All Saints': Holding fast to belief

The Reverend Margaret Legg


All Saints’ Day follows Hallowe’en – the Eve of All Hallows Day.

Some of the decorations are still around – it’s big nowadays. Sign of the lighted pumpkin and 55 treats in half an hour. Pumpkin was taken in!!

Ancient Celtic festival of the dead: SAMHAIN. We’re increasingly fascinated by the dark, sinistra, the left. The treats are a way of trying to make light of what is frightening and to appease the ghosts and ghoulies. This fascination is linked to that kind of perverse pleasure that enjoys the misfortune of others (photos of traffic accidents), that almost hopes good people will go wrong.

Today, in contrast, we celebrate goodness, the goodness of the holy ones– saint is from the Latin Sanctus, holy. 

By holy I mean people who have kept God at the centre and who have believed, through thick and thin, in God’s promises that there is life after death, there is a new Jerusalem where heaven and earth will be intertwined, where God will once again live among us.

 

Not people like you and I then!!

Surely they are all well known and famous? None of them would have had the same problems with their children, relationships, jobs, neighbours as you and I do? Actually they probably didn’t have jobs, how else could they have time to be saints? And anyway, you have to be dead to be a saint surely!

 

Well actually YES! Saints are people like us. And no, you don’t have to be either famous or dead!

But you do have to believe. Believe that through the death and resurrection of Jesus the way is open for us to live on after death in the peace and happiness of the new Jerusalem. Believe this through the ups and downs of everyday life.

 

Take fame and Lazarus. He’s well known because Jesus raised him form the dead – only appears in John’s Gospel – but we know nothing else about him except that he had 2 sisters. He never speaks, he’s never described. Yet he is one of the many holy people whose story is largely forgotten by humans, but remembered by God and celebrated by us today.

 

Take the problems of life

Even the great saints of the past struggled. St Augustine pleaded for God to ‘make me good, but not just yet’; some objected to Cardinal Manning, the 19th century English prelate, being called saintly, as he was a manipulative, ambitious, even unscrupulous figure.

Mary in our Gospel has a problem: she feels let down. She had believed Jesus could have prevented her brother’s death and look what happened. Lazarus died 4 days before Jesus arrived

These grey areas needn’t stop us as we try to live saintly lives. Lives that show their holiness by being God centred rather than self-centred. That put others first. That give others the benefit of the doubt and that always, at base, trust in the goodness and love of a God in whom all will, ultimately, be well.

The thing is to let God’s light and love shine through us in spite of our grey side, as it does in St Augustine’s influential writings and in Manning’s tireless work for the poorest people in Victorian London and in us, as we wrestle with conflict, with balancing what we should do with what we shouldn’t, as we try to keep the peace while not compromising on the truth, even under pressure to cave in.

 

Pressure on Jesus

The pressure is on Jesus in our Gospel. The crowd know he’s a good person – he heals, speaks the truth to power, some say he’s a prophet, the Messiah even. But is he about to mess up?

The crowd wait to see if he will go wrong. Last time he was here in Judea the Jews had tried to stone him. There’s a lot of tension in the air.

Martha is doubtful – the stench, he’s been dead 4 days already (accusingly)

It’s all about belief: You will see God’s glory if you believe, Jesus tells Martha. For the benefit of the crowd, he says aloud that they should believe he really is of God. That he will reveal God’s glory.  And sure enough the dead emerges from the tomb. Goodness triumphs. The next verse tells us that as a result many believed.

 

Today is ALL Saints day, for all those who through Jesus death and resurrection we will all have a place in the new Jerusalem, not because our lives are blameless and perfect but because we try to live out our belief in the goodness and love of God for us, believing that the new Jerusalem awaits us when we we live in this way, not because of what we do, but because of what Christ did for us. Believing that though life will be a struggle at times, peace and joy awaits us.

We need to remember that today is ALL Saints’ day. It’s about people who trust that they are accepted by God’s grace as members of his family of saints, with our membership guaranteed not by what we have done for him, but by what he has done for us.

 

And by the way, saints do have jobs and they’re not all dead!

I was amazed to read in last week’s paper about Asia Bibi, a Christian from a tiny hamlet in the Pakistanian Punjab. She worked as a berry picker on a farm until one of her fellow workers accused her of defaming the Prophet Mohammed. As a result she has spent almost 8 years in prison under sentence of death.

I’d never heard of her, but she hit the press because Pakistan’s top court ordered her release last Wednesday, provoking angry dhemonstrations. Asia couldn’t believe it when she heard of her impending freedom. Her strong Christian beliefs sustained her during her imprisonment.

 

Believing is not always easy.

But today we celebrate all those who have and who do hold fast to their belief in the power of goodness over the forces of evil; who stick to their faith through thick and thin and who show the light and truth of God to us in their lives.

 

Amen