All Saints Margaret Street | High Mass – All Saints’ Day Tuesday 1 November 2016

Sermon for High Mass – All Saints’ Day Tuesday 1 November 2016

All Saints’ Margaret St. Patronal 2016    Revelation 21.1-6a, John 11.32-44    The Dean of St Paul’s

‘If you believe, you will see the glory of God.’

The concept of a patron saint for a church (or individual) in antiquity (and still today), is the idea of having a powerful person to see you all right with those in charge. As with the Sopranos/Mafia – ‘join me and I’ll look after you’. People needed a patron with God, just like they needed a patron to survive in a status-ridden world controlled by a few powerful people. Because God had so much to attend to, he needed a reminder from someone about you. Hence having the right patron saint was important: choosing one with ability to intercede for you mattered. On that basis, a church dedicated to All Saints is an inspired choice – because everyone will be on your side! In 1327 the Scots burned down what is now the Cathedral in Bradford while on thieving holiday, but spared churches dedicated to St Andrew – and that included All Saints’ Ilkley. So be comforted that despite Brexit the Scots won’t be coming to get you….

We may find the idea of a patron today more marginal to our lives. But it contains an important truth, that we’re in it together. We can’t be saved on our own. There are no individual Christians: we are saved, we know Christ, because we belong to his body the Church, and because we have many sisters and brothers who help us as we can help them. Christians don’t do it alone.

Simon Stylites was a saint in the 4th century who spent 40 years living on top of a pillar and dispensing spiritual advice through a megaphone. He was an individual spiritual hero for many. But how did he eat? And how did he go to the toilet? It must have been a bit embarrassing 40 feet up a pole. Apparently the column built for him had drainage inside it – one hopes it didn’t get blocked. But there must have been someone, or a community, filling buckets with food for him. No one can know God alone: even hermits need to have a link with a religious community. And saints aren’t way above us, they’re not up a spiritual pole: they are alongside and like us.

Popular images of saint are as holy, different, set apart, challenging, and uncomfortable. Like the 17th century Nun’s Prayer on posters and tea-towels – know the one? –which includes a line something like, ‘Lord save me from being a saint, some of them are so hard to live with’ – a line which instantly shows that the title is bogus, and that it was written by someone in the late 20th Century with a comfortable tea-towel mentality. Saints are there to be difficult, there to challenge us, but in order to inspire us to find and show God’s glory in the midst of the everyday world.

Last week I was reading the story of a South Korean pastor who was imprisoned and tortured by the occupying Japanese for years for refusing to worship their emperor, and after a few years of freedom was then shot by the invading Communists for being a Christian leader. In between he ministered in some poverty in a leper colony: and one of the things he did, having heard about the healing power of saliva, was to suck clean the wounds of his lepers and be willing to share their disease.

It sounds way beyond us. But he was an ordinary man doing what God had asked him to do. For us today, when in everyday conversation we refer to someone as a saint, we don’t usually mean she prays constantly, has heaven on her mind, and is a difficult and challenging spiritual hero unlike me. When we call people a saint today, we mean they do good things, they think of others not themselves, they’re caring people, unselfish, self-effacing. But we need to remember that they’re saints only when they are like that for the glory of God.

Like St Macarius, a monk in ancient Egypt, who came back to his desert hut and found a man stealing his goods and loading them onto a camel. So he acted as if he were a stranger, and helped the thief to load up the camel. Once loaded the camel wouldn’t move, so Macarius went back into his hut and found a small spade and handed it over, saying, ‘Brother, he was waiting for this’. He waved the thief goodbye in great peace of soul, saying, ‘The Lord gave, and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord’.

Or like Nicholas Herman, soldier and footman, who in his 50s became Brother Lawrence in a 17th century French monastery. A man of simplicity and holiness, who wrote letters of spiritual insight, who went through periods of doubt, yet found God in everyday things by practising the presence of God in all things: who said of his 15 years working in the monastery kitchen, that he disliked the work (we know how he felt!), but did it in prayer and for the love of God, and found it easy enough, and that set prayer times were no better or worse than finding God in the everyday business of what he had to do. And like us, Brother Lawrence did it alongside the other Christians in his monastery.

In the book of Revelation read to us we heard John of Patmos saying: ‘I saw the holy city coming down out of heaven from God… and I heard a loud voice… saying, See! the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes.’

This is the vision of heaven on earth, when God will dwell with his people and the distinction between earth and heaven which we feel so keenly will pass away. In the holy city, we will eat at the table of Jesus, all of us redeemed sinners, and all of us saints who show the glory of God.

In our world we pursue a spiritual purity which leads to divisions and sects and splits, inside and outside Anglican church – but this is a fantasy. It does nothing to change the reality that you and I and our estranged sisters and brothers in impaired communion with us already sit down together with us at the table of Jesus in the Church across time and space, as we will do tonight. Reading Diarmaid McCullough’s thousand-page History of Christianity last week, there have been constant splits and fights and schisms in Christian history between committed Christian people, and for what?

Catholic and Protestant, Jew and Arab, American and African and Iraqi; con­servative and liberal and radical, gay and straight, young and old, male and female and intersex – we all come and eat alongside one another at the Eucharist as fellow saints and servants of Jesus. For when heaven comes to earth, the saints who have excommunicated and denied and even killed one another in the name of their faith sit across the table from one another and share the bread of heaven. This is our vision, the vision of All Saints: we who are many are one body, because we all share in the one bread.

In the gospel encounter of the living Jesus with the dead Lazarus, this heavenly vision is set in time and on earth. Just as the dead Lazarus is raised by the power of God’s love, so each of us can be raised to the new life of God in Jesus, and our lives here on earth be transformed: as Jesus said to Martha, ‘If you believe, you will see the glory of God’.

In this Eucharist, here and now, today, we come together with all the saints to face the reality of our brokenness and our need for resurrection. Today, here, now, in bread, in wine, in us, earth and heaven touch each other and we can be made new to show the glory of God in the world tomorrow. Where will we be tomorrow morning? Wherever we are, we’re called to become saints alongside our brothers and sisters, called in shop and school and office and workplace and community to see and show the glory of God in faith and hope and love.

‘If you believe, you will see the glory of God.’

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