Thursday, 1 November 2018

‘How shall I sing that majesty?
Sing, sing, ye heavenly choir’

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

Patrick Comerford,

All Saints’ Day, 1 November 2018,

Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick,


11 a.m.: The Eucharist,

Readings: Wisdom 3: 1-9; Psalm 24; Revelation 21: 1-6a; John 11: 32-44.

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

From a child’s point of view, our Gospel reading this morning (John 11: 32-44) might seem more appropriate for Hallowe’en last night than for All Saints’ Day this morning.

Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, has died. Martha has told Jesus that he would not have died had Jesus been present. Touched by the pain of those he loves, Jesus weeps and shares their pain. Martha tries to restrain Jesus from viewing the decomposing body of his friend. But Jesus reminds her: ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?’

Christ prays to his Father, and it is God, Father and Son, who bring Lazarus back to life, and he emerges from the grave, still wrapped in burial clothes.

Through Christ’s action, the dead man comes back to life.

Of course, Christ’s action is only going to work for a while, a few months, a few years perhaps. Because, in the end, Lazarus still has to die.

But reading the story of Lazarus once again reminds me of two things.

Firstly, the Church needs to recover the whole and holy meaning of Hallowe’en, instead of distancing ourselves from it.

In the Creeds, we say ‘I believe in … the communion of saints … [and] the resurrection of the body …’ (The Apostles’ Creed), and ‘We look for the resurrection of the dead’ (The Nicene Creed).

Hallowe’en merely means the evening before the Feast of all who are hallowed. The phrase in the Lord’s Prayer, ‘hallowed be thy name,’ simply means ‘may God’s name be blessed or regarded as holy.’

Hallowe’en means simply that we see the dead who have died in the faith as blessed or regard them as holy.

When he was Dean of Liverpool, Archbishop Justin Welby held a regular service in the cathedral on Hallowe’en that he called ‘Night of the Living Dead.’

We believe that those who have died in Christ now live in Christ and are one with us in the Communion of Saints.

And secondly, I believe the Church of Ireland needs to recover a full meaning and understanding of the Communion of Saints.

For the Reformers in the 16th century, there was no distinction between ‘All Saints’ and ‘All Souls,’ and the Collect of All Saints’ Day is merely a modernised version of the words composed by Thomas Cranmer for the Book of Common Prayer in 1549.

Since the third or fourth century, All Saints’ Day has been one of the 12 Principal Feasts of the Church, and the Pantheon in Rome was dedicated as a church to Saint Mary and All Martyrs.

The Wisdom of Solomon is one of the Apocryphal books in the Old Testament, yet is appointed for our Old Testament reading this morning (Wisdom 3: 1-9).

This reading says the souls of the righteous are in hand of God, and that after death they will not suffer. To the foolish, it may seem they have simply ceased to exist. But, actually, they are at peace, and while it may appear that they have been punished, their hope is in life eternal.

‘The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God
no torment will ever touch them.’

Saints do not have to be canonised. Many of us we know of people who handed on the faith to us from previous generations – teachers, grandparents, perhaps neighbours – and 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.

In our New Testament reading (Revelation 21: 1-6a), Saint John sees the new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth, and the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven.

The home of God is now among mortals, but sorrow and mourning, pain and death are wiped away, and God on the throne makes all things new.

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

The raising of Lazarus from the dead … a fresco in Analipsi Church or the Church of the Resurrection in Georgioupoli, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

John 11: 32-44 (NRSV)

32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

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

Liturgical colour: White

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.

The 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.

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 ...

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.

Blessing:

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

‘The Holy City’, a colourful picture by Thetis Blacker in the Royal Foundation of Saint Katharine in Limehouse, London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Some 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.

Hymns:

459: ‘For all the saints, who from their labours rest,’ by Bishop William Walsham How (1823-1897) (CD 27).

468: ‘How shall I sing that majesty’ (CD 2, Church Hymnal discs).

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

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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