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Feast of All Saints

The Rev’d Charles Everson

All Saints’ Day • Nov. 5, 2023

 

Good morning, and happy feast day to you! According to the catechism in our prayer book, “The communion of saints is the whole family of God, the living and the dead, those whom we love and those whom we hurt, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer and praise.” Traditionally, the Church has talked about the communion of saints in three categories: the Church Militant, those of us who are alive and still fighting the good fight here; the Church Penitent or Church Expectant, those who have died and are still growing in God’s love until they see him face to face; and the Church Triumphant, those whom the Church recognizes as heroes of the faith who are already standing before God’s throne worshipping him with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. Today’s feast focuses on this last group. Today is about the women and men whom the Church calls “saints” who lived and died throughout the centuries. It’s about how they lived, and how they died. But it’s first and foremost about the fact that the saints allowed themselves to receive the riches of God’s grace and mercy through the life, death and resurrection of His son, Jesus Christ.


It’s not that the saints lived blameless lives. But somehow, they lived in such a way that they were able to receive the riches of God’s grace and mercy despite their own sin and wickedness.


Consider St Augustine. Augustine lived in the 4th and 5th centuries and was raised as a Christian by his devout mother, Monica. He rejected his Christian upbringing and lived instead a life of constant partying. He once prayed, “Lord, grant me chastity, but not yet!” Augustine fathered an illegitimate son with a young mistress whom he ultimately abandoned at the prospect of marrying a rich woman of noble birth. He was a vile sinner. But his mother never gave up praying for him and urging him to repent of his sins. Ultimately, her persistence paid off, and Augustine had a conversion experience at the age of 31 and decided to follow Christ. He learned to receive God’s grace and forgiveness despite his own terrible sin and wickedness.


Do you remember the story in the gospel of Luke about the woman who bathed Jesus’s feet with jar of expensive oil? When the Pharisee saw her doing this to Jesus, he responded by presuming that Jesus couldn’t have been anyone special – if he were, he would have known that she was an awful sinner and wouldn’t have allowed her to touch him. Jesus responded by stating, “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” The Pharisee responded, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” Jesus concludes the lesson by telling the Pharisee that the woman’s sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little. She too learned to received God’s grace and forgiveness despite her own sin and wickedness. Or maybe even because of it.


In a moment, we will reaffirm our baptismal vows, and then we will ask the saints in heaven to pray for us in the Litany of Saints, and yes, it is quite a long list of saints. As we do, you will recognize many of the names of those baptized Christians the Church recognizes as heroes of the faith. Like St Augustine (who is named in the litany) and the woman who bathed Jesus’ feet with oil (who isn’t), many of them would also make the list of the greatest of sinners. The Church calls them heroes of the faith because through their many toils and tribulations, they endured in the faith to the end, not through miraculous deeds, but through the age-old spiritual disciplines of the church. By prayer and fasting, by good works of charity, by kindness and generosity, by repenting of their sins and receiving God’s pardon and peace, by putting the needs of others before their own needs, by frequenting receiving the Sacraments of the Church, especially the Body and Blood of Christ (many times daily).


Today, on this great feast, we remember the heroes of the faith and ask for their prayers—not because of their blameless lives, but because of their extraordinary ability to receive God’s grace and mercy and forgiveness. Today, we remember before God “all those who rejoice with us, but upon another shore, and in a greater light, that multitude which no [one] can number, whose hope was in the Word made flesh, and with whom in the Lord Jesus we are one forever.”[1]


By their example and their prayers, the saints bid us to press on in our journey towards eternity with God. St Augustine once said, ‘There is no saint without a past, no sinner without a future.” Dear friends, for you and for me, that is good news indeed. Amen.

 

[1] From the service of Nine Lessons and Carols.

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