Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: grant us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living that we may come to those inexpressible joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
God of holiness, your glory is proclaimed in every age: as we rejoice in the faith of your saints, inspire us to follow their example with boldness and joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say,
‘The Lord will surely separate me from his people’;
and do not let the eunuch say,
‘I am just a dry tree.’
For thus says the Lord:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
I will give, in my house and within my walls,
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.
And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it,
and hold fast my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.
Thus says the Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
I will gather others to them
besides those already gathered.
I, Ezra, saw on Mount Zion a great multitude that I could not number, and they all were praising the Lord with songs. In their midst was a young man of great stature, taller than any of the others, and on the head of each of them he placed a crown, but he was more exalted than they. And I was held spellbound. Then I asked an angel, ‘Who are these, my lord?’ He answered and said to me, ‘These are they who have put off mortal clothing and have put on the immortal, and have confessed the name of God. Now they are being crowned, and receive palms.’ Then I said to the angel, ‘Who is that young man who is placing crowns on them and putting palms in their hands?’ He answered and said to me, ‘He is the Son of God, whom they confessed in the world.’ So I began to praise those who had stood valiantly for the name of the Lord. Then the angel said to me, ‘Go, tell my people how great and how many are the wonders of the Lord God that you have seen.’
2 Esdras 2:42–48]
1 Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous, •
for it is good for the just to sing praises.
2 Praise the Lord with the lyre; •
on the ten-stringed harp sing his praise.
3 Sing for him a new song; •
play skilfully, with shouts of praise.
4 For the word of the Lord is true •
and all his works are sure.
5 He loves righteousness and justice; •
the earth is full of the loving-kindness of the Lord.
You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. (For they could not endure the order that was given, ‘If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.’ Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, ‘I tremble with fear.’) But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he 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 heaven.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
‘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 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.
Sermon on Sunday of All Saints
“Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord.”
This statement of fact from the collect has given me pause for thought. I would like to explore this in light of all the soul’s and saints whom we celebrate today. Let’s explore some of the words used in this sentence to see whether we can make any more sense of it for ourselves.
The first word that strikes me is the word “knit”. – How do we see this knitting of people together? Is it the loose binding together of strands of my first attempt at knitting, or like that crocheted blanket that my grandmother made so many years ago? Are the “elect” of every age connected by affectionate hands holding each other steady against the tide of the world?
Does the binding allow for individual movement, or does it restrict? Are the knots made by the needles of election so tight that we cannot think for ourselves nor invite others into the cloth of the faithful within which we find ourselves? That sort of knitting could seem so frightening, don’t you think?
Then we must ask about that word which denotes us all, “the elect”. Is this a word applied to everyone within that blanket of the faithful? Or does it denote a particular type of person? A person who is so very different from myself? Are the elect knit together in such a way that I cannot enter into their number. After all the collect talks of the elect being knit together, not “us” who are knit together. The petition later in the collect does speak of us, but not being incorporated into that seamless robe of the elect, rather we aspire to follow on where the saints have led by example.
Yes, we do want to follow the saints, but sadly, I think, this prayer does not encourage us to think we are part of that seamless knitted robe which the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church describes herself as. We instead see only the golden age of the Church as one to which we do not belong, for it was so long ago or is so far away in that future of the apocalypse.
How we speak about ourselves in our prayers does matter, doesn’t it? Are we “the elect”? Who are the saints we remember? Who are the souls we pray for? This collect forces us to think about so much, all that is unsaid in our everyday lives of quiet desperation comes to the fore when we pray with that desperate groaning Paul tells us about, that baring of the soul with our inarticulate moans which conscience demands when we stand before the elect, before our Lord and God.
Our collect for today makes us think of so much, but especially of what has been called “our ownmost possibility”. “The elect”, “the saints”, “Almighty God”, “inexpressible joys” – these are just a few of the words which concentrate our minds, aren’t they? And they lead us to contemplate that ultimate goal of our lives.
Prayer does focus our thoughts, doesn’t it? We pray and the cares of life are put into perspective. Against the background of the everyday, in the foreground of eternity our thoughts are given proper shape – we see life for what it really is. We want to follow in those footsteps of the saints, the elect who truly love God, and so attain that life of “inexpressible joy” – a state of being we aspire to in our petty lives of the here and now.
This collect does force us to consider life, doesn’t it? Whether we are living in the shadows or whether we are living it in all its fullness.
How many have heard of Cesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer? He wants us all to live calm assertive lives for the sake of our dogs, but I would want to liken this attitude to the saints, those whom we expect to enjoy the eternal rest of heaven, those within that mystical body of Christ.
Cesar wants us to be positive, to take everything as a good experience, where we learn about ourselves and our environment. He even says when we get into a pickle, “This is good.… This is very good.” Every moment is a time of learning – when calm submission to the events of life can be lived out. When we do achieve this calm, we can then assert ourselves. We will know when to submit and when to struggle against the sea of troubles and so end them, as the poet says.
We need to look at those who have gone before us, those saints, the elect from every nation, who have humbly submitted to the will of God and asserted that heaven is their destination.
Although the language of our collect is difficult, we need to speak it anew. We know that the saints have gone before us. We know that they are examples for us. We know that we should live like the elect. We know all this on the one hand, but we also know what we are like. Well, speaking for myself, I know that I have failed miserably when compared with Luther, Augustine, Paul and Jesus. Even if I compare myself with my parents, I find myself wanting. However, Cesar has taught me that I must submit to who I am and transform myself. I must be calm. When I am calm while all about me are losing their heads, then I can assert my self for the Good, for God.
Cesar’s message correlates with Bishop Rachel’s, I think. LIFE – leadership, imagination, faith and engagement – these are the marks of a calmly assertive person, one who knows about submission to events outside of their control, but also when to take charge of their situation calmly and effectively. These are the saints, I think, for they show a humility in their lives, a modesty the world does not recognise, that there is something greater in their lives than their own petty concerns about status within their clique. The saints see the bigger picture, that seamless robe into which they have been knitted. Whether it is the loose crochet or the tight knitting of a waterproof jumper, the saints have asserted that they belong by the exemplary lives they have led – and our contemporary saints are now leading. This has been a meditation on our collect for today, when we remember all who have gone before us, a day when we hope for the future saints in the world. Who knows, maybe one of us will be regarded as a saint. Perhaps one of us will be thrust on the world’s stage as a saint, an example to those who come after. Anyway we all can enjoy the fruits of heaven as The Beatitudes recount as part of that mystical body.