Today is All Saints’ Day – perhaps a welcome focus amid news and social media full of judgmental comment and disdainful appraisal of individuals whose names are in the public domain.
However, All Saints’ Day is not primarily a day for moving from criticism to celebration of special people from the past whose stories are in print or whose images appear in stained-glass windows. Neither is it a day for simply extolling the virtues of the few who we perceive to be particularly significant. Rather, it is a day for celebrating the grace and love of God who in Christ has drawn us into a community of saints who belong to God and to one another. Those on earth and those who have gone before us.
Again and again in his letters recorded in the New Testament, we hear the Apostle Paul address the followers of Christ as ‘The Saints’ – people who are not noted because of their great deeds or spectacular virtuous living but who are saints because of their faith in Jesus Christ, and who have said yes to God’s love, forgiveness and hope. People who look to the day when all will be made new. This is captured in Paul’s letter ‘to the saints in Ephesus who are faithful in Christ Jesus’ (Ephesians 1:1):
‘In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.’ (Ephesians 1: 7-10)
When we contemplate this truth and that Jesus Christ’s followers are named as saints, perhaps a fitting response is the voicing of those words ‘amazing grace’.
However, I am also aware that when people hear those words ‘All Saints’, there can be an unhelpful image of ‘sameness’, as if being a friend of Jesus Christ, called together into the community of the Church, immediately calls for some sort of uniformity. This is not true. Being numbered among the saints is not about uniformity but it is about unity and comm-unity – the unity which comes from belonging to Christ and therefore belonging together. The special prayer (collect) for All Saints’ Day begins with the words ‘Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your son Christ our Lord…’
Our unity is not about all being the same or all holding the same perspective, or having similar life experiences, or even being geographically located together. Our unity flows from being baptised members together of the body of Christ. Christ is the vine and we are the branches and we do not choose who stands alongside us as saints:
‘You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide …’ (words of Jesus Christ as told by John in John 15:16).
As we share in our vision of LIFE Together across the many different contexts of our diocese, we do so as diverse individuals of different ages and with different stories who belong together in a community of communities, called to look outwards to those who do not yet belong. Those who are invisible, ostracised, ignored, assumed to be disinterested – those around us in our daily lives with whom we have often been too reticent to share the good news of this wonderful belonging.
This is the backdrop for the deanery strategic plans which are gradually being developed across each deanery as people of all ages – saints – explore what already exists and what might come into existence as we look at the big picture of the people and places of our diocese. God’s amazing grace invites an amazing response, and it is not about uniformity, but it is about unity.
As we now journey from All Saints’ Day to Advent, I give thanks for our LIFE Together, and end this letter with those wonderful words of Paul in his letter to the saints in Ephesus:
‘I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love towards all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power’. (Ephesians 1:15-19)