All Saints’ Sunday
1 Thessalonians 2:9-13
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. Amen.
It used to feel a bit strange for me to ‘celebrate’ All Saints and All Souls. My very Protestant upbringing in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Canada did not help matters much either. Although we make a big deal out of Halloween! I like how Methodist theology puts it: ’All Saints Day revolves around giving God solemn thanks for the lives and deaths of his saints, including those who are famous or obscure.’ A Saint is a person of great holiness, likeness or closeness to God who remains this way through life and into death. The lives of the Saints are set to be examples to the rest of us on the graciousness of God and what virtuous living can look like.
Not all saints are famous. Most are everyday people who have done remarkable and yet sometimes really odd things! My attempt this morning is to talk about why it is important to mark All Saints Sunday.
Firstly, The dead sit at the dinner table long after they’re gone.
I said last week at All Souls that there is a belief in a powerful spiritual bond between those in heaven (the Church triumphant) and the living (the Church militant). We don’t tend to forget people once they have died; whether we loved or liked them or not. The impact of our relationship with them, their life, the love, the moments that were shared do not cease to be important once they have bodily departed.
Does God shut his ears to prayers for them? If I am concerned about the soul of a person who has died, will God not hear that prayer? He knows far more than I do about them and their situation. Certainly we can seek his peace and reassurance.
We have biblical evidence that indicates God cares about the dead. 1 Thessalonians tell us that the dead in Christ will rise first and we will all meet together. Time and again we see Jesus cut through the cultural and religious rules to reach out to people; Lazarus’ sisters Mary and Martha, the Widow of Nain, the daughter of Jairus to name but a few. Jesus was not afraid to touch a dead body which would have made him unclean.
In the words of the Apostles’ Creed, which we will say in a few minutes ‘he will come again to judge the living and the dead.’
Secondly, we have an inheritance with the saints
Many of us here may know what it is to share an inheritance. My very wise Grandpa Lepp said ‘that you never truly know someone until you share an inheritance with them.’ My youngest sister is a Wills & Estates solicitor in Canada. She has a framed photograph of Grandpa on her desk with that quote underneath it. She spends her days and makes a considerable amount of money sorting out legal issues (mainly fraud and deception) for families who have come apart over inheritance.
Paul in his letter to the Ephesians speaks of the inheritance we have obtained in Christ. It is hope in Christ that brings salvation and the seal of the Holy Spirit. To the Thessalonians, Paul encourages them to live a life worthy of God, who calls them and us into his kingdom and glory. We are to receive the word of God and then live it out. That is largely what the saints have done.
Paul is trying hard to speak of his sense of wonder at the richness of the gospel. For Paul, true riches are found here and they are far, far better than the knick-knacks, bric-a-brac, even the property and money we may receive in an earthly inheritance.
Thirdly, we need to be reminded that Jesus overcame death and still does!
We do well to remember that the Christian faith is built on the death and resurrection of Jesus. Let us not forget that death came first; Good Friday before Easter Sunday. For those who die in Christ their physical death is not the end of the story. This is Good News!
I appreciate that this can be cold comfort to those who live with grief. Christian or not. Grief can overwhelm and when allowed to rob life from the living. What is a Christian response to this?
In our world, most people think that wonderful news consists of success, wealth, long life and victory in battle. Jesus, in our Gospel reading this morning, is offering pretty much the opposite of that! He tells them that the temple, the centre of Jewish worship and ritual is going to be torn down (and it was a few decades later). The world is going to get much worse with famines, wars and earthquakes. The disciples themselves are going to be hated and tortured. Remember, Matthew is recording all of this in the last week of Jesus’ life.
Jesus ends with a glimmer of hope; anyone who endures to the end will be saved. The good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed. This is what the disciples did for the remainder of their lives as well as the saints that came after.
I would encourage you this morning and in the coming days or weeks to remember and give thanks for the Saints in your life; both the living and the dead. They are around. Have a conversation about them. See what comes up, compare memories. They still sit at the dinner table! If it’s hard or brings up any feelings of grief or love or guilt or joy, pray about them. Ask God for his peace and input. He is in this with you. He loves and cares for all his Saints. That means you too.