Today we celebrate the Feast of All Hallows: the Feast of All Saints. Where did you see the saints of God this week? Where did you perceive virtuous and godly living?
It feels rather strange celebrating the Feast of All Saints in the context of the resurgence of pandemic and a bitterly contentious election season. Our regular experience this autumn has evoked more of the aura of Halloween than of all hallows. We’ve had cobwebs not haloes; poltergeists not seraphim; few miracles.
Yet when Jesus preaches his Sermon on the Mount and articulates the Beatitudes we have heard today, he is not talking about the sanctity and perfection of a distant heaven. He is announcing that the reign of God has broken into the world in which we live, the actual world with all its concomitant brokenness and calamity. As Jesus preaches to the crowd, he highlights the sanctity of people considered unfortunate: those who have lost and are dis-spirited, those who are grieving, who seek righteousness (and perhaps who have missed the mark?), who are merciful or pure of heart, or peacemakers, those who are persecuted and defamed. These are not the champions; they are the outcast. Through them, Jesus invites us to reconsider what holiness looks like and the ways in which we perceive our real relationship with the workings of the Almighty.
In the collect, we prayed that God would give us grace so to follow the blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living. I think we can honestly ask ourselves whether this is a prayer that we will attain the bottom line of a shiny sort of holiness? Or is it a prayer that we may be inclined to pursue the gritty process that leads us there?
In an age of nearly instant everything, we may recognize that we are not quite there yet. Most of us can recognize our own growing edges and failings, and possibly conclude that sainthood is not for us. This following Jesus thing is not easy! Before giving up, we can also recognize that we need to commit to pursuing the process of sanctity – taking one step at a time up the path, led by Christ, nourished by grace.
We often look to stained glass windows or our grandmothers for examples of sainthood, and their pristine example may feel unattainable in our present state. We have heard that we should seek the perfection of heaven, and as we cast our eyes upward we miss the beauty and holiness that are possible all around us in our imperfect world. The saints do not dwell in heavenly perfection. They dwell in the holy imperfection of earth, in the ordinary light of kitchens and offices, caring for children and the elderly, making sure their neighbors get their necessary medications, checking in with their friends on the telephone when it is dangerous to go out. Saints also dwell under bridges and in parks and in tenements, struggling to believe and do the right thing. It is not their perfection that identifies them as saints. It is their longing for relationship with God and their reliance on the power of God in their complicated lives.
Those who are saints trust in the teaching of the epistle: We are children of God. [And] what we do know is this: when [Christ] is revealed, we will be like him. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves.
Saints are human and are not born fully developed. They allow the difficult experiences of their lives to lead them into an intimacy with the Holy One. We are not invited to pursue instant perfection. We are invited into the process of living into the holiness of personal and earthly transformation.
No matter what develops over the next weeks and months – whether the pandemic runs wild or is controlled – whether the weather is mild or terrible – whether the election process is smooth or difficult – our identity and our vocation remain the same. We are children of God. We are invited to live into our holy identity, one blessed day at a time. We have abundant work to do in the world, helping God to complete the transformation into the beautiful and holy place worthy of what Jesus called the Kingdom.
Do not let your souls be troubled. Do not allow yourselves to dwell in fear. Cling to faith in God. Cling to faith in Christ. Be the saints the world needs, one step and one day at a time.