Here is our free parish magazine for the month of November: The Messenger.
'Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.' Hebrews 12:1-3
Brother's and sisters, today I was going to reflect upon those Christians who had died for their fait and were recorded by the Apostle John in the Book of Revelation as worshipping Jesus in Heaven. Today, I was going to reflect upon who God counts as blessed who God would have us serve and challenge us to live up to Jesus’ challenge for us to be saints in the world.But that reflection it turns out - after the news last night - is not for today. Last night, as you will all know by now, we were told by the Prime Minister that come Thursday we will be entering another national lockdown. And so today, I want us to focus instead, on some words found in Hebrews, and which I reflect upon in the editorial for this month’s magazine.
This morning we find ourselves at a time when the restrictions to our daily lives are again increasing. Human beings are a communal species; we live and flourish with other people and, therefore, the most difficult restrictions to live with are those which pull us apart and isolate us from our friends and loved ones. I hate the masks, but I can live with them. I dislike the constant washing of hands; but I can cope. But hugs and face to face conversations with those I care about, I am increasingly finding the lack of them difficult to manage. John Donne wrote “No man is an island, entire of it self; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main” and I have never felt the force of that until we were told to stop seeing almost everyone else. No wonder the government has encouraged ‘support bubbles’ for those who live alone, for ‘islands’ we were never meant to be.
Into the horror of forced isolation comes the Feast of All Saints, a feast which often passes most people by, as it is eclipsed by the secular fascination with Halloween. It strikes me, that never in my lifetime, at least, have we been more in need of this feast day. All Saints turns our attention to the Christian community, to the Church, and especially to that part of the community which we cannot easily see; those who are no longer on earth. When we declare in the creed that we believe in ‘one catholic Church’ we are affirming that we are part of a whole, part of a Church which not only spans the world but also spans time. There is ‘one’ Church made up of all those who believed in Christ in the past, as well as all those who believe in Christ now. This amazing and diverse group of people includes such ‘greats’ as St Augustine, St Francis, and St George, but also the grandmother who always prayed for you, and your Christian friend who recently died. Death does not end our membership of the Church, as it does say for the National Trust, rather we continue forever to be a part of Jesus’ body, His family, spread across time.
How does all this help? At a time when we are separated from those who are still alive, how does it help to remember those from whom we are separated by death? Well, here All Saints helps us out, by reminding us that though the Christian departed have left the earth, they are still an active and real presence in heaven, and, therefore, within the Church. Those who died in Christ are alive in Him, and they watch us walking through this life, and through this time of pandemic, from the side lines. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews puts it like this: ‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us’. The great crowd of witnesses are those who have trusted Jesus in this life and have as a consequence now gone to be with Him. The author of Hebrews has us picture our life like a race, where we are the participants, and the faithful departed are the spectators cheering us on. There are times when we feel despondent when we feel our faith is at a low ebb, and the author reminds us that, in those moments, we are being cheered on by those who have gone before. As Christians we are never alone, even when we are locked-down in our homes, suffering from illness and loneliness, for the saints are always with us. They are on our side; they are cheering us and encouraging us on; and they are praying and asking God to help us. ‘Therefore’ writes our author ‘let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us’. ‘Keep going’ scream the saints; ‘don’t give up’ they cry ‘for God is with you’. What a marvellous and heart warming thought to know that we are never alone, that a whole host of people who have struggled through the Christian life, and made it out the other side are backing us, and supporting us. As the days grow shorter, and the restrictions more intense, let us be encouraged that we, as Christians, are never alone. Let us keep praying and following Jesus encouraged on by the saints in Glory, so that in the words of Hebrews: ‘[we] may not grow weary or lose heart.' Amen (from Rev. Mike).