Sermon for 1st November 2020 - Rev'd Janey Hiller
All Saints Day
Week by week, in our creeds we affirm that we believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, and - the communion of saints.
Today, of course, is All Saints Day – a great opportunity to pause and reflect on what makes us a communion of saints?
Two things really leaped out at me from today’s readings.
The first is the idea that chimes as a theme in 1 John and in our Revelation reading - that we are children of God. We’ll come back to that later…
The second thing is a bit of a tangent. It’s the rather amusing (to me, at least) heading from this morning’s Psalm 34, which says it was written “Of David, when he feigned madness before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away."
This ‘feigned madness’ immediately reminded me of a scene from Blackadder Goes Forth. Set in the trenches of WW1, the ever-reluctant Captain Blackadder is constantly trying out new ways to avoid going ‘over the top’, ie engaging in live combat. In this scene he ‘feigns madness’ by putting a pair of underpants on his head, a pencil up each nostril and answering every question he’s asked with the word ‘wubble.’ You can view the clip here.
Natural curiosity got the better of me, so I investigated what was going on for David …
David, the boy who defeated Goliath has become a famous war hero. He’s anointed by God as the next King of Israel, and he and the current king, Saul, go into many battles together. But the people’s attention is increasingly focused more on David’s achievements than Saul’s. Saul becomes envious of David’s popularity; giving David various military assignments in the hope of getting rid of him ‘legitimately’ in battle. It all comes to a head when Saul, in a fit of envy throws his spear at David (he missed!) and David flees for his life. The celebrated war hero has become a fugitive and goes into hiding, trying to find a safe place away from Saul until he calms down! David finds his way eventually to a settlement near to where he slew Goliath. The people there recognised him as the one who was destined to be the king of Israel and try to keep David with them to make him king. David, terrified that news of his whereabouts will get back to Saul, pretends to be insane - and sure enough the local chief decides David is not the kind of guy he wants around and sends him on his way.
David feigned insanity so he could continue hiding from Saul even though he knew the throne was rightfully his. For him, it was a matter of life-and-death safety. He knew his moment would come and he could return – but that moment was not ‘now’ – for now, he needed to bide his time.
We are living in a ‘moment’ now, where for our personal and community safety we have restrictions that feel a bit like we have gone into hiding. Perhaps it has made us all feel a little bit mad too – joking aside, the mental health legacy of this pandemic is very real, well documented, and certainly not feigned. And in some ways it feels like we are biding our time – waiting for it all to be over, so we can return to some sense of normality and safety and openness.
When it all started, I doubt any of us thought the situation would last this long – there is no end in clear sight and we are on the edge of our seats about what pattern of restrictions we might be living under this week, or next week, or next month. Even if we hope and pray for more freedoms to open up for us at some point, the sad reality is that this is our normal now and for the foreseeable future.
How then do we live? And as we celebrate the festival of All Saints, what does it mean for us to live in these times as part of the communion of Saints here on earth?
And so we return to our theme.
Our reading from 1 John 3 says we are children of God.
"See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.”
Children of God. The basis of our fellowship with the saints is God’s love. God loved us first - as our Father and the one for whom all in heaven and earth are named. God loved us first; he is the source of our ability to love - not only him but each other. And that same love draws all God’s people in all times and in all places into his father’s embrace as his children.
So, we are saints because of our relationship to God - his children.
John’s letter goes on to say we are God’s children ‘now’, even if what we will be has not yet fully been revealed. We live in hope – a hope that we will pass though the inevitable trials of this earthly life and be purified by Christ. Our purity in Christ will one day enable us to meet God face to face as we stand before the throne in heaven robed in white as part of a diverse multitude of saints in awe and wonder and praise. We will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the Lamb will become our shepherd - guiding us to the springs of the water of life, and wiping away every tear from our eyes.
Might this wonderful vision in Revelation perhaps be a surer place to pin our soul’s hope for that future of wholeness we yearn for rather than the government’s latest lockdown pronouncement?
It’s a future of restored mind, body, spirit and community. And all of this because of God’s overarching story throughout history is that out of his love for all creation, he is drawing his people, his children, into his divine family. Things will always fall short of that purity and wholeness in this life. But that is our future, as children of God. It is a vision to hold on to and be comforted and shaped by.
Meantime, we are here, now in this far-from whole and less-than-pure reality. Do we, like David, remain in hiding, biding our time until it’s over?
For an answer to that, we turn to our gospel reading - the Beatitudes.
One could spend a lifetime preaching sermons on this passage, but the thing I want to focus on is that we are in the Communion of Saints because we are children of God.
We are children who are being purified through Christ. The fullness of that purity will be revealed in the future, but we have Christ with us now. We are children now. Today, in Fishponds in the middle of a pandemic wearing facemasks and hand sanitizer.
Christ is with us. And we are children. Both holy and innocent.
As God’s children, we are purified and we are all put in the junior class. We are holy innocents – called to shed the fear and cynicism it’s so easy to ‘catch’ from our culture and nurture through our life experiences to adulthood. The beatitudes remind us that holy innocence is the character marker of those who will know God, receive God, and see God - partly through noticing and joining in with how Christ is at work in the world around us now. But also one day to really see him, face to face as we stand before his thrown in heaven. The beatitudes remind us that the kingdom is a place of wholeness and purity not only for the martyrs and persecuted, but for all God’s children who have been battered and bruised by life’s trials, bereavements and hostilities.
All Saints Day is a reminder that God has not forgotten us to our present troubles – that we can have hope and joy even when we struggle to see beyond our current cloud of uncertainty, when we feel like this ‘normal’ is not a ‘normal’ we want to live with indefinitely, when we are tempted to fear and mistrust and cynicism – because we have a divine promise that we as Children of the living God, as God’s holy innocents, will one day be made whole and pure and will join together with all the saints and all creation in the song of heaven to rejoice in one voice:
“Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.”