, St Paul frequently addresses all the members of the early church as ‘saints’, not because he believes for a moment that they are perfect, but because he sees anyone who is in relationship with Christ as being sanctified, made holy, by the Holy Spirit. And so, let us pray that we may all be granted something of the saints’ love of God, through Jesus Christ, and their desire and longing to be like Christ, so that whoever and wherever we are, we can start, or start afresh, our own journey to holiness, to deepening our love of God. Then we shall take the place that God has already reserved for us in that great multitude of the heavenly host, as one of his friends.