A51 ALL SAINTS
St. Matthew 5.vv.1-12
~ When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you". ~
The Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount describe the hallmarks of the Christian life, reversing many of the generally accepted norms of secular aspirations and behaviour. We hear nothing of the blessedness of those who win the Lottery Jackpot!
We are bidden to give thanks for, to think about and imitate the Saints. But who are the "Saints"? On this point we must be clear in our minds.
First there are "capital letter" Saints - the great men and women of the past, the faithful followers of Jesus Christ. Most of these who lived before the sixteenth century have been canonised by the Church. Their names are familiar - but did they cease with the sixteenth century?
Secondly, there are the unnamed "saints" whom Paul addresses in his letters. New Testament cities often sound beautiful holy places, but really they were, and still are, nothing of the kind. Then, as now, the towns had the usual quota of vice and crime, busy shops and crowded streets, whose citizens were ordinary people going about their ordinary business, sometimes guilty of disgraceful behaviour, open to quarrels and silly heresies - power seekers who often fell away from their high calling in Christ Jesus and yet striving to be loyal in their commitment to him. It is clear that all are called to be "small letter" saints.
Thirdly, there are the modern Saints. Immediately there spring to mind the names of Mother Teresa and other great figures of modern times; but obviously we must not stop there for we must include the humble, simple, lovely souls who are dear to us and who pray for us, who taught us, who care for us - parents, teachers, clergy, and our friends. Indeed, all those common folk who with all their failings believe in Jesus Christ and attempt to follow him in the way that leads to eternal life.
St. Paul said, "We are no better than earthenware pots to contain the treasure of Christ, but he can transform our lives by his indwelling spirit". Let us remember that when God calls someone he does not wait to find someone who is already perfect, "Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man", said Peter, foremost of the Apostles. Consider too how God bore patiently and forgivingly with his back-sliding "Chosen Race" and how he chose a simple peasant girl to be the mother of his only son.
At the end of a lesson about the Saints, the teacher said to the class, "Who are the Saints?". John, who had been daydreaming and not attending to the lesson, found suddenly that he personally was obliged to answer. Gathering his scattered wits and recalling the stained glass windows in the Church he gave the answer, "The people the light shines through". This gave the teacher pause for thought; it was certainly not the answer he expected, but on reflection he had to agree!
To whatever Christian denomination we belong, Christians subscribe to a belief in the "communion of Saints". Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. The writer of the Hebrews epistle says, "Since we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses", implying that we are one with the living and the dead. The conviction that we are one with all those dear ones who have gone before us is well illustrated in the following true story:-
A famous nineteenth century cricketer became blind. His son, growing up, became like his father - a first rate cricketer. While at University the lad was selected to play in a very important match. Sadly his father died the day before the match, but the lad insisted on playing, and excelled himself with a splendid century that saved the match. As he returned to the pavilion a friend said, "I'm amazed you could play like that with your father lying dead". The lad replied, "That's just the point, he's always wanted to see me play. This was his first chance".