All Saints Margaret Street | Eve of All Saints – Litany of the Saints, Evensong & Benediction Friday 31 October 2014

Sermon for Eve of All Saints – Litany of the Saints, Evensong & Benediction Friday 31 October 2014

Sermon preached by Fr Reuben Preston, Vicar of St Mary of Eton

Ecclesiasticus 44:1-15, Revelation 19:6-10

‘Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your comrades who hold the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”’  Rev 19:10

Hello, I have to say that it is a thrill to be invited here to be with you this evening as your guest preacher.

Greetings to you from the East End of London and in particular from Hackney Wick and St Mary of Eton Church where I am the vicar and where I am told it is artistically the most trendy part of London to be!

Being 31 October, I am left wondering if your real motivation in being here is to celebrate the inspirational example of Christ worked out in the lives of the saints, or to avoid answering your front door by unthinkingly and being “trick or treated”.

In my 23 years of ordained ministry I have always felt all occasions of having a guest preacher is a bit like a Halloween – is the sermon going to be a trick or a treat – will I find my heart stirred to greater consolation in faith or washed over with pious platitude for 10 minutes left feeling as if I yearn for something more.

Yearning and desiring are a strong aspect of our human experience. They produce energies which drive us forward as people ….

– to help others,
– to walk the extra mile,
– to sit in the pain of loss with someone,
– to look to the needs of others across the globe,
– to give hours, days, months of our lives in service and self sacrifice,
– to inspire us to fight and campaign against social injustices.

Our yearnings and desires are in the core of our self identity as we work to uncover throughout our lives who we are – “who am I”? is our frequent cry for many of us. (Usually in our room alone or with a close and trusted friend or spiritual director).

There is no fooling God as to who we are, although we too frequently try and fool ourselves.

You were besought to prayer by your vicar a few weeks ago I found, as I read your website sermons, and it set me thinking about prayer as the oxygen of the Christian life. Without it we suffocate our souls.

BBC3/4 broadcast a wonderful programme about the discovery of oxygen a few months ago, and how it provides the energy that our organic bodies need to do things, to keep going.    

Prayer is the oxygen of our spiritual life keeping us in touch with the divine.Today we gather in the prayer of utter thanksgiving and companionship of the saints, holy and good, who have gone before us.  When God created us – or allowed us to evolve – we are naturally communal creatures, we need each other to flourish (much as we dislike each other at times too!!) 

We need the communion of saints to be our historic companions in Christian living.

Our energy in prayer comes from our quiet times alone with God and our communal times gathered at the altar, in choir and in the magnificence of corporate adoration.

These are all soul feeding moments.

One of the greatest “feeding” moments in prayer for me is being with others at Benediction – caught up in the mystery of eternity – knowing truly in the core of my being – deep in my bone marrow, despite anything else that is happening in life,  that I am beloved of God.

Tonight at Benediction we will all encounter the sacramental presence of Jesus, as a personal presence with us in our corporate adoration. The profundity of the great silence will draw us to recall that today we gather to celebrate lives of the saints and martyrs of the ages, whose example, … lives, words and deeds have brought us the story & message of Jesus Christ for today.

We to don’t come here today to be “tricked” nor to be “treated”, we come here tonight to encounter creator and created
      – God and each other
      – both of which we need to flourish in our catholic faith.

From our opening verse …. “I am a fellow servant with you and your comrades who hold the testimony of Jesus. Worship God!”

At my church people often send me jokes to use in sermons. It is hard to find a joke for All Saints Eve, or Halloween as lots are holding this evening as I walked my way across London earlier. But I was reminded of an amusing story from the American writer Laurie Beth Jones tells in her book, “Growing Something Besides Old”.  She talks about one Halloween night when she had underestimated the number of children who would come to the door to trick or treat and she ran out of sweets/candy.  In desperation, she began giving out coins quarters, nickels and dimes.

