All Saints Sunday Yr B

All Saints Sunday Yr B, 1/11/2015
Rev 21:1-6a
Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
“Remembering the saints, both the living and the dead”
Today we celebrate All Saints Day. According to some scholars, this celebration
began when Christians faced persecution in the Roman Empire, and many
Christians died a martyr’s death rather than submit to Caesar as god. In the early
church, there was a calendar that marked the celebration of saint days—these
were folks who became somewhat famous in the church. However, there was no
day in the church calendar to remember ordinary, less famous Christians, like you
and I. So the church established a way of remembering the faithfully departed.
Some scholars believe this began in the fourth century, and other scholars claim
that it was not until the early seventh century.
Originally, the date for celebrating All Saints Day was set for May thirteenth,
which interestingly enough, was the day that I was ordained as a pastor.
However, according to some scholars, it was around the year 735 that the date
was changed to November first, and has remained the same ever since. At any
rate, on this day we continue the tradition of remembering those among us—
family, friends, neighbours, residents—who have died since last year’s All Saints
When we speak of saints, what do we mean? Well, different Christian traditions
have differing definitions of who or what a saint is. My favourite definition is twofold: A saint is a forgiven sinner—hence, that means everyone here today, all who
are baptized into the Christian faith. And a saint is someone who makes it easier
for others to believe in God.
With this last definition though, I think we need to be careful, since it can lead
us to the misguided belief that a saint is so holy that other human beings cannot
even think of obtaining such holiness. This misunderstanding leads people to
believe that saints live a rather sheltered life, and they don’t have real struggles
and temptations in life, like the rest of us.
On one occasion, C.S. Lewis wrote, “How little people know who think that
holiness is dull. When one meets the real thing, it is irresistible.” So how do we
come to the place where it becomes irresistible to us and we accept our call to
It begins, I suspect, with discovering that even the greatest of saints was a real
person. Learning about their lives should convince us that they were real people
with real struggles. It should convince us of their humanity. What does it mean to
be one of God’s saints? Mother Teresa who died in 1996 was often referred to as
a living saint. In 1982, during a visit to San Francisco to mark the
800th anniversary of the birth of Francis of Assisi, the diminutive nun was asked
how it feels to be called “a living saint.”
“Possibly, people see Jesus in me,” she replied. “But we can see Jesus in each
other. Holiness is meant for all people.”1
“Holiness is meant for all people.” In our passage from Revelation, we are given
a beautiful vision of perfect holiness, a holiness that you and I, and I would
hazard to guess, every human being longs for. A holiness according to the
visionary writer John, who was exiled on the island of Patmos, where he
envisioned a new heaven, a new earth, and a new holy city of Jerusalem. The
vision describes this new, holy city of Jerusalem being like a bride adorned for her
husband. This description of a bride adorned for her husband is symbolic,
apocalyptic language, which may refer to the church or the people of faith as the
bride, and the husband may refer to Christ, the church’s bridegroom.
At a marriage, everyone is dressed up in their best, and everyone beholds the
beauty of the wedding party, especially the beauty of the bride and groom.
Magnify that beauty about a zillion times and you will be in awe of the beauty of
the new, holy city of Jerusalem, God’s faithful people, and the beauty of our
triune God. Or, to employ a phrase of one of the Psalms, “the beauty of holiness.”
You and I, along with a host of others will behold and become part of that
You and I, who don’t always think of ourselves as having much beauty and
holiness, will reflect the beauty and holiness that comes with our God making all
things new. A beauty where there will be no more tears, no more death,
mourning, crying and pain—they will all pass away, be removed, gone forever!
So those of you who are in wheelchairs or who walk with walkers will no longer
need them, you will be able to walk and jump and run for joy. Those of you who
suffer now from sickness, disease, and pain will be given a complete bill of
health—your sickness, disease, and pain will be gone forever! Those of you who
suffer from sadness and depression because you have lost so much and so many
of those you loved, your family, friends, neighbours and other residents—your
sadness and depression will be traded in for joy.
Have you ever experienced loneliness and homesickness? Loneliness so
incapacitating that you feel as if you are alone against the whole world.
Homesickness so intense your thoughts and emotions are fixed on knowing and
trusting that only at home can you be your true self and share your most intimate
of thoughts and feelings because at home you are loved and accepted
On All Saints Day, we remember the vision of John writing in exile on the island
of Patmos. The vision of the beauty of holiness, where, one day, we shall be
reunited with our loved ones, the saints who have gone ahead of us to that place
where “the home of God is among mortals.” Our true home, where loneliness and
homesickness shall be exchanged for the perfect “communion of saints.”
Until then, we have some visual reminders of the saints who have gone before
us. For example, alongside some churches there are graveyards, and you may
even have to walk through the graveyard to reach the church. As you walk
through the graveyard, you may read the names of the saints on the headstones.
You may also have noticed that in the chancel area of some churches the
communion rail is in the shape of a half-circle, where the saints living gather to
receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. The invisible other half of the circle
reminds us of the saints who have gone before us, now in heaven. One day the
circle shall be complete and all of God’s family of saints shall be united to share a
perfect communion.
So, on this All Saints Day we remember and long for those who have gone
ahead of us to their eternal reward; those who were examples to us of the beauty
of holiness; those who inspire us to move ahead in faith by loving and serving
God and our neighbour so that something of that perfect beauty of holiness may
reach out into every corner of the church and the world.