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 celebrate the Feast of All Saints, and on this special day in the Church’s calendar we are called to reflect upon the meaning of this name for our common life together. With the Church Universal, we remember that great number which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues. (Idem) With Christians in all places, we thank God for the combined witness of so many different faithful people, called out from every culture and race, time and place, predicament and situation to blend their spiritual gifts for the glory of God and the salvation of the nations through one Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Teachers (Ephes. 4.11), Confessors, Doctors, Martyrs, Widows, Virgins, Kings, and Servants all comprise that glorious fellowship who with one voice forever sing Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb, because they became members of Jesus Christ’s Mystical Body long ago.
But in order to better grasp why we celebrate their lives today, first we should look at the definition of a Saint. 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 lesson for today, we learn that the Christian Saints were those who came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. (Rev. 7.14) So they are set apart because they were made sacred and hallowed by struggle, trial, and suffering.
Yet they were unlike their Greek and Latin pagan progenitors because their virtue was clearly not the result of good works and human effort. Rather, they opened their hearts and souls to that conversion and sanctification that comes only through the blood of the Lamb, shed by God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, once for all on Calvary’s Tree for the sins of the whole world. And what this means is that they were made holy, spiritually unique, distinct, and unlike all others because something happened to them, which had never before happened in the history of the world. In fact, what really happened to them is that rather than resting on the laurels of Greek Philosophy or even the merits of the Jewish Law, they opened their hearts to the God of Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ, they found that God was at work reconciling the world to Himself. (2 Cor. v. 19)
They were washed in the blood of the Lamb. What this meant was that as excellent as so many of them were by earthly standards and in faithfulness to the moral Law of the Jews and the Greeks, they were nevertheless sinners in need of a Saviour. Because they were so conscious of the sin that weighed them down and prevented them from ultimate and lasting union with God, they came to understand that God alone could save them from themselves. They were washed in the blood of the Lamb. With faith, hope, and love, they began to see that only God in Man, Jesus Christ, had taken on the problem of man’s sin, had overcome it, and had redeemed it. What they came to believe was that Jesus Christ alone had reclaimed human nature for God and had invited all men to share in the fruits of His accomplishment. And so, in some inexpressible way, His death on Calvary Hill would become their first step into the new life that He would offer to all of them. Christ’s all sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, in which He died to the world the flesh, and the devil innocently and without stain of any sin was thus made good. Through Jesus Christ, has become something radically new. Death now is good. Death is the first moment of new life. Christ’s Death to the sin, death, and Satan is now the pattern and model of Man’s Redemption and Reconciliation to God. This Death now constitutes the necessary first step out of corruption and into incorruption, out of sin and into righteousness, out of condemnation and into the forgiveness of sins. This Death is offered to us by Jesus who has become the forgiveness of sins in the flesh. And it is through His death and by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that all who turn away from earthly sin and the fear of earthly death can begin to die in a good and wholesome way to themselves as they simultaneously rise into the new life of Christ’s abiding virtue.
What this means, as our Gospel indicates today and history teaches us, is that the sinners began to become saints as they denied themselves, took up their cross[es], and followed [Jesus] (St. Matthew xvi. 24) through spiritual death and into new life. They became poor in spirit, knowing that they were powerless and in possession of nothing but sin and death, nothing of any worth coming from themselves that could ever make them any better. And so, trusting in the rich mercy of God in His Son, theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. (St. Matthew v. 3) They mourned over how their sins had earned their own spiritual death and spread such vicious infection to others, and so they are comforted. (Ibid, 4) They were meek and supple, humbled under the might hand of God (1 Peter ii. 5), knowing their limitations, now knowing that man is only and ever derived from God and dependent upon Him. And so, they inherited the earth (Ibid, 5) as the unmerited gift of Grace that began to make time and space forever new with the beautiful possibility of an abounding salvation that they had not earned and never deserved. They hungered and thirsted after righteousness, seeking first [God’s] Kingdom (St. Matthew vi. 33) and so were filled (Ibid, 6) with that spiritual bread from Heaven, even God’s own Word, His Son, Jesus Christ, bettering and perfecting them as they grow from strength to strength. (Ps. lxxxiv. 7) They [were] merciful, forgave every man his trespass against them (St. Matthew xviii. 35), and so they obtained mercy (Ibid, 7) as Christ the Forgiveness of Sins overtook their hearts. They [were] pure in heart or loved the Lord [their] God with all their hearts, souls, and strength and their neighbours as themselves (St. Matthew xxii. 37, 39) and so, now, they see God (Ibid, 8) They [were] peacemakers, and so their reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ made them the children of God (Ibid, 9), by welcoming others into the new birth that His peace creates. They [were] persecuted for righteousness’ sake…[were] reviled and slandered for [Jesus’] sake (Ibid, 10, 11), and so rejoiced and [were] exceeding glad…because they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name (Acts v. 41), for great is their reward in Heaven. (Ibid,12)
Together All Saints form a Communion or community of individuals who spent their lives trying to embrace and exchange the virtuous and godly life that the Beatitudes engender. They are the friends of Jesus as members of His Body, friends of one another, and our friends too. Together in communion and fellowshipthey are redeemed and sanctified, of one mind and one mouth glorifying God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans xv. 6) As Hans Urs Von Balthasar writes,
The Communion of Saints is a communion of open hearts, concerned only
with their common object, no longer preoccupied with the boundaries of the
‘I” and “Thou’. Since this dividing line has been pulled down, and the bastions,
once demolished, will never be re-erected, henceforth God’s salvation and His ultimate and conclusive love can be encountered only in the ‘We’.
(H. Von Balthasar: You Crown the Year…)
Purity of heart is summed up in the sacrifice of self for the sake of a Communion and Fellowship –the ‘We”, who are moved collectively as friends through the love of Jesus Christ that yearns at all times for the salvation of all men. In this Communion of All Saints, God’s gifts and treasures in the life of each Saint blend into one harmonious song as God’s desire is multiplied and expanded into the community of His love. With songs of praise this community forever receives His love; with songs of desire its members forever long that His love may continue to reach all men in all ages.
So today on this Feast of the Solemnity of All Saints we thank God for the Mystical Body of His Son and the blessed company of all faithful people. Especially we remember before God all those who rejoice with us, but upon another shore and in a greater light, that multitude which no man can number, whose hope was in the Word made flesh, and with whom we for evermore are one. (Prologue: Lessons and Carols) We are one with them in the desire that God will do with us what He did in them. We are called into the Mystical Community of Love that Christ generates out of them. With Cardinal Newman we remember that,
So many were the wonderful works which our Saviour did on earth, that not even the world itself could have contained the books recording them…Surely not even the world itself could contain the records of His love, the history of those many Saints, that "cloud of Witnesses," whom we today celebrate, His purchased possession in every age! We crowd these all up into one day; we mingle together in the brief remembrance of an hour all the choicest deeds, the holiest lives, the noblest labours, the most precious sufferings, which the sun ever saw. (Parochial Plain Sermons: 32)
Today so many Saints call us into the life that they live in and through Jesus Christ alone. Because they live and are not dead, their unceasing prayer is that we with them might be caught up in God’s His incessant desire for the salvation of all souls, the Mystical Civilization that Christ’s love forever longs to make. So let us love and follow their godly way, and make the Communion of Saints a point of our practice…being lovers of all good men, honoring them that fear the Lord and esteeming them very highly for their worth’s sake. Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: