SAINTS IN ST MICHAEL’S
Do we have any saints here in St Michael’s? Hands up?? The word ‘saint’ has come to mean ‘super holy’ so any reticence on your part is understandable! Let’s go back to the New Testament. Virtually all the major letters that Paul writes are addressed to the ‘saints’ who are in Philippi, Ephesus, Colossae, Rome, Corinth etc, by which Paul means the whole church.
The word he uses means ‘separated out’ for a special purpose. For example, the metal used for a sacred cross to adorn a church has been chosen, separated out, and used for a very special object, and therefore has become different from metal used to make an object for everyday use, even though it has the same physical properties. Prayers are said over it, and it is dedicated for sacred use.
Similarly for people. A person can be chosen and set aside for a special purpose, although that person remains fully human. So in the Christian sense, a ‘holy’ person is someone who has put their faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. Someone who has crossed a line and begun a new life, dedicated to their Lord, belonging to him, adopted into his family.
This is ideally symbolised in the sacrament of baptism, when you die to the old life, and rise again to begin a new life in Christ. But most Christians cross that line in other ways too – through a conversion experience, through a personal decision, or through a gradually growing conviction which leads beyond the point of no return. So a ‘saint’ is a person who knows they have crossed that line and put their whole trust in Christ, and are now dedicated to pursuing the new life in the Holy Spirit, which has been given to them.
Hopefully, with that definition, most – if not all – of us could put our hands up with some degree of confidence….?
In several of his letters, Paul also adds another phrase ‘Called to be saints’. That means that we not only have the status of a saint, set aside or dedicated to God, but also called to live out that dedication in everyday life. We are to live up to our call, and grow in that new life day by day, right up to the end of our lives.
So, if you are a Christian, seeking day by day to live the life God has called you to, and becoming ever closer to Christ, then Tuesday – All Saints Day – is your Festival Day and my Festival Day. A day we are, in fact, celebrating today while we are all together and can make most of it.
There should be a great sense of rejoicing and praise together – and especially praise to God because we are not sanctified by our own efforts, but because God has graciously called us to be a chosen people, who have no human merit of our own but owe everything to the mercy and grace of God. Praise God!
So if Paul was writing to us and I was reading out his letter this morning, he would write: ‘Paul, to the saints gathered to worship today in St Michael’s, called to live out your faith and dedication – greeting. Be encouraged. Be challenged. Rejoice in your faith as every saint should, and give thanks and praise to God who has called you.’
SAINTS DOWN THE CENTURIES.
But, of course, today we don’t just think of ourselves. Mention of Paul reminds us that behind us stand a vast host of Christians who have gone before us in the faith. Starting with the apostles on the day of Pentecost, we think of all the countless saints who have put their faith in Christ – often at huge personal cost – and have left us great examples to live up to.
One of the most encouraging, and often challenging, ways to stimulate our Christian lives is to read the biographies of great Christians – whether ancient or modern. If you have never read the biography of a great Christian from the past, I would really encourage you to do so. And next time you are in London, go to Westminster Abbey and look at the statues over the great west door, placed there some years ago, and which are of 20th century Christian martyrs from across the world. It’s well worth discovering who is represented there and finding out more about them. These are great Christians from the recent past who have come out of the great tribulation, as Revelation puts it, and are now among the great host of heaven. They are an inspiration.
In the letter to the Hebrews, Chapter 12, the writer paints a picture which I find very encouraging. We are the pilgrim athletes – perhaps marathon runners – in an Olympic stadium. And filling the stands are all the Christians who have gone before us, and as we enter the stadium – perhaps weary and a bit doubtful and struggling – they are clapping and cheering, and urging us on towards the finishing line. We are not alone in our Christian race, we have the backing and the prayers of the whole communion of saints who have gone on before us.
They have been true to their calling and have run the great race, and have now handed on the baton to us. And our responsibility is to carry it faithfully forward, and hand it on to the next generation, lest the wonderful good news should be lost or forgotten.
SAINTS ACROSS THE WORLD
There is yet a third dimension to All Saints Day. We think not only of ourselves and those who have gone before us. We think also of all the other Christians across the world now. We live our Christian lives in relative ease and with so many benefits and privileges. But if we start to think and pray across the globe, how many of our brothers and sisters in Christ are living and worshipping today as tiny minorities in often hostile environments, and frequently in fear of attack or even death. We are part of a vast company of Christians alive today, with whom we join in celebration and worship, and we pray very specially for those who are persecuted for their faith; those who are poor and hungry; those who are homeless and despairing; those who have lost loved ones and are in mourning; those who are sick in body, mind or spirit. They are all our brethren in Christ and our thoughts and prayers go out to them today – our brothers and sisters.
Let’s draw all these threads together by reminding ourselves of the characteristics of those whom Jesus called ‘Blessed’ in our Gospel reading from Matthew 5. People who are:
Poor in spirit – who know they have no virtues to commend themselves to God and rely simply on his grace
Those who mourn
Those who are meek – not filled up with pride and seeking only their own ends
Those who are merciful – not keeping lists of wrongs and resentments and (being forgiven ourselves) know how to forgive others
Those who are pure in heart – pure in the sense of having an undivided, undiluted faith and trust in God and seek to live in ways that please him
Those who are peacemakers – those who bring reconciliation and not conflict or revenge
Those who are persecuted because of who they are and because of the Lord they proclaim
Those who are insulted and falsely accused because they stand up for their Lord and proclaim (like the prophets of old) a message of truth and righteousness which people don’t want to hear.
As we rejoice in the whole company of the saints, across the ages and across the world, we need to hold up as a banner over our heads those beautiful qualities which Jesus commended, that we too may be blessed in our celebration.