“that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” – Ephesians 1:18 +INPFSS+
I. Introduction to the Feast
Happy All Saints Day! All Saints Day is a feast that was created in the early middle ages to remember all the saints that we don't have room to remember throughout the rest of the year. So whereas St. Luke, and St. Paul and St. Mary all have specific days of the year where we remember the mighty work God did through them, All Saints Day is for all the unsung heroes of the faith. Those who very few of us have ever heard of. For St. Genesius, and St. Telemachus and St. Mungo and lots of other funny names. But it's also for those saints that we have never even heard of. All those faithful Christians throughout the ages who gave their life to the love and service of God, and who became vessels, conduits of God's power and God's love, and who were the liasons for bringing their little corner of the world under the reign of Jesus Christ.
You may have had the privilege of knowing some of these holy men and women – after all, that's what the word “saint” simply means: “Holy” – or you may not, but all of our lives have been impacted by them and by their prayers, whether we know it or not.
The novelist George Eliot at the end of her book MiddleMarch says something similar when she writes:
“The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”
The number who lived faithfully a hidden life. The saints who God didn't choose to bring into the limelight. The devout Christians who have through their life and prayers saved this world from tearing itself totally to pieces.
The Saints who we remember today, as one large, innumerable mass. As John describes in his book of Revelation – “the great multidue that no one could number, from every nation, from all the tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the lamb.”
But who exactly are these people? Is it us? Is it the mother theresa's of the world? What is a saint, exactly?
II. What is a saint exactly?
In some way, it is true to say that we are all saints. The Bible addresses even the wild, loose-living Christians at Corinth as saints, and it addresses all of us as saints.
We are all “saints” in one sense, because we have all been made holy by Jesus Christ. When he adopted us as his children, through our baptisms, and through our faith in him, he washed us clean and made us holy. He sanctified us. As St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6: You were washed. You were sanctified.
All of you who claim Jesus as your Lord, and who have been baptized in his name, are already “saints”.
But the Lord is very gracious in giving us this title already. Because it is true of us in Jesus Christ, and because we will one day be made fully holy, he lavishes this status on us already.
It's true of us in our essence, but for almost all of us it's not yet true in our experience. We're still “working it out” to use Paul's phrase in Phillipians. We're still becoming what we are declared to be. To borrow the phrase from my father.
Did you catch that? We're in the process of becoming what we are already declared to be.
That's the Christian life right there.
Becoming what we are declared to be.
The Lord has declared us holy – declared that we are “saints”, and that's what we are – with God's help becoming”
But we're all at different stages of that journey, right? And that's where the traditional distinction between “saint” so-and-so, and your average Christian comes in. Those who we refer to as “saints” are those who more fully became the saint they were declared to be than most of us ever do.
They are the ones who gave their whole lives, their whole hearts to following God.
And they didn't do this because they were somehow born “special”. All the saints, by nature, are just ordinary people. In fact – as I have been reading about the lives of the famous saints for some years – you can see that saints come from all kinds of backgrounds and temperaments. Introverts, like Saint Jerome, Extroverts, like St. Francis de Sales. Poor, like Mother Theresa, Rich, like St. Louis the King. Anyone has the potential to be a saint.
Being a saint, means being fully alive. Being a true human being, before whom the rest of us look more like shadows.
It means having a life that looks like Christ's. Being united with him. And not just in his gloriousness, although that too – the saints often are the agents of God's miracles – but chiefly the lives of the saints are lives that imitate Christ's in their patience with suffering,
in their loving outreach to others,
and in their deep trust of the Father.
The saints all have the same fire of the Holy Spirit burning in their eyes – it's un-mistakeable. They are alight with holiness.
That's what a saint is.
But how did they become so? How do we become one? How does anyone become a saint?
III. How to become a saint?
The paradoxial thing about the Saints, is that the very thing that makes them saints is not actually unique to them. On the contrary – it is the presence of Jesus in their lives, being manifest through the Holy Spirit that lives within them, that has transformed them into the ranks of the Holy Ones.
When you see saints in Art or in Icons wearing a halo – it's not actually “their” halo that their wearing. Only Christ has his own halo. But because Christ is living so manifestly through them, his halo shines through.
See there is only person who is holy in himself, by nature, and that's Jesus, our Lord.
And since he has come to live in us, to live through us, we could say. Remember, the Bible speaks about this mystical relationship as us being the body, him being the head. Since he has come to live through us, the way we become a saint, is to, hand our lives over to him, bit by bit. Like St. John the Baptist put it: He must become greater, I must become lesser. It's in offering our selves to him, that he can shine through us. And this progresses further and further in our lives, the more we offer them to him, as our Lord, to do with them what he likes. It may begin with how we use our Sundays, and progress to how we do our jobs through the week, and how we inhabit our marriages, and what we do with our sexuality, and how we talk and how we think and how we play and what we buy and how we suffer pain and loss. the list goes on. We have a lot of things in our lives, which means there's a lot we can hand over. And the more things which with which we say, “God, you have given this to me, but I don't want to use it to my own selfish ends, I don't want to chart my own course, I give it to you. Use it as you will.” And the more we mean it. The more like a saint we become. The more our lives will be filled with prayer instead of anxiety. The more we will love each other.
And: It's not a passive process.
No one ever became a saint by accident.
If we don't strive, daily, to seek and to please the Lord. If we sit back, we will assuredly not become saints in this life, and put ourselves in danger of even missing out on blessedness in the next.
No, the path to sainthood is one that only God can lead us on. Only he can get us there. But he only does it if we participate in the things he is leading us into. If we “work out”, what he is “working in” – phillipians 3 again.
IV. Why to become a saint?
But why bother? Why long to become a saint? Why spend the effort?
What's wrong with just being a ho-hum ordinary sort of Christian?
Well, the catch is: The Saints are the ordinary Christians!
The lives we live most of the time are actually below what to God is “ordinary”.
We were made for extrordinairy things. No Christian life is intended by God to be ho-hum.
Remember what the Christian Life is! We have been adopted as sons and daughters of the Living God, and have had our sins washed away, and have been given the promise of living forever, with God, in the highest paradise! Nothing about this is ho-hum!
And the act of remembering the Saints of the past is a good reminder to this effect.
They show us what the Christian life CAN and SHOULD look like.
And it's not all just same same same: Some had lots of influence, and some had little. Some lived in the country, and some in the city. Some were married, some were single.
But whatever station in Life God had apportioned for them, what they do have in common is their total commitment to Jesus Christ as both their savior and their Lord.
And that's why we remember them all together on All Saints Day. To thank God for the example of their lives, and to remember the life God is calling us to.