All Saints is that gift of a festival in which we can remember the saints of our tradition and give thanks for their continuing witness and encouragement. And very importantly we can remember those precious to us personally and that are now gone from us. It is a festival that reminds us of that time when all tears shall be wiped away, of the cloud of witnesses to which we belong, and offers tender comfort for us who mourn particular dear ones.
This year we are offered readings (Luke 6:20-31; Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1:11-23.) that are less obviously comforting and yet I think speak to a truth that offers ultimate comfort and encouragement. The readings from Daniel and the Psalm remind us that we currently live in a world of violence and judgment and retribution. (There seems to be no shortage of those who claim to be followers of the Christ who see themselves as those who would willingly wield a sword on behalf of God to right the perceived wrongs of this world!) This view is on a direct collision course with the Beatitudes that speaks the inside out wisdom of Jesus in which we find God’s kingdom, God’s way of being, in the midst of suffering and loss of worldly power and success. God’s world is not far away beyond the strife in a distant time it is near at hand now, where we are, how things are right now – even in strife and grief and brokenness.
And as happens often Paul has words that help us make that transition, help us hold together two apparently opposite truths: “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.”(Ephesians 1:17-19) I might translate this as something like: as we grow in the wisdom of Christ the eyes of our hearts will be enlightened so that we can see the kingdom of God here and now, a world which we experience with all who have glimpsed the Christ. This is the true world that is full of the fullness of God without limit.
This has some of the theological flavour of being transformed rather than conformed to this world. The world that we inhabit is full of struggle and strife, loss and separation, of dazzling and distracting things. And yet this world, which is God’s precious creation, is also shot through with the glory of God’s gracious love. For those who are being awakened by our relationship with Jesus the Christ the eyes of our hearts are being enlightened so that we can perceive that the kingdom of God – the Divine’s way of being – is already at hand.
And part of the Divine’s way of being is without the limits of time and place which includes that the painful losses and separations that we experience are not complete or permanent. When we glimpse this way of being we also glimpse a belonging to the community of saints – of the long ago but still present mystics and prophets and our personal dearly departed.
I know that when my mother was killed in an accident twenty years ago I was able to see for a few days the golden threads that bound us all together and as people approached me and withdrew they were drawn by a chord of fine gold in a beautiful dance. The image faded but I dimly remember what it was like to live in a state of belonging that was not confined in the usual ways of time and space.
Our festival of All Saints allows us to express gratitude for the saints who have gone before us and express grief for our dear ones now beyond our immediate touch; uncertainty about the detail and ultimate hope; and to glimpse that our belonging to God and one another does not cease any more than our love which is not diminished by time and distance. Once the eyes of our hearts have been opened, even for a moment, there is immeasurable love to be revealed and to bring us comfort and hope.
Once glimpsed such an awareness of our belonging to a less limited kingdom, an unbounded community of all souls, we will be motivated to live differently, more freely and generously. We will realise that while we still live in a broken world we also belong in a state of loving union with all others. We will know that while we still live in a world of judgement, revenge and punishment that we have a deeper belonging to God’s kingdom of perfect love which brings forgiveness and freedom. Our belonging to the kingdom of God will empower us to live in our fractured world as signs of light and hope for others, just as we will be encouraged by the light we see reflected in the faces of others.
Even so, come Lord Jesus Christ, come awaken us to your boundless love in which there is no separation or end.