Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Running with the saints
with perseverance in
the race set before us

All Saints’ Day … the Lamb on the Throne surrounded by the angels and saints

Patrick Comerford,

All Saints’ Day, 1 November 2017,

11 a.m., The Eucharist,

Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton


Readings: Jeremiah 31: 31-34; Psalm 34; 1-10; Revelation 7: 9-17; and Matthew 5: 1-12.

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Today is All Saints’ Day in the Calendar of the Church, and although there is a provision in the Calendar and Directory of the Church of Ireland that allows us to celeb rate All Saints’ Day next Sunday [5 November 2017], I thought it would be a good idea to celebrate this feast day on the day itself, and to invite us all back to rectory for tea or coffee.

After all, All Saints’ Day is one of the 12 Principal Feasts of the Church. From the third century, there is evidence of celebrations of All Martyrs. The Eastern Church continues a fourth century tradition of the ‘Sunday of All Saints’ being celebrated on the Sunday after Pentecost.

In the early seventh century, the Pantheon in Rome, which had been closed for over a century, was dedicated to Saint Mary and All Martyrs. By the eighth century, 1 November was growing in popularity for the celebration of All Saints, possibly originating in Ireland. By the ninth century, the date had reached Rome and then the Holy Roman Empire.

The Reformers in 16th century England followed German reformers producing a calendar with only New Testament saints and this festival. There was no distinction between ‘All Saints’ and ‘All Souls.’

So, who is your favourite saint?

Saints do not have to be martyrs. But in recent weeks there was a major commemoration in Westminster Abbey of Oscar Romero, a very modern martyr, to mark his 100th birthday.

Saints do not have to be canonised. I think of modern martyrs such as Martin Luther King and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, or of Heather Heyer, the civil rights activist who was killed by far-right neo-Nazis and racists in Charlottesville, Kentucky, a few months ago.

Saints do not have to be canonised. I think for many of us we know that the people who handed on the faith to us from previous generations – teachers, grandparents, perhaps neighbours – even though they may be long dead by now, are still part of our vision of the Communion of Saints.

Saints do not have to live a perfect life … none of us is without sin, and none of us is beyond redemption. Some of the saints carved on the West Front of Westminster Abbey might have been very surprised to know they were going to appear there. But their lives in sum totals are what we are asked to think about.

And saints do not have to be shrouded in superstition. Yes, there are popular saints in working class Dublin, including Saint Blaise for blessing sore throats and the reverence shown to Saint Valentine in Whitefriar Street Church, particularly in the run-up to Saint Valentine’s Day. But saints, instead, are supposed to be examples of holy living.

Some years ago, in Wednesday morning tutorials, I asked students to come along with stories of their favourite ‘saints and heroes.’ And they included an interesting array of people, some of them still living.

In the back-page interviews in the Church Times, people are sometimes asked who they would like to be locked into a church with for a few hours.

Who are your favourite saints?

Who would you like to learn from a little more when it comes to living the Christian life?

In our Gospel reading (Matthew 5: 1-12) this morning, Christ tells us who his saints are.

In the Beatitudes, Christ tells the crowd and the disciples that the holy ones, the blessed ones, the ones who should be our best examples, include these people:

The poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven;

Those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

The meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

The merciful, for they will receive mercy.

The pure in heart, for they will see God.

The peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Us, you and me, ‘when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.’

Some years ago, Father Brian D’Arcy quipped in a radio interview how Dorothy Day once spoke of how her fellow Roman Catholics went to confession regularly and confessed to ‘breaking’ one of the Ten Commandments, but she wondered how often they confessed to ‘breaking’ one of the Eight Beatitudes.

On Sunday morning, at the Family Eucharist in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, we saw how the Ten Commandments can be grouped into two sets, those about loving God, and those about loving others.

So too, we might see the Beatitudes set out in two groups of four.

The first four are inward looking: the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

The second four are outward looking: the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and those who are persecuted.

We might see the first four Beatitudes as addressing attitudes, while the second four deal with resulting actions.

The Beatitudes are culturally embedded in our society, in our literature, in our arts. But they need not just to be thought about, but to be lived out.

Writing on the financial pages of The Guardian some years ago [17 January 2011], Terry Macalister wrote: ‘From Tolstoy to Dostoevsky to Chekov, if anyone can tell a good story it’s the Russians. Well, in Chapter 2 of Boris Pasternak’s great Russian novel Doctor Zhivago, Larissa Feodorovna Guishar, who “was not religious” and “did not believe in ritual,” was startled by the Beatitudes, for she thought they were about herself.

The Beatitudes bring together religious belief and religious practice. As our Preface in our Eucharistic Prayer invites us to pray, the saints are not only an example of godly living, but they also invite us to ‘run with perseverance the race that is set before us.’

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Priest-in-Charge, the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. This sermon was prepared for the All Saints’ Day Eucharist in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick, on Wednesday 1 November 2017.

Some Hymns:

The East Window in All Saints’ Church, Cambridge, has 20 figures alluding to all the saints and is one of the great treasures of the Pre-Raphaelite Movement (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

459: ‘For all the saints, who from their labours rest,’ by Bishop William Walsham How (1823-1897).

464: ‘God, whose city’s sure foundation.’

All Saints … remembered in a street sign in All Saints’ Estate, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Penitential Kyries, Peace, Preface and Blessing:

Penitential Kyries:

Lord, you are gracious and compassionate.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

You are loving to all,
and your mercy is over all your creation.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Your faithful servants bless your name,
and speak of the glory of your kingdom.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Introduction to the Peace:

We are fellow citizens with the saints
and the household of God,
through Christ our Lord,
who came and preached peace to those who were far off
and those who were near (Ephesians 2: 19, 17).

The Preface:

In the saints
you have given us an example of godly living,
that rejoicing in their fellowship,
we may run with perseverance the race that is set before us,
and with them receive the unfading crown of glory ...

Blessing:

God give you grace
to share the inheritance of all his saints in glory ...

Some suggestions for Prayers:

God of the past,
on this feast of All Saints
we remember before you, with thanks,
the lives of those Christians who have gone before us:
the great leaders and thinkers,
those who have died for their faith,
those whose goodness transformed all they did;
Give us grace to follow their example and continue their work.

God of love
grant our prayer.

God of the present,
on this feast of All Saints
we remember before you
those who have more recently died,
giving thanks for their lives and example and for all that they have meant to us.
We pray for those who grieve
and for all who suffer throughout the world:
for the hungry, the sick, the victims of violence and persecution.

God of love
grant our prayer.

God of the future,
on this feast of All Saints
we remember before you the newest generation of your saints,
and pray for the future of the church
and for all who nurture and encourage faith.

God of love
grant our prayer.

We give you thanks
for the whole company of your saints
with whom in fellowship we join our prayers and praises
in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Collect:

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 our Lord. Amen.

Post-Communion Prayer:

God, the source of all holiness
and giver of all good things:
May we who have shared at this table
as strangers and pilgrims here on earth
be welcomed with all your saints
to the heavenly feast on the day of your kingdom;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Getting to All Saints … a street sign in All Saints’ Estate, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Each of us is called to be a saint -

S anctity is not reserved for just the "chosen few"
A ll of us must live our lives with this one end in view.
I nterior renewal has its great part to play,
N ever get discouraged but begin afresh each day,
T his was the great secret of one saint's "little way".

I'm referring to St. Therese of Lisieux but as you so rightly mentioned there are saints all around us of whom we are unaware, people who try to do God's will day after day after day...