I imagine the splendour and the majesty that surrounds All Saints' Day. Picture what it looks like to be surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses. Feel the power and the mystery. Hear the heavenly choruses of Saints, apostles, martyrs, patriarchs and prophets. It is the heavenly banquet, the eternal feast that Jesus tells us about and that Jesus promises to us.
Imagine to be in the company of Saint Luke and all the Saints with capital s’s. They're at the heavenly banquet that goes on forever. What a great list there is of guests in unending joy and celebration.
Just imagine the splendour. It’s a scene that artists have tried to capture and convey for centuries in the great art of the world to imprint the scene in our minds. Classical composers have created some of the most wonderful music on earth to draw us into the experience of what it must be like and to make it resonate in our hearts and souls.
It's today -- The Feast of All Saints’ also known as the Feast of All Hallows' that follows on the Eve of All Hallows' – Halloween.
There are actually three days, a triduum. All Hallows’ Eve, All Hallows’, and All Souls’ Day, or as they're also known, The Eve of All Saints', All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day from 31 October to 2 November. The observance of these days goes back to the first centuries of the Early Church. The dates that we observe now in our day come from the 14th century.
Today is for the great Saints of all time. Tomorrow is for all. Tomorrow – All Souls’ Day is the feast on which we recognize the total and complete great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us in the faith. They are the Faithfully Departed. They are the ones who have shown us the way, who have led us along the pathway toward faith. They’re our ancestors, our grandparents and parents, our fellow parishioners and friends – those who have gone before and who have always beckoned us onward in our love of Jesus. They are the saints with the small s’s.
They now join with the great Saints, who in their lives, beckoned the faithful toward Christ, through their example, their teaching, their piety. Just imagine how unfathomably vast a banquet it must be with the great Saints and all the souls of the faithful surrounding where Jesus is. Imagine the joy and celebration, the peace, the glory, the colour and the sounds – like the music of angels’ wings, cherubim and seraphim.
John the Divine paints a picture with his words from his cave on the Isle of Patmos in Greece:
After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.
Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, "Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?" I said to him, "Sir, you are the one that knows." Then he said to me, "These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."
The ordeal of which he speaks was the great persecutions that many, many Christians suffered in the early centuries of the Church. John the Divine’s, at times, hallucinogenic words speak of such trial and tribulation. It was not just the Major Saints. Thousands and thousands of Christians were dying for their faith at the hands of the oppressors in John the Divine’s time when great Saints such as Saint Paul and Saint Peter were being martyred.
There is much to this Day for All Saints and there is much to the following day for All Souls.
Here is an official summary of the teachings of our Church from For All the Saints, Prayers and Readings for Saints’ Days according to the Calendar of the Book of Alternative Services of the Anglican Church of Canada:
Saints are Christians who in various ways, often against great odds, showed an extraordinary love for Christ. The Holy Spirit acted in their lives so that they chose to bring aid to the needy, justice to the oppressed, hope to the sorrowful, and the divine word of forgiveness to sinners. For the sake of Christ they were servants to the people of their day; and the service they rendered in the past makes them examples to the rest of the people of God throughout history.
The Church also believes that our life on earth has eternal consequences; and so our remembrance of what the saints were is directed to what they are. It is the Church’s conviction — a conviction often expressed in the Anglican tradition — that the saints continue to be our partners and fellow-servants before the face of God’s glory. We pray for our present needs, and the saints pray with us — not as if their prayers were better than our own, but because they are still bound to us in mutual service as members of the one body of Christ.
For this very reason, we may say of the Church’s saints what the Letter to the Hebrews says about the Old Testament saints — that they and their service shall not be perfect until all of God’s friends have answered the invitation of Christ and arrived at the banquet of glory. For that is the ministry of the saints in heaven as on earth to help others become partners in the salvation of God. -- For All the Saints, p 328.
For us, as members of the community of faith, now on our own journeys along the pathways fashioned by the Saints, onto the steps trod by the Faithful Before Us, Jesus himself gives us some pretty simple directions:
- Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
- Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
- Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
- Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
- Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
- Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
- Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
- Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Blessings to each of you on All Saints' Day for today. And Blessings to you tomorrow on All Souls’ Day for all our tomorrows.
The Rev'd Glenn Empey