Preached November 1, 2009
All Saints’ Day
St. Matthew 5:1–12
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
We have arrived at the Feast of All Saints’ — an event rather late in the Kalendar. Last night, the preparation for this feast began with the Eve of All Saints, more popularly known as Halloween. Did all of you go to Mass last night for the Eve of All Saints? Did you know that there is a proper Mass for the Eve of All Saints? Remember also that tomorrow, November 2nd, is All Souls’ Day. So what is all of this about?
You will recall the several creeds that we use in our worship, statements in which we declare the faith of the Church. The creeds state what we believe to be true about God, about His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, and about the nature and operation of the Church. The creed that we always use during the Mass is the Nicene Creed, but during Morning and Evening Prayer we usually use the Apostles’ Creed. Let us turn our attention here for the moment to the third and final paragraph of the Apostles’ Creed:
I believe in the Holy Ghost: The holy Catholic Church; The Communion of Saints: The Forgiveness of sins: The Resurrection of the body: And the Life everlasting. Amen.
I hope that you picked up on that phrase, The Communion of Saints, because that is the key to these three days of which we are currently in the midst. We are in the yearly observance particularly devoted to the Communion of Saints, although this Communion is an on–going fact at all times.
But what is the Communion of Saints? This is a term that gets tossed around a bit, but not very carefully spelled out in most cases. It refers first to the spiritual union between Christ and every Christian, and then secondly to the union between each and every Christian, both living and dead. This last point presents some difficulties for some folks who are inclined to say that they have no union with those who are passed on. This fails to recognize that those who have left this life are not lost to Christ, but rather move on to further life with Christ and therefore remain in union with Him. Thus, if we are in union with Christ, we are still in union with those who have gone on before us, despite the fact that we no longer have them here immediately with us.
This brings us back to the idea of who are the Church? With the understanding just described, the Church is made up of all souls in union with Christ, both the living and the dead. Thus the Church is often described as consisting of three parts.
The first part is the Church Militant meaning the Church at war with the devil and his angels here on earth. This is the group that all of us fall into if we are Christians in union with Jesus Christ. If we are honest, we have to admit that it is a constant struggle, the war is always on, there is no peace. If anyone thinks this is not so, he is in great danger, and must soon wake up or he will be eternally lost. As St. Peter says, 1 Peter 5:8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: We have no choice but to be at war, to fight against the devil and his angels during this life on earth if we would see Heaven. This is the task set for us by God our Father. This fight takes many forms, but we must not neglect to attend to it.
Our Gospel lesson for the day is taken from the Sermon on the Mount, the first part, often called the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes are a New Testament analog to the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament. They tell us how a true follower of Christ must live, what it means to be a Christian in the world, what it entails to be in the war. If you read the Beatitudes and think about the life of Christ, you will see that they reflect the image of Jesus Himself. This is the way the Master Himself lived, and that is surely what he expects of his followers. To anyone who cannot relate to the Beatitudes, and there are many who find the Beatitudes to be pure nonsense, then I can assure you, that you are NOT in the Communion of Saints, NOT in union with Christ, and therefore in grave moral danger. If we want to be a part of the Communion of Saints, the only entry point is here during this life, through the Church Militant, and the Beatitudes are the rule for the Christian life.
At death we leave the Church Militant, but what comes next? When Christ spoke to the penitent thief from the Cross, Luke 23:43 And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise. In saying this, Jesus has told the penitent thief two important things: (1) most importantly, the thief will be with Jesus, and (2) he will be in Paradise. Jesus did not say Heaven, but rather Paradise, and it would be unwise for us to assume that Jesus misspoke. Jesus was telling the thief that he would go to the intermediate state where he would be with Jesus where he would be made holy so that he could ready to stand before the Judge at the Last Judgment. The thief was saved by his faith, so was going to Heaven, but he was not yet holy. He needed to be made holy, he needed to learn holiness, so that he could come before God and be prepared for Heaven.
This intermediate state is referred to as the Church Expectant, those that have left this life and are expecting to move on to Heaven to spend eternity with God the Father, with His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. It is a place with Christ, so the idea of the intermediate state as a place of punishment is inconceivable, thus rendering the medieval “purgatory” concept invalid. It can, and certainly must be a place of training, a place of spiritual growth in holiness, which is why I describe it as like “school work.” If you recall from your own school days, there may have been times when you thought of school as punishment, but in fact anyone who has grown up can see that school was not punishment at all, but rather a place of maturing and learning those things necessary for the rest of our lives. Thus it is with Paradise; it is a place for maturing in holiness and learning those things necessary for the rest of our eternal lives in Heaven with God.
As souls move from Paradise into Heaven, they come into the Church Triumphant, the Church that has triumphed over all through the grace of God and His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord by the power of the Holy Ghost working among men. They have endured to the end in this world, and they have matured in holiness through Paradise with Christ, and now enter into the full glory of Heaven with God. They are described in the words of the Epistle lesson for the day, Revelation 7:14b–17 These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. 16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. 17 For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes. This is the ultimate end for which man was created, to return to God, to serve Him endlessly, and enjoy Him without limit. It is a glorious vision, one that so far exceeds our usual line of sight that we have real difficulty in grasping what it is saying.
But understand this: There are those who are already there, and those of us who are in the Communion of Saints are in union with all of these, every person in the Church Militant, the Church Expectant, and even the Church Triumphant. We have a definite fellowship, a bond, with all of these people, many long gone, but still united with us in Christ.
Death has always been the great fear of man, and it is no less so today than it was a thousand years ago. Those for whom death is imminent, those who have a fatal illness, know that in the near future death will come for them. Only the Christian view of death offers any hope of life after death, of continuity with those they have loved in this life. But the Christian view of death is not just wishful thinking. Only Jesus Christ has Himself risen from the dead after His crucifixion and promised eternal life to all who follow Him. The Christian message, including the Christian view of death, is true. The Communion of Saints is true; I know this myself from my own experience. This is a matter of great comfort to Christians. Let us therefore pray again the Collect for the day:
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 unspeakable joys which thou hast prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.