Monday, 5 November 2018

A witness to the faith

This Sunday we are celebrating ALL SAINTS across the R.M.C.

Isaiah 25: 6-9. The salvation of souls here is characterised as a great feast, with rich food and wine, and where death is no more. The relief felt by a people who have all their tears wiped away results is obvious joy and rejoicing. 
Revelation 21: 1-6. That great culmination of God's plan for the whole of creation (with humanity at its centre) is here prophesied at the end of the New Testament in Revelation and is characterised as a wedding.
God is now with His people and there is now no mourning or crying or pain any more. A favourite at funerals!
John 11: 32-44. That God, working through Jesus is Lord of all life is the message of the raising of Lazarus and prefigures the resurrection of Jesus Himself - not to die again as Lazarus will have done - but born to eternal life. Joining ourselves to Jesus we have the assurance that that future "feast" or "wedding" is ours. 

What is a saint? Well that is quite easy if we divorce the original meaning in the Bible from later catholic accretions.

A Saint is a witness – a witness to the faith and it is a translation of the Greek word “Martyrios” from which we also get the word Martyr – which in English became a special kind of witness – one that paid the ultimate price for refusing to deny Christ with their own life.

But simply by being a member of the church – a witness to our shared faith in Jesus – we are all Saints – witnesses to the faith that Jesus is the Son of God who died for the sins of the whole world.

You are witnessing to that faith by being here this morning.

When Paul addresses his letters to various churches in Rome or Corinth or Ephesus he invariably includes “to all the saints” in that particular place – everyone who profess with their lips and by their manner of life that “Jesus is Lord” of their life.

 The celebration of “all Saints” is a major festival of the Christian church precisely because it celebrates every single member of the body of Christ who has ever lived; that great communion of the Saints that we profess we believe in when we recite the “Apostles creed.”

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.

That great credal statement from the Western side of Christendom first appears in about 390 A.D. and so on the one hand has nothing to do with the original apostles but on the other hand has everything to do with everybody who wishes to spread the message of the truth and mission of Jesus Christ, which I trust includes the original apostles and everyone who has come afterwards, including ourselves.

Of course many Christians distinguished themselves as being much greater and more inspirational witnesses than others and that tradition of placing “Saint” in front of their name to distinguish them from less distinguished members of the church became normalised.

It is I suppose only right and proper that people are remembered and revered and can continue to inspire other Christians that they should be remembered and marked out in some way, so long as we recall that it was never quite meant to be that way and that if they can inspire us to follow more resolutely in the way of Christ then they are achieving what I guess the system was devised for.

In Eastern Christianity, which is far less centralised and more local there are scores and scores of local saints some of which are barely known outside of their village or region.
But our readings today don’t touch any of this at all.

What our readings today convey is the faith and hope that binds all the Christian saints together both past and present.

They try and convey in words the almost inexpressible. The final consummation; the end of all life – of all human life, endeavour, all our hopes and dreams, when God will bring everything to a glorious finale;

When He will be with us forever, and we will enjoy his presence forever, where there will be no more tears, no more pain, and in our new resurrection bodies in a resurrected world will know death no more.

It is this vision, this end game, which has inspired Christian witnesses from the very beginning. You can call it salvation – you can call it healing – you can call it completeness – when all death decay and suffering and evil are defeated, and goodness mercy and Joy reign supreme forever.

It is in Proverbs where it says “Without a vision the people perish”(29:18)

It is this vision that draws us ever onwards. It is this vision that we are witnessing to and drawing people towards to share in this vision that is characterised by hope.

Hope in the New Testament is not a weak or wishy-washy thing. Hope is a certain expectation that these things, sometimes described as a feast as today in Isaiah, in other places a wedding between divinity and the created order as today in revelation will take place.

This is the substance of Christian hope.

That in the end “all will be well and all manner of things will be well” as Julian of Norwich wrote.

We are witnesses to that hope, joy, mercy, resurrection; witnesses to new life, when evil is defeated for ever.

So if I may paraphrase St. Paul;

To the church of God in the R.M.C. including all the saints in East Devon,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Continue to walk in the way of Jesus Christ. Be faithful to the tradition of the Apostles and prophets and witness to the faith within you to the people in our midst who are still far off.

So the most pertinent question that leaves us to ponder is this;
What kind of witness is the RMC to the people of East Devon?
What can we do to become better witnesses?
So All Saints Sunday is actually far from a simple veneration of what I’m sure are a wonderful collection of very inspiring but very dead super-Christians,
It is a call to reflection and a call to action for the church of today.