Almighty God, whose people are knit together in one holy Church, the mystical Body of your Son: grant us grace to follow your blessed saints in lives of faith and commitment, and to know the inexpressible joys you have prepared for those who love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
A reading from the Book of Revelation
One of the elders addressed me, saying, ‘Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?’ I said to him, ‘Sir, you are the one that knows.’ Then he said to me, ‘These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’
On a day like today – All Saints Day – our minds naturally turn to those famous figures, those great heroes of our faith whose images we see in stained glass or in statue form. Standing as they so often do on pedestals, these great women and men are very much the pillars of our Church.
And yet, when it comes to heroes and pedestals, who could have predicted what kind of year we’d have when we attended church last All Saints’ Day? This has been a year in which we’ve put some people ON pedestals and others we’ve well and truly knocked OFF pedestals.
On the one hand the Black Lives Matter protests have cast a critical spotlight on some of the figures who, at least up until now, have been immortalised on public memorials. There have been the notorious figures, such as the imperialist Cecil Rhodes and the now toppled Bristol slave trader, Edward Colston. And along with them there have been the more ambiguous characters like Winston Churchill and one or two of the saints of the Christian Church, notable among them the French crusader king and saint St Louis and a one-time inquisitor who went by the name of St Junipero Serra.
On the other hand we’ve put other people on pedestals, many of whom most of us probably took for granted in pre-Covid days. One of the memorable features of the first couple of months of the pandemic here in the UK was the weekly “clap for carers” where we recognised the courage and dedication of medical and care staff – and by extension other key workers such as bus drivers and supermarket staff. They have been our new heroes in 2020 and it’s right that we have lifted them up.
But there’s a challenge here. Because taking people on and off pedestals is a rather dangerous game. And for two reasons. The first is that this practice can lead us to forget that human beings are both good AND bad – and that includes the heroes that we make and unmake. The second reason is that it leads us to suppose that putting people on and off of pedestals is enough, that taking down statues will, of itself, be all it takes to solve chronic injustices and that calling care staff “heroes” lets us off the hook when it comes to properly funded social care. But it doesn’t. And today, on the Feast of All Saints, it’s important that we don’t make the same mistake when it comes to the saints.
Today we rightly celebrate the great heroes of our faith and we rightly lift them up so that everyone can look at them and learn from their example. And we also rightly ask them to intercede for us. But that isn’t enough, because the lives of the saints invite us to make our own personal response.
The wonderful thing about the saints wasn’t that they were perfect, because most of them most certainly were not! The wonderful thing about them was that they are just like us, good and bad alike. It’s just that, for them, although it might in some cases have been a close-run thing, it was God’s grace that triumphed in them, it was God’s power that won out in the end, it was those Gospel values of peace, gentleness, justice and compassion that, not without difficulty, somehow shone through them.
In the reading from the Book of Revelation the elder asked the question: “Do you know who these people are dressed in white robes?” Well, I know who those people are and so do you. They are not just those famous saints who walked this path of faith before us; they are also potentially each and every one of us reading this today. So, the spotlight on All Saints Day falls right back on us and on how we live the values of the beatitudes. For all their undoubted weaknesses the saints somehow let God’s power shine through them. How is God calling us to do the same?
Lord God, we give you thanks and praise for the example of all your saints who have gone before us and revealed your love in the world. As we pray today for those in need, help us to follow in the footsteps of your saints in sharing your love and building your Kingdom here on earth.
We remember before you all who have witness to your peace. Give courage and hope to those who lead peacekeeping forces. We pray for all who suffer from the effects of war and civil conflict. We ask your blessing on those who are not at peace with themselves or with the world around them.
We pray for our community, for all who quietly give of themselves in the service of others. Keep us watching for ways in which we can help our neighbours and our friends.
We give thanks for all who inspired us and challenged our way of life through their holiness, their witness and their faith in you. Guide us to be the people you want us to be, to do what you would have us do.
Surround with your love those who suffer in body, mind or spirit. We name today Christine, Ian, Les, Sam, Olive, Richard, Karen, Chris, Bill, Joyce, Ann, John, Avril, Helga, Colin and Margaret. May they gain strength and fortitude from the lives of your saints who found you through their pain and their affliction.
We lift up to you the soul of Rae, who has died recently, and give thanks for the life of Maurice, whose years mind falls this coming week. Welcome them into you kingdom, keep them in your nearer presence and grant them joy in the fellowship of your saints for all eternity.
Joining our prayers with those of St Mary, St Kentigern, St Leonard, St Nicholas and all your saints, we offer you praise and thanksgiving now and always. Amen.