We don’t talk about saints very much in the Anglican Church. We leave that to our Catholic and Orthodox brothers and sisters.. There a certain suspicion in Protestantism about the saints. We are too afraid of making idols out of them, and so we acknowledge their place in ancient church history, but we don’t talk about them as much as we maybe should and we don’t talk much about wanting to be saints either. To be honest, sainthood sounds a little boring. I imagine a life of being perfect, and never having any fun.
But sainthood is a little more complicated than that. Martin Luther used to say we were all simultaneously saints and sinners. We were all trying daily to do the right thing, and yet all making the mistakes that every human makes. Even the great saints of history were human, and fallible, and imperfect.
I’m sure you’ve all heard the old spiritual, “When the Saints Go Marching in.” The chorus goes like this:
Oh, when the saints go marching in,
Oh, when the saints go marching in,
Oh, Lord, I want to be in that number,
When the saints go marching in!
Well, I don’t know about you, but I sure want to be in that number! On second thought, I think I do know about you, and I am pretty sure that you want to be included in that number as well. To be numbered amongst that great multitude of the saints who will go marching into God’s eternal kingdom of glory–that’s the only place anyone in their right mind would ever want to be when that day comes. But that will happen only if we are numbered with those saints. And that means we need to borrow a line from another song, well known song. “Signed, Sealed, and Delivered.”
Now of course there are saints’ days for all the big-name saints both in the bible and in our church history, many of which we try to celebrate during the year. But on All Saints’ Day, we remember the Christians who have gone before us who don’t have a day on the calendar and whose names may not be well known. But the Lord knows their names. He has not forgotten them, and they are with him.
This is what we celebrate today.
For most people, when they hear the word “saints,” they immediately think of certain individuals who have been canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. The word “saints” literally means “holy ones.” So then we have to ask: What do we mean by “holy”? To be “holy,” in biblical thinking, means “belonging to God,” to be “His.” “Set apart to belong to God.”
The amazing thing is, that we ARE “saints,” “holy ones.” But wait, you say: I know who I am, and I can tell you that I am not that holy!” and of course, - neither am I. I am a sinner, and so are you. So how is it that we sinners can get to be called “holy”?
It’s because we have been “set apart” to belong to God. This is not our doing, but His. He is the one who makes us holy. God has taken us rebels, sometimes by the scruff of our necks, and washed us clean. We don’t deserve it, we didn’t do anything to merit it. When we are Baptised God makes us His holy people. This is where we’ve been signed by the cross of Jesus, that invisible sign that marks us out as children of God, and we are sealed with the Holy Spirit when we receive our name in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We belong to God and He has placed his seal upon us and put his seal of protection on us. He will guard and keep us in the faith, so that the world cannot harm us. Oh, the world may persecute us–they may arrest Christians, they may even kill us–but they cannot separate us from the love of our God. They cannot strip us of our faith. They cannot take our eternal life from us.
And so, signed and sealed, we will, in the end, be delivered. That is the final outcome of our faith. God will graciously take us from this life to be with himself in heaven.
You will recognise in our Communion liturgy, there is that line, “Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify your glorious name.” Yes, “with all the company of heaven.” They are the saints who have gone before joining us today–or rather, we are joining them, in their song of praise to God.
Most of you have heard the Beatitudes many, many times. They are attitudes we are encouraged to Be and they describe saintly lives:
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.
Because we are familiar with them we often miss the point of what Jesus is try to tell us.
Listen to how these same verses are translated in a modern version, The Message:
You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are — no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
The saints are legendary — and yet they are people like you and me. Anyone who lives by the Gospel and tries to help others do the same falls into the “sainthood” category. As the little boy so astutely observed, when asked what a saint was, answered “the saints are the ones who the light shines through in the stained glass windows”.
God sent us here to make a difference, to make the world that much better, to be a saint. Contrary to public perception, that does not mean that you have to be canonized or immortalized in a statue in some cathedral. Sainthood is more ordinary than that. It is every day. It is going into this dark world and making it just a little bit brighter, by a word, by a deed, by simply following God’s call and letting the liberating message of Christ’s Gospel, the light of Christ shine through you.