Homily for Sunday, November 5, 2017
All Saints’ Sunday
Today, All Saints’ Sunday, is our annual reminder that in the Church’s calendar the rest of the week, Monday through Saturday, is filled with saints’ days. In the Church’s calendar nearly every other day is a saint’s feast day. Tomorrow, for example, we remember William Temple, a 20th century Archbishop of Canterbury; on Tuesday we honor Willibrord, an 8th century Bishop of Utrecht; on Friday it’s Leo the Great, a famous 5th century Bishop of Rome; and Saturday it’s Martin, a 4th century Bishop of Tours.
Many of us may be unaware of the riches in our saints’ calendar. Yet the saints are a treasure of the Church. St. Lawrence, a deacon martyred in 3rd century Rome, when the persecuting authorities arrived and demanded to be shown the Church’s treasures, gathered before them the poor: “HERE are the Church’s treasures!” Similarly, the Church’s saints are treasures of the Church!
The saints are “treasures” of the Church for many reasons:
- The saints remind us that we are not alone, that—as Hebrews puts it—we are “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1). With the saints, it is as though we are running the Boston Marathon, and those who have already run the race line the course and cheer us on. At every celebration of the Eucharist they gather round, an unseen host celebrating with us, cheering us on.
- The saints remind us that others have been there before. No matter how difficult our situation, no matter how bleak our circumstance, the saints have been there. “They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword…” (Hebrews 11:37). The saints remind us—in the words of Paul—that “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone” and “he will not let you be tested beyond your strength” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
- The saints are a treasure because they pray for us. As we heard in the lesson from Revelation, the saints are gathered around the throne and the Lamb, and what they do for an eternity is offer prayer and praise. If you’ve ever been to an ordination, you’ve probably heard the Litany of Saints. “Holy Peter,” sings the cantor. “Pray for us,” the congregation responds. “Holy Michael.” “Pray for us.” “Holy Ambrose.” “Pray for us.” “Pray for us” is what the saints do. We in the Church’s “ground crew” are supported by the prayers of those who have already arrived, who continually hold us in prayer.
- The saints inspire us to holiness. “Look at how generously Saint Elizabeth of Hungary gave of her royal treasury for the sick and poor. I wonder what it would be like for me to be so generous?” Or, “Look at Jonathan Myrick Daniels, putting his life on the line for civil rights. Maybe I could work for civil rights, too.” Or, “The martyrs of Japan, who were lashed to wooden posts at low tide and who sang hymns to encourage each other before they drowned at high tide, I wonder what I would do in their situation?” The saints’ lives inspire us to holiness, too!
We know that the saints accompany us, that the saints have been there before, that they pray for us and inspire us AND… we can also get to know the saints. We can get to know the saints because each time we pray, though we may be separated by time and language and culture, yet we are united in Christ.
Imagine all the saints gathered around the throne and “the Lamb.” Are there any who catch your attention? Are there any whom you would like to meet? Maybe go online to the site given on the inside back cover of the order of service, then go down to “Feasts, Holy Days, and Commemorations”) and begin to peruse the calendar of saints. Get curious and click on a few. Might you be drawn to meet, say, St. Agnes, or maybe Catherine of Siena, or maybe John Mason Neale? Read up on them, and maybe ask Jesus to introduce you! Some saints are easier to “meet” than others. If you want to meet George Herbert, for example, it helps to read his poetry. Or if you want to get to know Julian of Norwich, you can read her Revelations of Divine Love. Other saints will be more challenging, like St. Joseph, for example, to whom the Scriptures make only fleeting reference.
The wonderful thing is, as Jesus might introduce us to the saints, so can the saints introduce us to Jesus. And maybe this is the key thing that saints do for us: they can help us deepen and develop our relationship with Jesus as they help us to meet Jesus in a new way.
For example, St. Joseph can help us be open to the unusual, convention-defying way in which God often works: “No husband? No problem! God can work with that.” Lancelot Andrewes bears witness of the importance of spending time with Jesus in prayer. Andrewes purportedly spent at least five hours each day in prayer and was accused of neglecting his duties as the Bishop of Winchester. Theresa of Avila was a “contemplative in action” who reminds us that praying with Jesus and serving Jesus are complementary—“Prayer leading to mission; mission leading to prayer,” as our vision statement puts it. Harriet Tubman reminds us of how Jesus is always working toward our freedom, hoping to bring us to a place where we can more fully love him. And all martyrs continually beg the question, “To what extent do I love Jesus?”
In the coming days, I invite you to go online to the site listed in the inside back cover. I encourage us to rummage around at the site, to see if there is a saint who draws you and whom you would like to meet. Maybe find something about them to read. And definitely ask Jesus to introduce you. The saints are gathered around the Lamb and around the throne. Jesus sees them every day and knows them; he would be glad to introduce you! And maybe, once you’ve gotten to know them, ask, “Who is Jesus for you?” “Why did you live your life the way you did?” “What is it like to love that much?” I wouldn’t be surprised if they point you back to the source of that love and open your eyes to see him, to love him, and follow him as you have never seen, loved or followed him before. Which is the most satisfying way for us humans to live our lives.