The Sunday within the Octave of All Saints
7 November 2010
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
Revelation 7:2-4, 9-17
I love the image of Paradise in the Revelation to St. John:
I looked, and behold, 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 .... “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night within his temple; and he who sits upon the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For 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.”
Here we have gathered all those who have conformed their wills with God’s will, who have been steadfast in their relationship with God (which is to say, steadfast in their faith), spreading his Love throughout creation, sometimes—often, even—at great personal risk. These are the ones who have so loved God—as God so loved the world—that they shone His light forth for all to see. In this gathering there is great joy and the trials and hardships they have encountered in being so resolute in love are now behind them and the gentle touch of the lamb on the face of each wipes away all their tears.
And it is this caring Lamb who leads them. It is remarkable that here we do not have the beneficent and ferocious lion, as C. S. Lewis imagined God, but rather a lamb —the symbol of purity, of obedience, of gentleness and mildness, of one who knows how to follow, but who will only follow the one he knows to be the true shepherd. This is the Shepherd / Lamb who was lead to the slaughter at the hands of cruel and ignorant men. The Lamb who came through the ordeal not hating those who persecuted him, but loving them all the more. The Lamb who was himself so transformed, transfigured by Love that death itself was defeated.
Indeed, it is the shed blood of the Lamb that has brought the saints before the throne. It is the Lamb's supreme example of love that has inspired, energised, and, yes, transformed the saints. It is the blood of the Lamb that has washed them and made them clean and spotless, and it is the Lamb who gives them life with living water.
And who are these saints? Who are these who gather before the throne to worship and adore and love and serve not a Lord who selfishly oppresses with his power, but the Lord who is also the Lamb. The Saints, we are told, are from “every tribe and people and nation and tongue.” They are women and men of all sorts with no regard for wealth or even education, as the capacity for love knows no human-defined boundary, but extends itself to all of us. They are all those who have loved with the Love of God.
Each of us is worthy to be counted among these saints. We are, after all, from all walks and conditions of life. But even more profoundly, each of us is a human being who has been created in the Image and Likeness of God. Each of us, then, has within ourselves, the capacity to respond in love to the transforming, self-giving Love of the Lamb.
Sainthood is not about being the biggest, the strongest, richest, most powerful person. It is about being a creature who can—in and through our own complex human lives—confirm our wills with God’s will. Indeed, throughout the Middle Ages, which was the height of the Cult of the Saints, people’s favourite saints were not the superheros, but rather the ones who seemed most human, most flawed, and were still used by God as bearers and doers of his will.
Over the past few weeks we have been hearing a lot about tax collectors, those Jews who worked with the Roman authorities to bring in the steady revenue that the Empire required and who made themselves rich in the process. These men were considered, along with prostitutes, to be some of the most undesirable characters of the world of first-century Judea. These sinners would not be welcome in polite company and it would be unthinkable for a respectable teacher or rabbi like Jesus to interact with them, let alone break bread with them. Jesus, however, called out to these as well. Jesus the lamb called to them like the shepherd looking for a lost member of the flock and they heard his call and came to him. Zacchaeus the tax collector, that funny little man, was so drawn to Jesus that he climbed a tree just for a glimpse of him. Zaccaheus the tax collector was so struck by Jesus' notice of him and Jesus’ invitation to dine with him that he was moved to give his money to the needy and to make amends for his dishonest dealings. Zacchaeus shows us how ordinary people, people who are not considered your usual saints, can respond to the call of the lamb. Zacchaeus shows how someone like you or like me—tax collectors and sinners that we are—can be numbered among the saints. He shows us how God can use anyone for his cosmic purpose of love.
Human life is complicated. Each of us has our own flaws, our weaknesses. We are not always up to the tasks we are set. We are not always up to the serious business of loving God and our neighbour. Nevertheless, we remain always ready and always worthy to be set apart to do God's work. Each of us has been created in God’s Image and Likeness, and has been led by the Lamb to the living waters of Baptism into his death and Resurrection, as Isobel is today. Having been created and made new, we are already Holy—which simply and literally means “set apart” All of us have within us the power to answer God's call because God gave us this power because he Loves us so much.
The Saints who stand and serve at the throne of the Lamb are before us not as examples of virtue so different from us as to make us feel inadequate to our call to ministry. They are before us, rather, as complex human beings who, like the tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners met God who, with outstretched arms, invited them into his loving embrace and who in turn shared that embrace with others.
I pray that we may all know the loving embrace of the one who created us, know the touch of the Lamb on our face as he wipes away our tears, and that we may share those caresses with others who will feel in our touch, the touch of God.
Andrew Charles Blume+
New York City
William Temple, 6 November 2010
© 2010 Andrew Charles Blume