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Saint Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church

An Episcopal Church in the Anglo-Catholic Tradition Where All Are Welcome

The Sunday within the Octave of All Saints
2 November 2008

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: Grant 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

The Revelation to John is one of the most challenging books in the Canon of Scripture. For many, it has formed the core of a theology of the End Times, a blue print for how God will put all things under his subjection and bring about his Kingdom. In its original context, most scholars agree that John intended the text to be a highly imaginative critique of Roman authority and of the misplaced priorities of men and women throughout the Empire. John used the language of apocalyptic literature to show the fleeting nature of temporal power and the lasting, real nature of the God’s sovereignly over Creation. Paradoxically it is not the Emperor, but rather the Lamb, slaughtered and risen, who will be the real shepherd of the people of the world. It is the Lamb who will lead and bring the reign of peace and love that the world so sorely needs.

This image of the Lamb of God has become increasingly powerful for me. It is an image that I personally find very moving and it is to this image of the “Lamb in the midst of the throne” to which I invariably turn each time All Saint’s Day comes around. For years, I relished All Saint’s Day for its pageantry, and especially for the sense of wellness and cheer that I always felt (and indeed still feel) when we sing “For all the Saints” in procession. Something happened right around the time I was ordained, however, that drew me away from the feel-good aspects of the All Saint’s Day celebrations to a contemplation of the images of the Lamb gathering the saints around him and of God, as the Lamb, wiping “away every tear from their eyes.” And that thing was becoming a parent, becoming someone’s “daddy.”

When I read the propers for All Saint’s Day for the first time after having held my son in my arms and been with him for those three weeks in the hospital and comforted him when he was upset, I had a profoundly concrete image of what it is to wipe away “every tear from [his] eyes.” I felt my fingers on his face wiping away those salty droplets wishing nothing but life and health and happiness and love for this other creature. Being with him, preparing his meals, dressing him and making him wear a hat, I had a tangible and incredibly immediate understanding of God fulfilling his desire for the saints that “they shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.” I wished all these things not because it would be good for me, but because it is what he deserves to have, simply by virtue of his being a fellow human being made in the image and likeness of God and with whom I am forever bound. I had a physical, sensory understanding of God’s deepest desires for us, his children, and how he feels our pain and sadness and shares with us in our sorrows, as well as in our joys. God wipes away every tear because he loves us and wants for us nothing but life and health and happiness. He wants this for us because we are his and we are bound to each other by unbreakable bonds both through our creation in his image and likeness and again by virtue of our baptism into the death and resurrection of his son, the Lamb, who is the one who gathers us all together around his body.

In short, I realised that what I want for my child is what God wants for all of us. And in turn this helps me to feel loved, feel and know that God is always with us, always caring for us, always suffering when we suffer, rejoicing when we rejoice. The image from the Revelation comes alive. We realise that this God who loves us so much is the Lamb, the one who suffered, the one who was lead to slaughter, the one who, in his resurrection, triumphed over death and sin and suffering. We realise that it is the Lamb, and not the predator who leads us, whom we follow, whom we love, and who loves us.

The image from Revelation shows “a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.” The image from Revelation is one of all the world gathered around the Lamb, gathered around the one who loves them and whom they love. These are the saints whom we honour today. These are the saints about whom we read heroic accounts and tales of amazing deeds, heights of love and depths of insight. These are the ones we might believe too exalted for us to think about in the same way as we think about ourselves and our friends and neighbours.

And yet, the saints are no different, no better than any of us. The saints, with all their flaws, all their human weaknesses were and are the ones who are able to accept the generous love of God, feel his loving embrace, his loving gaze, feel that soft finger wiping away their tears. They are the ones who because they know and feel that they are loved so profoundly are able, out of gratitude, out of their own increased sense of what love is, out of a desire to share that love act and act decisively as God’s ministers. The saints are the ones who, because they know they are loved, do extraordinary things with their lives, extraordinary things for others, extraordinary things to help God.

And this should give us hope. This notion, this reality is that the saints are regular human beings like you and like me who responded to the love they have received with generous, unconditional love, shown both to God and to neighbour. They were the ones who, because they were loved, fulfilled the Great Commandment about which we heard last Sunday. The ultimately commonplace character of the saints, their ordinariness, holds out the possibility for us that we, too, may come not only to experience and know the love that God has for us, but even more than this, that we may respond to it generously, abundantly. The saints teach us that we, too, in our actions, can have a real impact upon our brothers and sisters and, dare I say it, even upon God, God who will rejoice greatly in our generosity, our love, our
stewardship of the gifts we have been given.

Indeed, this is what real Stewardship is. It is not simply writing a cheque, it is the profligate offering back to God and to our neighbours of the many and diverse gifts and talents with which we have been endowed. It is an action born out of the understanding and acceptance of our being loved so much that the only response is with more love, more devotion to a life oriented towards love, towards aligning our wills with God’s will for us, that we may be reconciled with him, at one with him. And while what we do here and now may fall short of what God will ultimately realise in his Kingdom, we are still called to look to that image of the multitude gathered around the Lamb, “the Lamb in the midst of the throne [who] will be their shepherd, and [who] will guide them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” We are called to look to this image and see the ones whom we admire and love, whether it be Ignatius of Antioch, Augustine, Hilda of Whitby, Martin Luther King, or William Temple, and imagine that we, too might be part of that company, we too are loved as much as each of them, and each of us has the capacity within ourselves to act in love and gratitude and embrace our baptismal ministry.

Perhaps, unlike our heros, we will be like those Ben Sirach speaks of in the passage we heard earlier, the ones “who have no memorial, who have perished as though they had not lived; they have become as though they had not been born, and so have their children after them.” Yet Sirach reminds us that all “were men [and women] of mercy, whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten; their posterity will continue for ever, and their glory will not be blotted out. Their bodies were buried in peace, and their name lives to all generations.” God keeps all of us with him, in his memory, his book of remembrance, so we read in Malachi (3:16), and God will remember what we do, keep us with him always, gather us around his throne, the throne of the Lamb, and will “wipe every tear away from our eyes.”

Andrew Charles Blume+
James Hannington, Bishop and Martyr, 29 October 2008

©2008 Andrew Charles Blume