ALL SAINTS’ DAY – Gaudeamus
Introit: Rejoice we all in the Lord, celebrating a festal day in honour of All the Saints: in whose solemnity the Angels rejoice, and glorify the Son of God. Ps. (33) Rejoice in the Lord, O ye righteous: for it becometh well the just to be thankful.
Collect: O Almighty God, who hast knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord: Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed Saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys, which thou hast prepared for them that unfeignedly love thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(Collect for Trinity XXI) Grant, we beseech thee, merciful Lord, to thy faithful people pardon and peace; that they may be cleansed from all their sins, and serve thee with a quiet mind; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Lesson: I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen. And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes. (Revelation 7.9-17)
Gradual: (Ps 34) O fear the Lord, all ye Saints of his: for they that fear him lack nothing. V. But they that seek the Lord shall want no manner of thing that is good.
Epistle: Brethren: The Saints through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: and others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect. Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 11.33-12.2)
Alleluia. The Saints shall judge the nations, and have dominion over the peoples: and their Lord shall reign for ever and ever. Alleluia.
The Holy Gospel: At that time: Seeing the multitudes, Jesus went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: and he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying, Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. (St Matthew 5.1-12)
“O how glorious is the Kingdom wherein all the Saints rejoice with Christ!”
Today we celebrate All Saints’ Day. But do we really understand what that means? In our church we tend to put Saints, literally, on a pedestal. We see them in stained glass; we venerate them in icons, or as plaster figures we place on a shelf and decorate with votive candles and flowers. But to think of the Saints in this way is to reduce them to something merely decorative. Worse yet, it risks making this feast seem unnecessary. So we need to hear clearly the message of this feast. All Saints’ Day issues a challenge to each one of us: dare to be more; dare to be a Saint.
Now some of you may hear that and laugh. Sure, sainthood is a noble ambition, but is it something we can realistically expect to attain? The answer is yes. But even more importantly, it is something God expects us to attain. The men and women who died for their faith are not the only saints which this day celebrates. If we use the word “saints” as St Paul does in I Corinthians 1.2: “to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…,” we see that along with the Apostles, Martyrs, Confessors and Virgins—the “capital-S” saints—are the saints of today and throughout the ages, who live or have lived in faith. As Christians we are all called to be saints.
Our Gospel reading, which we know as “the Beatitudes,” speaks profoundly to us today as we celebrate all the historic Saints, but in a sense, the Beatitudes are more for the living saints than for those who have died. The pronouncements of blessing offered here are in the present and future tenses, not in the past. “Blessed are you … now, for you shall be…”. The great truth about the Saints, something we so often forget, is that they were human just like us—flesh and blood, both strength and weakness. They were ordinary people, with appetites and longings, ambitions and disappointments, vanities and eccentricities. Indeed, the Saints are closer to us than we may realize. They struggled with sin and temptation, they trudged along on the journey toward holiness, sometimes stumbling, sometimes falling, but always getting back up and soldiering on, resolving to do better, to be better. They worked, strove, and fought to be what the Gospel calls us all to be. The simple but reassuring fact is, that nobody is born a saint; it is something one has to become. All Saints’ Day beckons us beyond ourselves and our own perceived limitations. It reminds us of our God-given potential—the promise of holiness through Christ. That promise was fulfilled in that innumerable multitude we celebrate today, and it can be fulfilled in us as well.
Μακάριος (makarios) is the Greek word the Gospel uses. It means blessed, fortunate, happy, privileged. Many modern versions of the Bible translate the word as “happy.” That is a valid translation, but it seems wrong—even ridiculous—in the context of these statements. “Happy are you who are poor?” “Happy are you who weep?” “Happy are you when people hate you, revile you, defame you?” Where is the happiness in that? Clearly the poor in body and spirit, the mournful, and the persecuted are not fortunate to be in their present circumstances. They are not happy in any usual sense of the word. “Blessed are they,” He says, but clearly not because of their circumstances, but because “they shall be …”. Yes, the present state of affairs for believers may include poverty, broken spirit, humility, and mourning, but their blessing lies in their being a part of the Kingdom of God, which exists both in the present and in the future. The verbs “are” and “shall be” indicate that God is at work in this present world, bringing His Kingdom to completion. Those within the present Kingdom of God who “are” in difficult circumstances “shall be” blessed when God brings about the new creation. Our hope, however, is not only a future one. It actually does occur in the present, in the sense that such people are found living according to Kingdom values. This is true for the faithful who are humble and poor, and is even more evident among those who show mercy, strive for peace, are pure in heart, and who endure persecution for Jesus’ sake – in short, for all who are in the process of being sanctified. “Sanctified in Christ Jesus” means that we are saints (ἅγιοι [hagioi], holy ones) because of our relationship in and to Christ, but that it is Christ who brings about any and all possibility of goodness or holiness in us.
