All Saints’ Day
Readings: Revelation 7. 9-12; Matthew 5. 1-12 (view all)
I wonder: Who are your faith heroes? Perhaps a Saint from church history, a friend who you look up to, or someone who supported you through a difficult period.
The faith hero I’d like to share with you is a little old woman from Aberystwyth called Ollie. Ollie had an incredible smile, and, as a retired teacher, she had a real heart for the young people in the church where I grew up.
When I made the big step of leaving home and moving to South Wales, Ollie wrote to me, gave me the gift of my first cookery book, and would make a point, every time I was back home of checking how I was doing, how things were going, and assuring me of her prayers.
What makes her even more incredible, is that I know it wasn’t just me, but Ollie did the same for so many others.
On this All Saints’ Day, in the Church we celebrate the Communion of Saints. It’s a phrase we use to describe our spiritual connection with all of God’s people, not just that exclusive group of historical figures who have been named as Saints, but all Christians, everywhere, throughout history.
These are our faith heroes, but more than that, transcending the boundaries of time and space, they are our faith family.
So what does it actually mean to be part of the Communion of Saints?
And what encouragement and challenge should it bring for us today, living in this time and this place?
In today’s first reading, we find the disciple John’s vision of the throne room of heaven. Not just a select few are present, but an uncountable crowd, people of every nation and ethnicity all together, worshipping God.
This is the great family of faith of which we, in our day, form just a small part. And this is the worship of heaven — of which our own worship on earth is just a pale imitation. But whenever we worship here on earth, we are joining in with the heavenly multitude.
There are some times and places where it is much easier to imagine this than others.
For me, when I come to the part of the Eucharist, saying ‘Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven…’, I can’t help but look up and imagine our own physical congregation being joined by a wonderful heavenly choir.
However, while it may be harder for our minds to imagine, even outside of our church buildings, even now at home — in fact wherever we are — our worship is not isolated or solitary, but forms part of the all-encompassing, universal worship of all God’s Saints.
The first Christians came to believe that this faith family surrounds us. Not only inviting us to join with them in praise and thanksgiving, but also interceding for us. And so the support of our heroes and role models does not end when they die, but perhaps even increases all the more — as they join the great company of heaven.
They are rooting for us, just as God is rooting for us. The God of salvation, the one who shelters and protects, and ultimately the one who saves, who in Christ has and will deliver us from all that challenges us.
In Matthew’s wonderful beatitudes, in our gospel reading, we find a pronouncement of the kinds of people God, and the Saints, are rooting for. ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’, ‘those who mourn’, ‘the meek’, ‘those who hunger and thirst for [justice]’, ‘the merciful’, ‘the pure in heart’, ‘the peacemakers’, ‘those who are persecuted’.
So that, whichever category we happen to fall into at any particular point in time, God is rooting for us, the prophets and the Saints have gone through it before us, and no matter what, God is with us.
No matter what, God, and God’s Saints, are with us. At the times and in the places we might expect, but perhaps most especially in the times and places we don’t expect.
Even in this second lockdown. Especially in this second lockdown. Whether we’re living with others or we’re on our own, God is with us.
Even though in the Western Church, our immediate future might be smaller and more humble than we were imagining. Especially because of this, God is with us.
When we feel unworthy, God is with us.
When we feel vulnerable and exposed, God is with us.
When we feel ashamed of our faith, God is with us.
And especially when we are grieving the loss of loved ones, particularly at this poignant time of the year, God is with us.
So however you are feeling this morning, whatever you are carrying, whatever the weight on your shoulders — join with me for just a moment, close your eyes and imagine.
Imagine yourself surrounded by every person who has ever rooted for you.
Imagine your favourite biblical characters.
Imagine St David and St Edeyrn’s, and any other famous Saints’ names that you’ve seen on the Church signs where you’ve worshipped.
Imagine the parent, or grandparent, or other relative, who prayed for you every day.
Imagine the friends you can’t see in person at the moment, but who you know are there for you.
Imagine our whole Ministry Area family, and our whole family of faith across the ages.
Whatever you are going through, and whatever tomorrow brings, we are for you! We are rooting for you! And we are with you!
And most of all, at the heart of it all, the God who made you, who knows you and loves you, is with you too.