05 November 2007

Of All Saints.

All Saints’ Day
St. Matthew 5.1-12

Church of the Holy Communion
Fr. Patrick Allen

everal years ago, at the height of the media furor concerning the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church in America, without in the least denying the horror and pervasive evil of what had gone on, Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete managed to put the matter into some historical perspective. He said,

“If, in addition to all the terrible things we have learned, it was revealed tomorrow that the Pope had a harem, that all the cardinals had made money on Enron stock and were involved in Internet porn, then the situation of the Church today would be similar to the situation of the Church in the late twelfth century when Francis of Assisi first kissed a leper.

His point was simply this: that the Church is always renewed and revived by her saints – that is, by sinners who in the power of the Spirit respond to the call to holiness, the call to be saints. And that call goes out even and especially today. On the outside, “the fields are white unto harvest.” A broken and despairing world aches to hear, and even more to see enacted, the Gospel of peace and life. On the inside, as the hymn says, we see the Church “oppressed, by schism rent asunder, by heresies distressed.” We need saints.

So who are these saints?

In the Bible’s way of speaking, all of Jesus’ disciples, the whole company of sinners redeemed, are called sanctoi – holy ones – in English, “saints.” But in its worshipping life, the Church recognizes some from among that “great cloud of witnesses” who have lived lives – and very often died deaths – of heroic virtue, who have been extraordinarily faithful in extraordinary times. To these, who have passed from this present darkness into the Beatific Vision, and intercede for us there, we give a title of love and honor: “Saint.” Throughout the year we set aside days for their commemoration, and just to make sure we don’t miss any, we set aside this day, this All Saints’ Day.

We call them “saints.” We give them a title of love and honor, but love and honor very often – indeed, characteristically – were precisely what was denied the saints in the time of their earthly lives. We need only read our Lord’s description of his blessed ones to see that this is so, and is so by definition. He paints a portrait of them for us in the Beatitudes. They are poor in spirit; they mourn and are meek; they hunger and thirst for righteousness and are merciful. They are pure in heart in world that rewards subterfuge and false witness and spur-of-the-moment ethics. And though they would be and are peacemakers, they find themselves persecuted for righteousness’ sake.

In other words, the saints tend to be this world’s last and least – or at least they make themselves so for the sake of the Gospel. But it is the nature of the Gospel and of the Kingdom of God to enact a great reversal. “Things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new.” And the last and least become in God’s Kingdom the first and foremost. And so, to take one not so random example, a poor unwed mother in a rural backwater of the Roman Empire is made Queen of Heaven, and brings in her train all those who with her have said “no” self and “yes” to: “be it unto me according to thy word.” As Fr. Clarke reminded us at Mass this morning, the saints are that diverse and motley crew who have staked their all on God’s love; they are the ones who have been, we might even say, literalists about God’s fidelity to his own Word, to his promises, which in Christ are always “yea and amen.” And so for love’s sake, they were poor and meek and mourning… and so on.

Jesus paints their portrait in the words of the Beatitudes – and as we look at that portrait, and as we look at the vast sweep of that multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and polyglot company of white-robed prophets, apostles, and martyrs, “drawn from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues” – as we gaze at that portrait, do we not see a single, glorious profile emerging? It’s like one of those “magic paintings” which, if you look at it long enough, you will begin to see another and truer image emerging from beneath the surface image. And we should expect that to be the case. For, as St. Paul tells us, using the strongest possible language to describe God’s sovereign and resolute purpose: “Those whom he foreknew he predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.”

“The image of his Son,” our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. That – He – is what the Communion of Saints is about. The Saints are to be praised because they reflect his image and reveal him to us, with their prayers and by their example. So look again at the portrait and see whose profile emerges

He became poor, so that we might become rich.

He mourned inconsolably, so that we might be comforted.

He became meek – “like a lamb that before its shearers is mute, so he opened not his mouth” – so that we might inherit the earth.

He hungered and thirsted – he cried out from the cross, “I thirst” – so that we might be filled with righteousness.

He received no mercy, so that we might receive mercy.

The Father was hidden from him – he cried out, “My God, my god, why has thou forsaken me” – so that we might see God and become pure in heart.

He found no peace, but instead made peace by the blood of his cross, drawing into one things earthly and heavenly.*

Friends, that is a love worth joining the saints and staking our lives on. His are promises to trust, promises that transform. In the Prayer Book there is a collect “for heroic service,” appropriate for Veterans Day and Memorial Day and other similar occasions. It contains a wonderful phrase. It gives thanks for “those who in the day of decision ventured much.” Friends, today – All Saints’ Day – is the day of decision. The Saints call us to join them in the adventure of faith, reviving and renewing the Church to be a sign of Christ’s love in and for the world, and to cry out with them, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” +++

*This Christological reading of the Beatitudes from the Rev'd Dr. Timothy Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York.

 

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