The Beatitudes seem counter-intuitive. But then, the Beatitudes are not so much a recipe for happiness or blessedness as a description of the Christian life. In his book The Power of One, James Merrell suggests that the Beatitudes may be more instructive when inverted or read backwards. By so doing, the Beatitudes take on an entirely new meaning: “The way to Heaven is through poverty … the way to consolation is through genuine sorrow … the way to satisfaction is through a hungering and thirsting for justice … the way to mercy is through mercy … the way to God is through the open, unobstructed, pure heart … the way to God’s Kingdom is through the struggle for right that leads through conflict, pain, and even death itself.”
As Christians, we should all be striving to become saints, and this means seeking to be a distinctive people in the world. After all, if we are following the example of the Saints, we are not likely to end up looking just like the rest of the world. There should tend to be some signs of their holiness about us. But so often we are lukewarm in our faith and devotion. We have missed countless chances to be “martyrs” – witnesses to Christ, and in the process, we have deprived ourselves of that beatitude which Jesus pronounces in the Gospel. Dare to be more. Dare to be a Saint.
The great Saints of old believed that God required everything of them, that they were to live up to the name of “Christians” – representatives, ambassadors, for Christ and His Kingdom in this foreign land – and to take up the cross and follow Him through life and death. As Blessed Edward Bouverie Pusey, in a sermon on All Saints’ Day, said:
… One way they had, for Christ was their Way. One way they had; because they ‘walked with God.’ God was present to them, in their thoughts, their acts, their going out, their coming in, their rising up, their lying down; they conversed with God; they went up and down with God; they looked to God; they were holpen and upheld by God. Their life was to please God. They took pleasure in God, and God had pleasure in them.
In a world where the cult of happiness has displaced the Gospel of blessedness, the Beatitudes need to be heard anew. Christ came to save us, not to satisfy us. The Gospel teaches that by losing self, we find who we were intended to be. Today is a day to be challenged by all those blessed Saints to match their obedience and dedication; a time for us, the present-day saints-in-the-making, to ask ourselves if we are truly living out our calling as holy and blessed ones of God. As sinners we pray for God’s guidance, strength, and forgiveness, so that our sainthood may be the dominant force in our lives. But that requires discipline. It requires dedication. It requires commitment. Real blessedness (and true happiness) consists in loyalty to Christ, in being used of God rather than trying to use God; in serving rather than being served; in living for others rather than living for ourselves.
The Church through the ages is to be a kind of tag-team, a relay race of holiness, with each generation passing the torch to the next. All Saints’ Day challenges us to enter that contest. We align ourselves today with that long historic train, spanning the globe and the ages, of people who have been sanctified by Christ, people who, whatever their circumstances, found their hope in Jesus and ran their leg of the race with zeal and fortitude. We join their work in our own generation, as we keep the Faith and pass it on.
Pusey, in his sermon, concludes:
Holiness was made for all. It is the end, for which we were made; for which we were redeemed; for which God the Holy Ghost is sent down and ‘shed abroad in the hearts’ which will receive him. God willed not to create us as perfect. He willed that we, through his grace, should become perfect. But what he willed that we should be, that, if our will fail not, we must become.
As Christians, we are living within the Kingdom of God, sanctified by Christ, part of an enterprise beyond our grasp or comprehension, yet, fully in God’s hands. We are blessed to belong to the Kingdom, and blessed to live and act in ways that bring that Kingdom about. But we are also blessed because, as members of this Kingdom, we shall attain the blessedness that awaits all those who strive for holiness and remain faithful to Christ. All Saints’ Day invites us into the most wonderful, mysterious, and fulfilling of adventures: of seeking to become holy, inspired by the examples of the Saints, as they followed our Lord Jesus Christ. When we move from the Kingdom of “me” to the Kingdom of God, we find what the Saints of every age have found – Beatitude. Don’t settle for mediocrity; dare to be more. Dare to be a Saint!
O quam gloriosum est regnum in quo cum Christo gaudent omnes sancti.
Collect: Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that the intercession of holy Mary Mother of God, of the holy Apostles, Martyrs, Confessors and Virgins, and of all thine elect, may always and everywhere cause us to rejoice: that as we call to mind their examples, we may perceive their advocacy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
May God, the King of Saints, to whose glory we celebrate this festival, be now and evermore your guide and defence, and give you grace to follow his blessed Saints in faith, and hope, and charity:
And the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be amongst you, and remain with you always. Amen.