01 November 2011

‘What we will be has not yet been revealed’

All Saints … a modern icon

Patrick Comerford

Tuesday, 1 November 2011, All Saints’ Day,

8.30 a.m., The Eucharist;

Jeremiah 31; 31-34; Psalm 34: 1-10; Revelation 7: 9-17 or I John 3: 1-3; Matthew 5: 1-12.

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

Back to work after a bank holiday weekend.

How many of you were spooked last night with little children scurrying around your front door, with outstretched bags and beseeching arms as they wailed: “Trick or Treat.”

But how many of those children knew what Halloween means … that it means the eve of All Hallows, the Eve of All Saints’ Day?

It is a name that survived for centuries in the Monastery of All Hallows, the Augustinian monastery to the east of Dublin founded in 1166 and the site on which Trinity College Dublin was built in 1592.

Some of us are familiar too with All Hallows, the theological college in Drumcondra on the north side of Dublin, founded in 1842.

This day has nothing to do with spooky pranks or ghoulish games. The Feast of All Hallows is the Feast of All Saints, one of the seven great feasts of the Church, first introduced during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor, Leo VI “the Wise” (886–911).

Saints and kings on the west facade of Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

In recent weeks, I found myself looking up once again at the West Fronts of Lichfield Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. In Lichfield, the west front is decorated with carved images of saints, mixed through with Anglo-Saxon and English kings. In Westminster Abbey, the west facade has ten niches that were filled in 1998 with statues of 20th century saints and martyrs, including Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King and Oscar Romero.

Those ten niches had been left empty from the late Middle Ages. But if you were to pick your own modern saints, the saints who had influenced you in your faith journey, modern exemplars of Christian faith and discipleship, who would you name? From the past? From the present? And would you leave a place for the saints of the future?

Three evangelists, Saint Matthew, Saint Mark and Saint Luke ... a window in All Saints’ Church, Antrim (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Our readings this morning bring together the saints of the past, the saints of the present, and the saints of the future. Together we are the Body of Christ.

The Church Triumphant and the Church Militant are one. And the living saints remember those who died but who are alive in Christ – with gratitude and as examples of true discipleship and faithfulness, that we may be blessed today (Matthew 5: 3-11) and in the future kingdom (Matthew 5: 12).

And we look forward to being saints of the future, even though we are told in the reading from I John that “what we will be has not yet been revealed” (I John 3: 3).

This day is not so much a day to remember people and what they have done as a day to remember what God has done for people and through people. It is a testimony to and celebration of the fact that the Gates of Hell have never prevailed against the Church. For God has redeemed people from every generation to be his own.

And together we are blessed, happy, fortunate. The Greek word repeated constantly in the beatitudes in our Gospel reading, μακάριος, is loaded with meaning: it can mean blessed, saintly, happy fortunate.

Today we remember that there is a prayerful, spiritual, sweet communion between the whole church, between all of us gathered before the Lamb on the Throne (Revelation 7: 9), and that there are no barriers of time and space – past, present or future – for those barriers have been broken, shattered, by Christ in his death and resurrection. And in that we are blessed, sanctified, fortunate, happy, to rejoice.

As we say together later in this Eucharist at the fraction: “We being many are one body, for we all share in the one bread.”

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


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.

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.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This sermon was preached at the All Saints’ Day Eucharist in the institute chapel on 1 November 2011.

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