The Feast of All Saints
‘Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.’
This is a vision on a cosmic scale – Star Wars has got nothing on this. It’s a magnificent hope for the entire cosmos. God has universe after universe at His command. Science continues to unveil to us the extent of God’s amazing creative powers. We cannot visualise infinity, but He is there too. This earth – which seems so vast, and the heaven – which must be so much greater, will both be taken or thrown away, to be replaced by a new and even more amazing design. God’s act to bring this present age to a close is seen not only in terms of plans for His people, but for the whole of time and space. The present world is beautiful, but God’s sovereignty over it is acknowledged only in heaven and in the hearts of those who love Him on earth. Life is still marked by injustice, persecution, suffering and rebellion against God. The sacrifice of Jesus heralds the resolution of this conflict, and now the alienation of God from the world he has created is to be finally resolved. God’s new Jerusalem will be lovely beyond compare. The new city will comprise the Church, the Bride of Christ, and God will live, not in some remote heavenly realm, but face to face with His people. We will be there, too. Wow! There will be the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Peter and St. Paul, St. Edmund, Julian of Norwich, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Francis (so all the animals will be looked after), Maximilian Kolbe, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, and all those millions of others whose lives have counted for Christ. What shall we say to them, or they to us? What an amazing party!
The saints are full of surprises. Listen to what St. Isaac of Syria wrote, ‘Do not speak of God as just..how can someone call God just when he comes across the story of the prodigal son who frittered away all his belongings in riotous living – yet merely in response to his saying sorry his father ran and fell on his neck, and gave him authority over all his possessions.’ But here we are in the realm of paradox. Just as St. Paul speaks of the foolishness of God as being wiser than the wisdom of human beings, so we might say that the injustice of God is more just than the justice of human beings. So different is God’s justice to that of the world that we have to find another word for it; we call it mercy or compassion. ‘The souls of the righteous are in the hands of God,’ our OT reading says, ‘In the eyes of the foolish they seem to have died.for though in the sight of others they were punished, their hope is full of immortality.’
Whenever you light a candle or switch a light on, it always overcomes the darkness. Light is always greater than darkness, and God’s light, God’s mercy and compassion, will ultimately overcome everything evil, just as when we flick the switch, light overwhelms the darkness in a room.
All Saints Day would have little meaning without hope in the ultimate triumph of God. The OT and the Epistle readings today express in marvellous picture language what will happen when God finally and definitively intervenes at the end of this age. God promises unimaginable blessings for His people and He will remove suffering, sorrow and death. Hallelujah!
From the corporate hope of all righteous souls in our OT reading and the cosmic hope of the world in our Epistle reading, the story of the raising of Lazarus in our Gospel reading tells us of personal hope in Jesus, ‘the resurrection and the life.’ The story is personal in that it relates to one individual, but it also reveals the depth of the personal commitment Jesus makes to each and every one of us. Jesus’ love for Lazarus and his sisters, coupled with the distress he felt at the suffering human beings experience in a fallen world, moves Him to tears. He feels just as passionately about the experiences of each one of us. The amazing miracle of the raising of Lazarus is a foretaste of an even greater miracle. Through His resurrection Jesus has defeated death for all of us. Death is no longer the end, but merely a prelude to a new, transformed life together in the presence of God.
The Feast of All Saints gives us a sense of the catholicity of the Church to which we belong. We are part of that great company of saints that have gone before us, that live amongst us and that will come after us. Our worship in this church is aided by the prayers of those who have been here before us. What is the link that binds St. Polycarp, who refused to worship the Emperor as Lord, to St. Therese of Liseux, who showed us the way of simplicity in approaching God; Maximilian Kolbe, who gave his life for another man in a Nazi concentration camp, to Mother Teresa, who tended the sick and dying in the slums of Calcutta? Their shared secret is their devotion to the compassion, the mercy of God shown in Jesus Christ.
The Feast of All Saints is about the scope of God’s concern. It is about the compassion of Jesus, who cares about the outcasts, the excluded and the marginalised, and the love of God that is so universal and beyond our wildest dreams that He includes not only all mortals but the entire cosmos in His redeeming plan. This incredible love of God is so vast that it can embrace the whole of humanity, and so deep that it will slip between the cracks to scoop up even the very marginal. This is not just about those wonderful people whose saintly stories inspire us and whose names grace our litanies. It is a feast of God’s love. It is both horizontal and vertical. And as a feast of God’s love, it is also a feast of hope. Beyond our wildest imaginings, God’s love will find what we could never find, redeem what we would think is irredeemable.
So, as we shortly part company for a while, you and I, let us do so with hope in our hearts as we contemplate just how marvellous God’s love is. How wildly wide, how profoundly deep, how incredibly universal, how intimately personal. How wonderful this God of ours must be.