We should celebrate All Saints at the beginning of November, though the evening of All Saints, Hallowe’en, is October 31st. So what do we make of the saints?
There are saints in the Bible but not the sort of saints we think of probably. The New Testament letters from Paul and others call the new Christians in the new churches “saints”, holy ones, sanctified ones. All Christians are saints, you and me and the person who sits behind us in church. I wonder how we feel about being a saint. I suspect we don’t feel we deserve the title, we think it should be reserved for someone special, much more special and holy than me or you.
In our parish, our two churches are dedicated to saints, to St James (though do you know whether it is St James the brother of Jesus, or St James the brother of John and one of the sons of Zebedee, or the other disciple called James?) and to St Anne, who is deemed to be the mother of Mary, the mother of Jesus, (but about whom nothing is really known).
Down the road, we have a church named after St Maxentius, a French Abbot about whom great stories were told, though it is not clear why a church in Bradshaw would be dedicated to him. In Belmont, the church is dedicated to St Peter, the apostle and disciple of Jesus. When we know more about these people we discover that they were not perfect paragons of virtue – James, son of Zebedee wanted great status and may have had an explosive temper (nickname son of thunder!). Peter had many flaws as well as strengths.
Saints are not perfect, but in Christ they are made perfect, just as we will be as we are welcomed into glory. Made perfect, as in made whole, freed from suffering and pain and free to flourish, made perfect as in forgiven and set free from the vices and the grip / slavery of sin – those traits like selfishness, greed, gossip which demean us and others, and more fundamentally our lack of love for neighbours, except when it suits us.
We celebrate that we will be made perfect in Christ, we celebrate that others will be made perfect in Christ; we celebrate the “communion of saints” that strange phrase from the creeds which reminds us that all of us are one in Christ, united in Christ, even the living and those who have died. Not only will “I” be made perfect, but “we” will be made perfect, brought to a wholeness, all of us, a great crowd that no one can number, as Revelation puts it.
All Saints is when we may look with the eyes of faith and see ourselves surrounded by a great crowd encouraging us in our lives, when we are reminded that whatever we face, nothing can separate us from God, and nothing separates us from our communion with the saints.
It is a wondrous time of year, wonderful for the truths we are encouraged to think about, and wondrous in that we cannot fully comprehend what God has promised – it is beyond our grasp.
So today consider what it means to claim “I am a saint” and may we shine out a saintliness, just as our stained glass windows shine as the sun strikes them, for our “perfection” is from Christ, like the light is from the sun.
Rev’d Peter Reiss