If it weren’t for COVID, on this most joyous feast day many, many Episcopal choirs would gleefully be leading us in the hymn: “I sing a song of the saints of God.”
Does anyone remember it?
“I sing a song of the saints of God, patient and brave and true, who toiled and fought and lived and died for the Lord they loved and knew.
And one was a doctor (St. Luke), and one was a queen (St. Margaret), and one was a shepherdess on the green (St. Joan of Arc): they were all of them saints of God, and I mean, God helping, to be one too…"
Oh, how I wish we could sing this hymn together this morning.
Yes, I know it’s a tad too cute and sweet for some.
And while it is sweet and cute. It’s also good theology.
It is a simple children’s hymn that reveals a profound truth of our faith:
We believe in the communion of saints. A great cloud of witnesses who surround us--and that we, too, are part of the communion, knit together in the mystical body of Christ.
“The world is bright with joyous saints who love to do God’s will,” continues the hymn. “You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea. In church or in trains, or in shops or at tea.”
We are all of us, saints of God.
Listen, this is all well and good: a theologically sound children’s hymn about the communion of saints.
But, honestly, what does it have to do with us, here and now--
Because we are weary, friends.
It’s been a difficult year for our world. And for our country.
It’s been a painful season for this community, too.
I don’t know a single soul who has not suffered in some profound way this year.
We are, many of us, burned out.
Quite simply, we are walking the way of the beatitudes.
And we the saints to illuminate the way for us.
St. Catherine of Sienna writes, “All the way to heaven is heaven.”
All the way to heaven is heaven: blessed are those who thirst and hunger for justice.
All the way to heaven is heaven: blessed are those who mourn.
All the way to heaven is heaven: blessed are the merciful. the persecuted. The peacemakers.
The beatitudes are the way to heaven. They are a road map that leads us right into the very heart of God.
We dedicate as a Feast Day the remembrance and celebration of All Saints because the saints are a source of hope, strength and light on our the way towards God. We need their illumination, imagination, and accompaniment.
St. Brigid of Kildair wrote a poem describing her vision of heaven this way: “I would like a great lake of beer for the King of Kings. I would like to be watching Heaven's family drinking it through all eternity.”
She is human. She loves God. She loves God’s people. She loves beer. St. Brigid imagines heaven as an eternal expression of hospitality and welcome served in a lake of beer.
St. Brigid, pray for us.
St. Hildegard of Bingen, a German mystic and musician, writes: “Glance at the sun. See the moon and stars. Gaze at the beauty of the green earth. Now think.”
For St. Hildegard heaven is in creation and creation is in heaven. But not only that, our intellect is all the way to heaven, too.
St. Hildegard, pray for us.
St. Padre Pio of Italy: “Pray, Hope, and Don’t Worry.”
Saints remind us that we are a people of hope, even as we grow weary.
St. Padre Pio of Italy, pray for us.
St. Theresa of Avila: “To have courage for whatever comes in life - everything lies in that.”
Courage is a heart word and leads us to the very heart of God. All the way to heaven.
St. Theresa of Avila, pray for us.
St. Francis: “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.”
Saints kindle the light of hope when we are afraid, lost and fumbling around in the dark.
St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us.
We celebrate and remember the saints so we do not forget God’s love for God’s people.
A love embodied by all the saints. Each of us perfectly and uniquely made by God.
I imagine God revels in the diversity of the saints: unity does not require uniformity.
Therefore, as the hymn teachers us, "there’s not any reason, no, not the least, why I (you, we, me) shouldn’t be one too.”
Take heart and be of good courage, friends. We do not make this journey alone. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. Knit together in the holy communion of All Saints.
The Rev. Anne K. Ellsworth
The Feast of All Saints, Year A 2020
St. Paul’s Payson, AZ
My Sermons (and other thoughts)
a sampling of sermons preached in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona and a sprinkling of other writings