“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!” From The Revelation to St. John the Divine.
Happy All Saints Day! This is a principal feast of the church, which means it’s as important as Christmas and Easter. It’s just not as festive. There are no decorations sold at Walmart for your house, or yard. There are no Happy All Saints Day greeting cards sold by HallMark, or Stampin’ Up for that matter. It’s the night before that gets all the attention. All Hallow’s Eve’n.
The Communion of Saints is one of those doctrines that is misunderstood by many who are not of the orthodox catholic faith. In the Nicene Creed, we profess that we believe in the Communion of Saints.
Who are the saints anyway? First lets talk about the word, “saint.” It comes from the Latin word sanctus, that means sacred or holy. So a saint is someone regarded as a holy person, someone whose lives have been exemplified by holy living or conduct. And I mean to be one, too.
We know the names of many because we hear from the books they have written. St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke, and St. John, also known as St. John the Divine, our patron. We also talk about St. Mary, the mother of the Lord, and St. Joseph, her husband, who was dedicated by the Father to care for Jesus.
There are many others, including the Twelve Apostles, and the many martyrs who gave up their lives rather than deny Christ to their tormentors.
Some say that we pray to the dead. Nothing could be further from the truth. We say that those who have departed this life are not dead, but are alive in Christ Jesus. And we do not pray to the saints as if they were going to give us salvation, as we would to the Lord: however, we can ask them to pray for us.
St. Augustine of Hippo wrote this:
“ … we do not commemorate the martyrs at that table in the same way, as we do others who now rest in peace, as that we should also pray for them, but rather that they should do so for us, that we may cleave to their footsteps; because they have actually attained that fullness of love, than which, our Lord has told us, there cannot be a greater. For such tokens of love they exhibited for their brethren, as they themselves had equally received at the table of the Lord.”
Our Book of Common Prayer includes a prayer that really speaks of our relationship with the saints. Listen to this:
Almighty God, by your Holy Spirit you have made us one with
your saints in heaven and on earth: Grant that in our earthly
pilgrimage we may always be supported by this fellowship of
love and prayer, and know ourselves to be surrounded by their
witness to your power and mercy.
This prayer is inspired by the letter to the Hebrews which mentions the communion of Saints, too. This is from Chapter 12:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Consider these words of Jesus when he was speaking to the Sadducees, a Jewish sect that did not believe in the resurrection:
Jesus said, “And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong.”
There is an event that underscores this teaching in Matthew chapter 17:
“And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.”
It is evident from this that Moses and Elijah are indeed alive.
Here is a lesson from the Old Testament, from the second book of Esdras, in which he had seen a vision from the Lord.
I, Ezra, saw on Mount Zion a great multitude that I could not number, and they all were praising the Lord with songs. In their midst was a young man of great stature, taller than any of the others, and on the head of each of them he placed a crown, but he was more exalted than they. And I was held spellbound. Then I asked an angel, Who are these, my lord? He answered and said to me, “These are they who have put off mortal clothing and have put on the immortal, and have confessed the name of God. Now they are being crowned, and receive palms.” Then I said to the angel, “Who is that young man who is placing crowns on them and putting palms in their hands?” He answered and said to me, “He is the Son of God, whom they confessed in the world.” So I began to praise those who had stood valiantly for the name of the Lord.
St. John the Divine saw something of this same vision which he recorded in the book of the Revelation. Coincidence? I think not!
Are there any modern day saints? The Church of Rome has an entire department that is dedicated to the investigation of claims of miracles that have occurred when some person is asked for prayers. Some claim that by intercessions made to certain saints that they have been healed. Many miracles have been attributed to the intercessions of the Saints, and others have various causes tacked onto them. My favorite is St. Jude, because he is the patron saint of lost causes.
We Anglicans generally limit our list of Saints to those who were recognized by the whole Church prior to the Reformation, although we recognize many people since then as heroes of the church, and we may refer to them as ‘Blessed’ rather than a Saint.
A good example is that of Blessed Jackson Kemper, the first Missionary Bishop of the Episcopal Church, who founded Nashotah House Seminary. There are many more heroes of the Church that are listed on our calendar. They serve as examples to us, showing us what the Christian life looks like. They can inspire us to be disciples, too.
Today we celebrate the Saints of the Church who have gone before who have given everything to the Lord Jesus, and by their life gave us an example of Godly life. Let their lives and witness be an inspiration to us as we strive to live as mature Christians in this world. And I mean to be one, too.
These words from the hymn called the ‘Te Deum’ sum up our hopes quite well.
“Come then, Lord, and help your people, bought with the price of your own blood, and bring us with your saints to glory everlasting.” Amen.