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The Sunday within the Octave of All Saints
November 4, 2007

A Sermon Preached by the Rev'd Dr Andrew C. Blume

O Almighty God, who hast knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow thy blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys which thou hast prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Ecclesiasticus 44:1-10, 13-14
Psalm 149
Revelation 7:2-4, 9-17
Matthew 5:1-12

Starting this week you will find something new in your pews: the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. This book is, believe it or not, a triumph of the High Church party in the Episcopal Church. For the first time since 1549, an Anglican prayer book authorised an Eucharistic liturgy that presented the ancient, catholic structure of the Mass. It made explicit that the Eucharist was the central act of Christian worship and that communities were to gather around the Sacrament of the Altar each Sunday so that they might welcome Christ into their midst and receive him into our bodies. It encouraged an expanded daily office, returning the noonday office and the beautiful service of Compline to the round of prayer, and greatly expanded the amount of material available to people for their own private devotions. In short, it made the Benedictine foundations of Prayer Book worship—with its three pronged approach to corporate life incorporating Eucharist, the daily office, and private prayer—clearer than ever. It even has a rubric that allows for any of the prayers not appearing in traditional language, to be so rendered (page 14).

The 1979 Book of Common Prayer also made clearer than ever that Baptism is the foundation of all Christian life and ministry and is the one requisite for admission to Holy Communion. It took Baptism from the shadows of private services on Saturday afternoons and placed it within the Sunday and Festal worship of Christian communities, where it has been since the earliest days. It made each baptism an occasion for the whole community to reaffirm their own baptismal promises and it restored the notion that it was from Baptism that flowed our authority as ministers of Christ’s Gospel of Love and reconciliation. And in its structure and prayers it articulates God’s deepest longings for us and, I would hope, our own deepest longings for each other, especially our children.

This is evident throughout the Baptismal liturgy, which we will have the chance to experience in just a few moments when James and Cathy bring Benjamin and Lilly forward for their baptism. One of the very first things I am going to ask the parents and godparents is if they will, “by their prayers and witness help these children to grow into the full stature of Christ?” Will they, “by their prayers and witness help these children to grow into the full stature of Christ?” This is an amazing question and an awesome responsibility. What I am asking, what the Church is asking, is if the parents and godparents will, not only in what they teach Ben and Lilly through books and words, but in how they live their lives, show them what it means to be Christ-like. Will they teach their children in word and deed to be like Jesus Christ? And what does this even mean? For me, Jesus Christ, in his full stature, was that One who was the most available to God and the most available to others, even on the Cross. He was the One whose will was conformed so closely with God’s will that they were one and the same, who was able to hear the word of God and do it, and in doing so, cared deeply for the concerns of other people, cared deeply how people lived and loved, and wanted only the best for others. And he wanted this not for his own sake, not to make himself feel better or more powerful, but so that people might be their best selves. In doing so, Jesus was his best self always.

It sounds like a tall order. How can we possibly do this alone? The answer is that God knows how hard it is and does not ask us to do this alone. Indeed, the reality of God’s creation is that we are never completely alone and that none of us can truly fulfill our Christian vocation as divine lovers alone. This is why the parents and godparents answer their questions not simply with an “I will,” but by saying “I will, with God’s help.” This is also why, at the end of all the promises the entire congregation will pledge to “support these persons in their life in Christ.” We are never alone and not a single one of us will get it right all the time. None of us will ever be perfect. We are all in the process of being formed by God in and through our encounters with him and his children in the course of our lives.

What we can ask of ourselves and what we can hope for those we love is that we will always try our best and when we miss the mark, be willing to ask for forgiveness and for help and support and know that God is always standing with outstretched arms to receive us in love and that there is a community waiting to do the same.

And here we have the substance of the baptismal promises that we will all renew: we pledge to live in relationship with each other and be bound together in the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood; we will show forth, “not only with our lips, but in our lives” the world altering presence of God in Christ in the world; we will work together to love all people and see Christ in each face we see; and when we mess-up, we will realise that all we have to do is turn again to God and try again, knowing that God loves and holds us and supports us all along the way.

At the very end of the Baptism, I will say a prayer that states so clearly all these deepest longings that we and God both have for our children and all our brothers and sisters in Christ. We will pray that God may give Ben and Lilly “inquiring and discerning hearts, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.” That prayer always gets me. That prayer sums-up our conception of the full stature of Christ into which each of us has the potential to grow. That prayer sums-up everything I want for my own son. That prayer sums-up everting I want for each and every one of you.

Today we celebrate the Feast of All Saints, one of the four great Baptismal festivals of the Church Year according to the Book of Common Prayer. Today we learn that the saints are people just like you and me who have gone down to the waters of Baptism and succeeded, with the help of God and of their brothers and sisters in Christian community, at conforming their wills with God’s will for them. These are people, as we read in the passage from the Revelation to John, “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb,” who have through their humanity and all their faults, been able to serve God, who have been able to have shining moments of love in which the Love of God became manifest into the world. Saints are not perfect. They are men and women like you and me who have heard and responded to God’s call to them, even at personal risk, but who learned and experienced that “the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Each and every one of us who has been Baptised into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ lives in relationship with him. Each and every one of us is able to connect with him and his love for us, so that we may bring it forth into the world. Each and every one of us can look with confidence to the saints, many of whom were deeply flawed, for inspiration on how to fulfill our own baptismal promises and I pray that Ben and Lilly can look into the loving faces of their parents and into the loving faces of their brothers and sisters in Christ, not only seeing the face of God looking back at them, but find in the love they see, the desire and strength to do that, be that for someone else.

Amen.

Andrew Charles Blume+
All Souls Day, 2 November 2007

©2007 Andrew Charles Blume