'there before me was a great multitude that no one could count,
from every nation, tribe, people and language.’ Revelation 7:9
On this All Saints’ day it’s right that we think about the faithful departed that have come before us and those who we can follow as they themselves followed Christ. But, last week as I was travelling back from pilgrimage, I felt a little saintly myself. I say that a little tongue in cheek but, to some degree I think we’ve all felt that way from time to time, maybe it’s been when we’ve come back from a beautiful choral evensong and everything seems right with the world, or perhaps when we’ve heard a fantastic speaker preach, or maybe when we’ve walked past a homeless person and put some money in their pot, from time to time we all feel as though we’ve got a little closer to God, we feel Holy, ‘saintly’. Well last week, on the way back from pilgrimage, I certainly felt saintly. I’d just spent a weekend praying and being with other Christians, and was on the long road back north, home. I’d gone down with lots of things and many people on my heart and prayed for them and came away feeling elevated and close with God but, there was only one problem. You see, we had this really rather unhappy coach driver who would mutter loud profanities every time we came to a blocked road or flooded bypass which was somewhat putting a dampner on my feelings of sanctimony. ‘No matter’, I thought, ‘maybe I could go and speak to him and cheer him up a bit.’ So I sat down beside him and asked him what was up and this, bless him, rather upset lancashireman, was worried he was going to lose his job because on his legally imposed clock he only had three hours or so to get all the way back home and it was going to take us at least four hours. I nodded my head in the most Holy way I could, realised that I couldn’t actually do anything, said something manly like “that’s a tough one, pal” and went and sat back down again, feeling slightly less saintly. Thankfully, one of the lovely women on board had a great idea, ‘why don’t we have a whip-round to cheer up the poor old coach driver who might be losing his job?’ She suggested. I thought it was a better idea than doing nothing so we passed around a plastic wallet which went around the coach and came back to Fr Jordan, thanks to the cashless society we live in, with only £3.80, mostly in copper in the bag. I didn’t quite fancy giving that money to the coach driver with a ‘sorry you might lose your job mate but here’s some money for a starbucks’ and didn’t think he’d much appreciate the woman next to me’s idea of ‘putting in a statue of Our Lady, into the bag, either.’ As it turned out the situation resolved itself, thanks in part to the generosity of the Rector of St Laurence’s, but by that time any feelings of Saintliness had long since gone. It’ll be a while before they name a Church after St Jordan the martyr, who was murdered by a coach driver on his way back from pilgrimage.
The truth is that the feelings we associate with saintliness are actually nothing to do with what it actually means to be a Saint. We seem to think that being a saint is all about that edifying feeling we get when we’ve done something ‘good’. It’s a fleeting feeling that lasts as long as our mood is up and actually isn’t at all what we see in the life of the Saints. The Saints would work hard, often without reward. The saints would suffer, they’d live lives of poverty, they’d give and they’ve even die for the faith. When we talk about the saints, what we’re talking about are the people who held on to Christ until the very end, throughout all of the suffering of life and all of the pain, they held on to Jesus. Being a saint, isn’t a nice feeling with a visible halo, being a saint means holding on tightly to Jesus, even when things seem impossible. The fleeting feeling can disappear, but steadfast faith, that’s what we see in the saints, that’s what should inspire us and help us to hold on to God ourselves.
“Who are these?” We heard asked in our first reading today, “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." Being a saint is what we strive towards, not for a reward or a nice life, but because we love our God who also loves us. In the total opposite to the ‘what’s in it for me?’ model that the world seems to work upon, in opposition to the rewards based society we live in, we are called to persevere in loving God and loving each other and that is our reward, as we grow closer to God. Perhaps you’ve had a terrible few months? If that’s you I want you to pause and call to mind all the dreadful stuff that’s happened to you over the past few months. Perhaps you’re just feeling down, well then call to mind and gather together your feelings. Or maybe you’re doing great, then think of someone you know who is struggling. Today I want you to take all of the struggles that burden you, I want you to hold them in your hearts, and I want you to remember that God himself suffered when he walked among us. I want you to imagine the pain he felt on the cross, the weight that he took on his shoulders, the responsibility for every wrong. The loss of his mother at seeing him.
God suffered on earth. He knows your suffering, too. Just as we may cry out and ask why me, so too did Jesus ask that his cup would be taken from him. So too did he suffer. So too did the saints. We’re not here to have fun. We’re here to love; to love God and one-another, and when that get’s hard then we can remember that God suffered, we can remember that the saints suffered and we can rely on the Holy Spirit to comfort us too. So hold on to the faith, brothers and sisters and to all of you who suffer, let me read again our Gospel reading. This reading is considered by some to be sort of Jesus’ manifesto, so let us hear it in our hearts, our weary long-suffering hearts as we draw closer to the example of the Saints who came before us, as they drew near to Christ. God’s radical manifesto for us:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. ‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.’ - Matthew 5:1-11.
Brothers and sisters, may we persevere in loving God and loving each other. May we love God in the suffering as much as we do in the joy, may we hold on with all our might as the Saints have before us and may we draw near to him, one day, as we keep the faith to the very end. Saintliness is not a feeling, it is a decision to love even when we don’t feel like it. Nonetheless, we don’t have to suffer alone. So my challenge to you this week is that you go and find someone you know who is struggling, maybe take them out for a drink, or maybe give them a call or do something small for them, to show your love for them, as you’d hope they would for you, in your need. But in all things, let us persevere in love, both of God and one another, as the saints did before us. Amen (from Fr Jordan).