After this I beheld, and lo, a great multitude, which no man could number
Of all nations and kindreds and peoples, and tongues, stood before the
Throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, palms
In their hands, and cried with a loud voice saying, Salvation to our God
Which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.
Today we find ourselves in the Octave of All Saints Day. The Octave is a period of eight days that follows the Feast of All Saints, which we celebrated this past Friday. In the Octave, we are called first to remember with thanksgiving the lives of the Saints. Second, we are called to imitate them, that as Christ moved them, He might stir us now that we might join them in the Kingdom when our journey here on earth is done.
Of course, thanking God for the life and witness of the Saints requires that we begin to have a sense of who and what they were. Strictly speaking, our English word Saint comes to us from the Latin, Sanctus, meaning holy, virtuous, confirmed, or set apart. The word in Greek is Hagios, which, in the ancient sense, means full of awe, sacred, hallowed, and devoted to the gods. From our Epistle for All Saints Day, we learn that the Christian Saints are they who came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. (Rev. 7.14) These are they who suffered, toiled, labored, and endured pain for the sake of the Cross. In a basic way, they suffered through the process of dying to sin and coming alive to righteousness. Their suffering part and parcel of spiritual sanctification. Self-consciously, with all Christians, they were being washed in the blood of the lamb of God, Jesus Christ, and made white as snow as His virtue habitually purified them. So, they are set apart, made sacred, and hallowed by the struggle, toil, and work that leads them into victory over sin. They have come out of great tribulation. This is to say that they plumbed the depths of their being to discover that sin which God’s excellence and goodness alone could overcome. When we thank God for the life and witness of the Saints, we are expressing deepest gratitude for those who allowed Jesus Christ to come alive in their hearts and souls. We thank God the Father that Christ so came alive in them through the Holy Spirit that His victory over sin, death, and Satan was complete. In other words, Christ’s redemption was so effectually worked into their hearts that they were enabled to reflect and reveal His all-atoning power to the world.
This brings us to our second point. We must imitate the Saints. The key to our inspiration will rely upon both need and desire. First then, we must come to discover our need to become Saints. That need can come only when we come from God and have our lives on loan from Him. We are not our own. We belong to God. Our duty to God and His Will. Blessed is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners,*and hath not sat in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the Law of the Lord; *and in his law will he exercise himself day and night. (Ps. i. 1,2) The Saint is well aware that all excellence and goodness come from God and that their acquisition is impossible without the gift of His Grace. The Saint knows also that we first come to know ourselves in the light of God’s excellence and goodness through the Law. Because God has revealed His Law to His chosen people the Jews, all men can come to see their sins. St. Paul tells us that the Jewish Law reveals that None is righteous, no not one. There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way. They are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. (Romans, iii. 10-12) The Saint knows too that the best of men become the most frustrated when they realize that they are incapable of fulfilling or living up to God’s Law. The Saint is one who has found his own poverty of spirit or his own inability to will the good that he has discovered. The Saint is one who is then overwhelmed by the excellence of God the Father, the goodness of His Word, and the power of His Spirit.
The Saint is a man whose faith hangs always upon God’s Grace. As Archbishop Trench writes, the Saint is:
the wise and happy builder…who counts and discovers that he has not enough, that the work far exceeds any resources at his command, and who thereupon forsakes all that he has, all vain imagination of a spiritual wealth of his own; and therefore proceeds to build, not at his own charges at all, but altogether at the charges of God, waiting upon Him day by day for new supplies of strength. (R. C. Trench)
The Saint in the Old Testament faithfully awaited the fulfillment of God’s promise of salvation in the future. The New Testament Saint faithfully embraces God’s promise as fulfilled in Jesus Christ. God promises His wisdom, love, and power to the Old Testament Jew. God reveals and imparts His wisdom, love, and power to the New Testament Jew and Gentile in Jesus Christ. The Saints in every age hear God’s Word. The Christian Saint opens his heart and soul to God’s Word Made Flesh, Jesus Christ.
Yet, if we hope to imitate the Saints, we must embrace more than knowledge of what God has done in Jesus Christ. Knowledge is not virtue. The vision must be translated into action. We must learn to will the good we know. Together All Saints form a Communion or community of individuals who spent their lives trying to embrace the goodness and excellence of God in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. Together All Saints comprise a body of brethren who share the goodness and excellence of God in Jesus Christ with others through the same Spirit. They are the friends of Jesus as members of His Body, friends of one another, and our friends too. But, at first, they don’t see themselves as much of anything. Soren Kierkegaard once said God creates out of nothing. Wonderful you say. Yes, to be sure, but he does what is still more wonderful: he makes saints out of sinners.
So what do the Saints’ natures look like? Are they those who have left the world, resorted to the desert, and therein searched out mystical ecstasy? Well, yes and no. Yes, in that they have found a peaceful space and place in which to befriend God personally and individually. No, in that they have not abandoned the world since the world is where they are called to share what they have discovered. True enough, their inward and spiritual vision of God in Jesus Christ is an ecstasy which they find by the Holy Ghost. But it must be shared with others. Their joyous experience must move out into the world to impart Christ’s presence. As we learn in this morning’s Gospel, the Saints are as sheep who have been separated from the goats. (St. Matthew xxv. 32) For joy, Jesus endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews xii. 1) The sheep of Christ are those who have done the same. How they do it is reflected in the most basic acts of generosity, kindness, and mercy. Jesus has taken on the burden of the Saints and they must imitate Him. Jesus will say, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. (St. Matthew xxv. 34) But they will be welcomed into the Kingdom as saved Saints only if they have fulfilled Christ’s conditions. For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger and ye took me in; Naked, and ye clothed me; I was sick and ye visited me; I was in prison and ye visited me. (Ibid, 35, 36) The proof that sinners have been made Saints is found in the simplest acts of liberality and kindness. This is the evidence that reveals that Christ’s all saving mercy is moving sinners out of death and into new life as Saints. They need not die on a cross. They need not perform heroic feats in martyrdom or experience transporting Pentecostal frenzies. They need to die to themselves and come alive to others. They can do this by studying the life of Jesus and imitating Him. There we find the real proof of saintliness. Fulton Sheen says, Show me your hands. Do they have scars from giving? Show me your feet. Are they wounded in service? Show me your heart. Have you left a place for divine love?”
On this Feast of the Solemnity of All Saints, we remember that the Saints are not dead but alive to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Today we desire that God will do with us what He did in them. We remember them especially in these late, dangerous, and dark days when men have failed to desire God’s excellence and goodness. Their communion and fellowship ought to inspire us to see how God’s Grace can make sinners into Saints by bringing good out of evil. The excellence and goodness that they embraced ought to inspire us with a vision of how God can convert evil into goodness in the hearts of men. In them may we find inspiration for the pursuit and final possession of what God has in store for us.
The Communion of Saints is a fellowship of life and faith that brings men closely together in the bond of the Eternal Spirit which comes from God. It does not depend merely on the Saints’ interest in their fellow men’s welfare, or in our appreciation of their Saintliness. We greet them as the heroes of the world, but our fellowship with them is founded neither on our reverence for their goodness nor on their sympathy with our struggles and failures, but on that Divine Spirit which has made them what they are and would make us fit to be numbered with them in glory everlasting. When we learn to reverence the Saints, we are on the way to become like them. They witness that this is possible for all. Our appreciation of their goodness endorses that testimony. The Saints of God come out of every kindred and tongue and people, and their fellowship is complete and permanent because all live in Him. (The Christian Year in the Times, p. 284)
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St. Michael and All Angels Sermons