This morning at Grace Anglican Church we’re trying something different for All Saints’ Sunday. Since the Anglican prayerbook tradition calls for the Daily Office every day, and the Eucharist every Sunday, we’re doing both the Morning Prayer and Holy Eucharist services together for our morning worship. To keep the time length under control, the sermon is shortened; my hope is that the liturgy (especially the Scripture readings) will speak for itself, and that the homily will only need to point out what has already been said.
The readings from Morning Prayer will be 2 Esdras 2:42-47 and Hebrews 11:32-12:2. The readings from the Eucharist will be Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18, Psalm 149, Ephesians 1:11-23, and Luke 6:20-31.
The Glory of God’s Saints
a homily by Fr. Matthew Brench at Grace Anglican Church upon All Saints’ Sunday 2013
Introducing the feast of All Saints
Today we celebrate the feast of All Saints. Whom are we celebrating? Who are these Saints? The Bible uses the word “saint” in a couple different ways. Sometimes it’s used in a general sense, referring to all of God’s people at a given point in time. Sometimes it’s used in a particular sense (usually in the past tense), referring to God’s people who lived faithfully and are now dead. It is this second group that the feast of All Saints brings to our attention. It is a day for us, the saints on earth, to remember and honor the Saints in heaven. Or, to use different terms, it’s a day for us, the Church militant, to remember and honor the Church triumphant. We who are still down here in the trenches, take a moment to reflect on the glorious triumph of those who have fought the good fight, and are now enjoying Christ’s victory with him. To quote some verses from one of our favorite hymns:
O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in thee, for all are thine. Alleluia, alleluia!
And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong. Alleluia, alleluia!
The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors cometh rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blest. Alleluia, alleluia!
But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of Glory passes on his way. Alleluia, alleluia!
Reviewing the Readings
Ezra (scroll down to chapter 2) sees a vision of an innumerable multitude of people praising and worshiping God on Mount Zion. In their midst is a young man putting crowns on their heads. Ezra asks an angel what’s going on, and receives the explanation that the multitude of people are those who have died having faith in God. The man in their midst is the Son of God, in whom they believed. No wonder why the Jews rejected this book from their canon of Scripture, the early Christians must have loved this prophetic vision! What a beautiful and clear picture of Christ – both fully God and fully man – rewarding his saints. A casual reading of this might make you think it’s from the book of Revelation!
Then in the book of Hebrews we get the tail end of the great “hall of faith” – people who lived and died in faith. The persecution, suffering, and death that many of them experienced makes this all the more poignant. Christianity is not a feel-good pick-me-up religion; it’s something people commit their lives to, even unto death! And so, with these sobering reminders and inspiring examples before us, we are exhorted to run the race with perseverance, to stick to our guns – to stick to Christ. For even Christ was persecuted, suffered, and died. But now he’s seated at the right hand of the Father, preparing a place for those who follow him. As our Lord said, a servant is not better than his master; be prepared to suffer for following him.
The vision of Daniel, then, gives us something of a contrast. The four beasts in his vision represent four great kingdoms, which we ascertain from history to be the Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and Roman Empires. Kingdoms, empires, and nations all rise and fall. Their power and glory can be great, but they never last. Even the British Empire, which once covered 25% of the planet’s land area, has broken down into its constituent pieces. But, according to Daniel’s vision, the saints of the Most High receive a kingdom and possess it forever! So sure, be proud to be an American, (or a Brit, or wherever else you call home), but be even more proud to be a citizen of God’s eternal kingdom.
This godly pride in our heavenly citizenship is described in Psalm 149. God’s people will praise his name forever in all places throughout the world. The nations and peoples who reject God’s kingdom will be conquered and overrun by King Jesus and his people. For in his gracious generosity, God has deigned to share his reign with his people, to share some of his glory with all his faithful people. That’s why, in Ezra’s vision, the Son of God was placing crowns on the heads of his followers. God’s saints reign with him in glory forever.
St. Paul spells this out in the first chapter of his epistle to the Ephesians, and brings it home to us. In Christ we have obtained an inheritance, and have been sealed by the Spirit so that we may know the hope to which he has called us. Look at the promises described there: a glorious inheritance. This letter returns to this inheritance time and time again: to be both citizens of the household of God and God’s very own Temple.
But wait a moment, look at the lives we’re living. There’s hunger, sadness, and oppression, not just “in the world” but even among Christians! How does that sit with this glorious inheritance? Our Gospel reading brings us the final word of consolation to this end. Blessed are the poor, blessed are the hungry, blessed are those who weep, blessed are the oppressed, because when you suffer these things, you are in a position to be freed from the blindness of the world.
What I mean by this is that when you are rich, satisfied, happy, and safe, it is very easy to forget that the kingdoms of this earth are temporary. It becomes very easy to be lulled into a false sense of security, thinking that because our lives are going well God must be showing us favor, and we’re alright. When we’re poor, or hungry, or sad, or oppressed, we become all too keenly aware that the world is imperfect, and we ourselves are imperfect. And when we realize these things and are moved to repentance before the Righteous Judge, we meet the grace of God – we are blessed. That’s why Jesus pronounces blessing upon those who suffer in this life, and woe upon those who trust in this life. That’s why Jesus commands his people to bless, to share, to give, to love.
Reconnecting the Themes
To tie all this back up together into one succinct statement, consider some more of these verses from one of our favorite hymns.
For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
who thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blest. Alleluia, alleluia!
Thou was their rock, their fortress, and their might:
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, the one true light. Alleluia, alleluia!
O may thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
And win, with them, thy victor’s crown of gold. Alleluia, alleluia!