Dear People of God,
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Today the Church keeps the Feast of All Saints Day. It is the celebration of the blessed communion of all of the holy people of God throughout the ages. This year it is a complicated day. One of the greatest feasts of the year with much anticipation for sharing communion, special music, a renewal of baptismal vows, and remembering all of the saints of our community and the Church throughout the world. But this year, at Holy Trinity, it is also a day when two of us stood at the doors of the church building and let people know that we have had to suspend in-person worship once again, due to deep concern over the prevalence of COVID-19 in our community. Suspending worship was a responsible, caring, righteous choice and a Godly path for our community to tread, but still felt so strange and so difficult to turn away the saints of God from the worship they longed for.
To be a saint is to be a holy person. This term carries with it many ideas, some more accurate than others. Often saints are thought of as superheroes of our faith: people who were endowed with a superhuman holiness which enabled them to seem more Christlike than the rest of us could hope to be. Their deeds in life and miracles attributed to their intercession sometimes grow in the telling and become the stuff of legend, seemingly impossible and unattainable for an average Christian like you or me.
While these stories are exciting, fun, and often have much to teach us about ways in which we might live our faith, the more important part about saints is not the extraordinary, but the ordinary. The saints whose names we often speak of like Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and other apostles, martyrs, teachers, and spiritual leaders were not superheroes but everyday people who allowed the Holy Spirit to transform their ordinary lives and the world around them. Through the Spirit’s work, these people became such powerful witnesses to the transforming power of the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus that their names are recalled and stories told generations after their deaths.
And there are many more saints known not by the whole Church, but instead by their families and local communities. People whose humility and willingness to put God’s will before their own, to go wherever they might be called, to work for the good of all, to live in the “soon” of the Kingdom of God while in the “now” of this world have all made them shining examples to those around them of what it means to be like Christ. These may not be the first people one notices; quiet and humble work can also be holy. These may not even be particularly nice people—St Jerome is recorded as one of the most disagreeable people in history—but they are holy people, made so by their commitment to Christ and their response to the Spirit’s call.
The passage from the gospel appointed for Holy Eucharist today is the Beatitudes, taken from Matthew’s telling of the good news:
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5.1-12
This listing of people does not, at first glance, sound like those who we might expect to be the inhabitants of the kingdom of heaven. Certainly, the merciful and pure of heart sound like the right sorts, but the poor in spirit? Those who mourn? The persecuted? These are not the sorts of descriptions we are used to hearing of the saints who populate the kingdom of heaven. These do not sound like the mighty warriors, powerful orators, superheroes, and miracle-workers of legends. Indeed, this accounting of the kingdom’s citizens, given by Jesus himself, should cause us to question who we might find in that kingdom, numbered among the saints.
In Japan, there is a practice called kintsugi, or “golden joinery”. When a piece of pottery is broken or cracked, rather than treat it as ugly, used up, disposable, or worthless, it can be repaired. But not just repaired with more clay in an effort to make it look as though the break never happened. No, the pieces are fit back together and the cracks filled with gold. The breaks in the pottery, rather than becoming sources of shame or weakness, are seen as opportunities to make the piece even more beautiful than it was originally.
In a similar way, we are a bit like pottery. Resilient and useful, but over time we acquire cracks and sometimes outright breaks. We find ourselves mourning, poor, persecuted, downtrodden, and beaten. These cracks and breaks can run so deep, can become so many, that it becomes difficult to do as we would like. They impede our ability to respond to the Spirit’s calls to us, or even to hear those calls, so broken are we.
Our pain and difficulty, our brokenness is close to the heart of God. Christ knew loneliness and despair in the Garden of Gethsemane and his own body was beaten, scourged, spat upon, hung upon the Cross, and pierced with a spear. So broken was humanity that when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, the loudest response we could muster was fear and anger and violence and murder. From Christ’s pierced side flowed blood and water – Eucharist and baptism – and the cracks in the world, the brokenness present in humanity and those we made in Creation, began to be filled with the light and love of God. Redemption, healing, and salvation filling the spaces and divides made by sin.
When we see the brokenness in our neighbours—our siblings in Christ—we hear the Spirit’s call to respond. We are called to be voices of aid, succour, healing, and care. When those among us who mourn are comforted, the light of Christ shines in the world. The life of the Spirit dwells in both the mourner and the comforter and the cracks of hurt and loss and pain are filled with the gold of Christ’s love.
This is the work of saints. To hear the calling of the Spirit and to humble ourselves in response to that call so that the astonishing power of God to heal, to reconcile, and to make whole can be known. We are all called, in and by our baptisms, to be saints in the world. Some few may do extraordinary things which are remembered in legend the world over. Most will be ordinary people, transformed by God in extraordinary ways to be seen as the light of Christ in the world. To bear healing, salvation, and wholeness with them as blessings for the mourning, afflicted, and beaten-down, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
On this great and holy feast day, be blessed. Be blessing. Be saints in a world so desperately in need of comfort and light.
Yours in Christ,
The Rev. Andrew Rampton