Cheered on by the Saints

Hear a short recap of the Sunday service:

Watch the 11 AM Celebration of the Holy Eucharist

Watch the 6 PM Community Eucharist

Read a version of the sermon here:

Here at Holy Trinity, I’ve gotten used to having “backup” on All Saints’ Sunday. The first Sunday of November, as most recall, is also the day of the New York City Marathon. Last year, almost 54,000 people finished the race and from early Sunday morning, streets are closed, bars and restaurants bring tables and sound system outside, and streets and sidewalks are turned into a party of welcome and encouragement. You can feel the energy. You can hear the excitement.

I call it “backup” for All Saints’ Day because it works out that we are in church hearing the scriptures about those who have believe and died and risen again, and how they cheer for us even now, our words and music are punctuated by the cheering of the real crowds on 1st Avenue.

Of course, due to Covid-19, this year’s marathon is cancelled in its massive, collective form. But people are still running. As long as someone has entered the race, registers their run with a GPS-equipped app completes the 26.2-mile race anytime between October 17 and November 1, that person has run the NYC Marathon. 

We miss the actual marathon with its noise and energy and excitement, but even this year, we have “backup” for All Saints’ Day.  And in some ways, this year might be the better analogy. For most of us—other than through scripture and music and prayer—we don’t usually hear the cheering of the saints.  We don’t feel their energy or their strength and we’re just not always sure that they’re out there, much less in here.

But just as the NYC marathon is happening – we will hear people’s stories about it, we’ll hear them tell of their experience, we’ll pray for them, and we’ll trust them—in a similar way, the Saints surround us, whether we hear them, see them, or even sense them.

All Saints Day is a good time to remember that in the New Testament, the word “saint” is used somewhat loosely. In some places, all the faithful are referred to as saints—just the especially good ones. Paul addresses his Letter to the Romans, “To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints.” In Corinth, Paul suggests that the squabbling Christians not take their problems to secular courts, but go “before the saints,” that is, the local gathering of Christians. In Revelation, John shows us various pictures of the saints in light, ordinary believers—some who have died for their faith, others who have died natural deaths—but ordinary believers made extraordinary by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In Revelation, John the Divine offers his vision of what heaven must look like when people have fully grown into their sainthood.

. . . [A] great multitude which no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Revelation shows us the future, but it also helps us understand the past. Those everyday saints who struggled to be faithful in this world, who prayed to God and prayed for each other have been raised to new life into heaven. There they do what they did in this life—they show forth God’s love, they sing God’s praises, and they pray. They pray for one another and they pray for us. 

The saints’ prayers for us help us to hear Jesus’s words in today’s Gospel not as impossible demands, but as promises that are revealed in our lives and the lives of … well, all the saints.

The Sermon on the Mount, with its Beatitudes, that lovely listing of “blessed be’s,” sets the Christian standard so high that it can feel unattainable. But we have help. We have help in those who have gone before us who wrestled with these words of Jesus.

Some didn’t quite meet the mark. Others came to embody the beatitudes. They became so closely identified with the blessings, that they themselves became blessings in the lives of others.

The Beatitudes point us in the direction of holiness. We’re (very few of us) there yet, but we’re on the way. The saints remind us to stay on track, and they help to show us the way.

As the great children’s hymn reminds us

They lived not only in ages past;
there are hundreds of thousands still.
The world is bright with the joyous saints
who love to do Jesus’ will.

You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea,
in church, or in trains or in shops, or at tea,
for the saints of God are just folk like me,
and I mean to be one too.

As we remember All Saints, the famous ones and the ones we have known and loved, may they inspire us. When we are tired, may they strengthen us. When we are lazy, may they shame us. When we are alone, may they surround us. And may they fill our lives with increasing love until the day that we join them before God in everlasting praise.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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