After this I beheld, and lo, a great multitude, which no man could number of all nations and kindreds and peoples, and tongues, stood before the Throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, palms In their hands, and cried with a loud voice saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. (Rev. 7.9)
Today we find ourselves in the Octave of All Saints Day. The Octave is a period of eight days that follows the Feast of All Saints, which we celebrated last Wednesday. In the Octave, we are called first to remember with thanksgiving the lives of the Saints. Second, we are called to imitate them. And third, we are exhorted to desire that Christ should move us now that we might join them in the Kingdom when our journey here on earth is done.
Of course, thanking God for the life and witness of the Saints requires that we begin to have a sense of who and what they were. Strictly speaking, our English word Saint comes to us from the Latin, Sanctus, meaning holy, virtuous, confirmed, or set apart. The word in Greek is Hagios, which, in the ancient sense, means full of awe, sacred, hallowed, and devoted to the gods. From our Epistle lesson for All Saints Day, we learn that the Christian Saints are they who came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. (Rev. 7.14) These are they that came out of great suffering, toil, labor, and pain. Chiefly, they suffered through the process of dying to sin and coming alive to righteousness. Their suffering was spiritual. What is most important to remember is that they were enduring crucifixion in order to embrace resurrection. They were washed in the blood of the lamb of God, Jesus Christ, and made white or pure as His virtue replaced their vices. So, they are set apart, made sacred, and hallowed by the struggle, toil, and work that leads them into victory over sin. They have come out of great tribulation. This is to say that they plumbed the depths of their own being to discover that sin which God’s excellence and goodness alone could overcome. When we thank God for the life and witness of the Saints, we are expressing deepest gratitude for those who allowed Jesus Christ to come alive in their hearts and souls. We thank God the Father that Christ so came alive in them through the Holy Spirit that His victory over sin, death, and Satan was complete. In other words, Christ’s redemption was so effectually worked into their hearts that they were enabled to reflect and manifest His excellence and goodness to the world.
Next, we must examine our imitation of the Saints. The key to our inspiration will rely upon both need and desire. First then, we must come to discover our need to become Saints. That need can come only when we begin to do our duty to God. Our duty to God is nicely summarized in today’s Psalm. Blessed is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners,*and hath not sat in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the Law of the Lord; *and in his law will he exercise himself day and night. (Ps. i. 1,2) The Saint is well aware that all excellence and goodness come from God and that their acquisition is impossible without His gifted Grace. The Saint knows also that we first come to know ourselves in the light of God’s excellence and goodness through the Law. The Law here is the Jewish Law or the Ten Commandments that God reveals to His people. Because God has revealed His Law, Jewish man and then all men come to see their sins. St. Paul tells us that the Jewish Law reveals that None is righteous, no not one. There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way. They are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. (Romans, iii. 10-12) The Saint knows too that the best of men become the most frustrated when the goodness and excellence they seek is beyond their ability and capacity. The Saint is one who has found his own poverty of spirit or his own inability to will the good and excellence that he has discovered. The Saint is one who is then overwhelmed by the excellence of God the Father, the goodness of His Word, and the power of His Spirit.
The Saint is a man whose faith hangs always upon God’s Grace. As Archbishop Trench writes, the Saint is:
the wise and happy builder…who counts and discovers that he has not enough, that the work far exceeds any resources at his command, and who thereupon forsakes all that he has, all vain imagination of a spiritual wealth of his own; and therefore proceeds to build, not at his own charges at all, but altogether at the charges of God, waiting upon Him day by day for new supplies of strength. (R. C. Trench)
The Saint in the Old Testament faithfully awaits the fulfillment of God’s promise to save him in the future. The New Testament Saint faithfully embraces God’s promise as fulfilled in Jesus Christ. God promises His wisdom, love, and power to the Old Testament Jew. God reveals and imparts His wisdom, love, and power to the New Testament Jew and Gentile in Jesus Christ. The Saints know that God alone can save man from sin.
Yet, if we hope to imitate the Saints we must embrace more than knowledge of what God has done in Jesus Christ. Knowledge is not virtue. The vision must be translated into action. The spiritual object must come alive in the willing subject. Together All Saints form a Communion or community of individuals who spent their lives trying to embrace the goodness and excellence of God in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. Together All Saints comprise a body of brethren who share the goodness and excellence of God in Jesus Christ with others through the same Spirit. They are the friends of Jesus as members of His Body, friends of one another, and our friends too. They do not tend to see a difference between sinners and saints or between themselves and others since they would admit that they are the worst of sinners and so far from being anything like the best of Saints. They treat all men alike and yearn from the depths of their hearts that every man they encounter might join them in the quest to embrace God’s gracious excellence and goodness.
So what do their Sainted natures look like? Are they those who have left the world, entered their closets, and therein found God in a kind of Plotinian ecstasy? Well, yes and no. Yes, in that they have found God personally and individually. No, in that if they remain alone with God, they will have failed to express and reveal the Christian truth. The inward and spiritual vision of God in the Wisdom of Jesus through the ecstasy of the Spirit must be shared with others. Their inward and spiritual vision must lead them to manifest and disclose Christ’s real presence to the world. As we learn in this morning’s Gospel, the Saints are as sheep who have been separated from the goats. (St. Matthew xxv. 32) For joy Jesus endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews xii. 1) The sheep of Christ are those who have done the same. How they do it is reflected in the most basic acts of generosity, liberality, kindness, and mercy. Jesus has given Himself completely to the Saints for their sins and they must imitate Him. Jesus will say, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. (St. Matthew xxv. 34) But they will be welcomed into the Kingdom as saved Saints only if they have fulfilled Christ’s conditions. For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger and ye took me in; Naked, and ye clothed me; I was sick and ye visited me; I was in prison and ye visited me. (Ibid, 35, 36) The proof that sinners have been made Saints is found in the simplest acts of liberality and kindness. This is the evidence that reveals that Christ’s all saving mercy is moving sinners out of death and into new life as Saints. They need not die on a cross. They need not perform heroic feats in martyrdom. They need to die to themselves and come alive to others. They can do this by becoming merciful in the smallest and simplest of ways. Then there is proof that Christ is alive in them through the Spirit that He shares with the Father. Our need for Christ will have become our desire to share Him with the world.
On this Feast of the Solemnity of All Saints, we remember that the Saints are not dead but alive to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Today we desire that God will do with us what He did in them. We remember them especially in these late, dangerous, and dark days when men have failed to desire God’s excellence and goodness. Their communion and fellowship ought to inspire us to see how God’s Grace can make sinners into Saints by bringing good out of evil. The excellence and goodness that they embraced ought to overcome us with a vision of how God can convert and translate His eternal truth into temporal love. In them may we find inspiration for the pursuit and final possession of what God has in store for us.
The Communion of Saints is a fellowship of life and faith that brings men closely together in the bond of the Eternal Spirit which comes from God. It does not depend merely on the Saints’ interest in their fellow men’s welfare, or in our appreciation of their Saintliness. We greet them as the heroes of the world, but our fellowship with them is founded neither on our reverence for their goodness nor on their sympathy with our struggles and our failures, but on that Divine Spirit which has made them what they are and would make us fit to be numbered with them in glory everlasting. When we learn to reverence the Saints, we are on the way to become like them. They witness that this is possible for all. Our appreciation of their goodness endorses that testimony. The Saints of God come out of every kindred and tongue and people, and their fellowship is complete and permanent because all live in Him. (The Christian Year in the Times, p. 284)