One little girl about 5 years old dressed as a fairy princess came to her door. She had the little crown and wand and everything. Laurie Jones dropped two quarter coins into the child’s sack and said to her.
“I’ve run out of candy, but tomorrow you can take these coins to the store and turn them into real candy.”
The little girl stepped back, looked up at her and said,
“Lady, this is not a real wand.”

Children are very good at seeing through unrealities in life.  Sometimes we get caught up in the lives we lead and lose our vision and sense of ultimate reality – of where and what God is calling us to – a healthy routine of reflection and prayer (retreat and spiritual direction) helps us to find our way in the Christian life – we all need it – I have learned over the years I certainly do.

The saints we celebrate must have struggled with faith – I am sure they did – and I am sure they prayed and cried out to God. We share something of that journeying and each of us in this building today has a particular “call” in our faith pilgrimage – God has a task he would like you to do in building the kingdom.

The feast we gather to celebrate tonight reminds us, as we remember the saints to look out for true treasure in our lives….., that the words of Matthew (6:19) are true for each of us ringing out of the Book of Common Prayer week by week……

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consume and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt 6:19)

Look to make heaven in the now in our relationships with others. I am convinced that catholic Christians are called to a prophetic life and that is why I chose the opening scripture today

“For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”  
Our lives are to be prophetic ones.

We are to use our skills, gifts, talents to speak up for the poor and the marginalized, because.., as we are here on All Saints Eve the call of the new church year at Advent hovers in the distance in front of us with its opening antiphon at mass from the prophet Micah 6:8

“What does the Lord require of you O Mortal: to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God”

After we have celebrated tonight, we leave this church building set in the world, to live our lives set in the world – our attitudes, our grace, our words and our actions show our faith to the world. Having celebrated we go to bear witness and live our faith.

In our catholic tradition as early as 4th Century the Eastern Church commemorated all confessors of the faith, but the first collective celebration in the Western Church dates to the 5th century (and was not related to a particular day). Only in 609, when Pope Boniface IV dedicated the pagan temple of the Pantheon to Santa Maria dei Martiri, was the first commemoration to honour all the martyrs inserted in the calendar for May 13 (Sunday after Pentecost).

In 835, Pope Gregory IV extended the feast to the entire Church and moved it to November 1. This solemnity celebrates the Church Triumphant – in power, weakness and faithfulness. Together with the canonized saints, all the just of every language, race and nation and recalled, all those names are written in the book of life – or as Anglicans in the volumes of “Exciting Holiness” & personally for each of us those who have touched our lives and taught us the faith by their witness to Christ.

Century by century, a yearly celebration of the lives of the faithful All Saints, we contemplate our part in the continuing work of the catholic faith and  the writer to the Hebrews sets the scene of our task by reminding us

Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God” Hebrews 12.1

I said earlier that our yearnings and desiring are a strong & significant dimensions of our human experience, and in them St Ignatius teaches us we discover and reveal God’s call to us in his service. “What do I desire?”

A question for some of us today on this feast day?

The saints desired to serve God (to try and serve God), to live their lives well for God and their fellows.

May the oxygen of our prayer tonight be to desire to be faithful for God and each other. 

What do you desire? 
As we will go to live out our faith in words and deeds, with the oxygen of prayer sustaining us, in the hard tasks and the mundane ones and the ordinariness of our living….
my closing prayer of praise for the examples of the saints comes from Janet Morley who wrote this piece of praise for All Saints Feast when commissioned Christian Aid in 1989

For all the saints

      who went before us

      who have spoken to our hearts

      and touched us with your fire,

      we praise you O God


For all the saints

      who live beside us

      whose weaknesses and strengths

      are woven with our own

      we praise you O God


For all the saints

      who live beyond us

      who challenge us

      to change the world with them

      We praise you O God

                              Janet Morley – Christian Aid 1989

‘Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your comrades who hold the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”’  Rev 19:10

© Reuben James Preston – Vicar of Hackney Wick 2014