A Sermon by The Rev’d Adrian Stephens

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus.”

It is the season of Halloween, All Saints and All Souls. It is a time to remember the people we have loved who have died and to rejoice with the saints who are alive. To say it is a season of confusion is an understatement.

Today we celebrate the feast of All Saints. We dress in white and we give thanks for the wonderful people who have been faithful to God. In the lectionary, a booklet which lists the recommended Bible readings for each day, there are many people who are recognised as being saints in a special way. We are reminded of church leaders such people as Luther, various Popes, Orthodox bishops and Spiritual leaders, Augustine, numerous Martyrs, and more.

Every day there is someone to remember. Not only these remembered and well loved people, but also those who have been officially granted the title of Saint. In this list we find people such as Benedict, Francis, Theresa, John Henry Newman is the most recent. These are people to whom miracles can be attributed.

And then we move on to the people closely linked to our Lord in his earthly life. Mary his Mother, the disciples, and others of similar experience and response to our Lord. This great list of people will appear in our prayers, day in and day out, year after year.

In our daily prayers we give thanks to God for their contribution to the church and their faithfulness to God. We give thanks for the faith that they have enriched and passed from generation to generation. We give thanks for those who have introduced us to the faith and have nurtured us in it. Without this contribution generation after generation, our faith and belief in the God of Christian faith may well have died away.

It is important to understand that these saints are not superior to one another. They are equal in the eyes of God. An extension to this is that in God we are equal to the many saints we celebrate.

The saints we give thanks for and with whom we rejoice are not restricted to the dead. As we celebrate the feast of All Saints, we rejoice, for we are all the saints of God. Paul makes this clear when he speaks of the Saints who are still living among us.

As the saints of God, it becomes our responsibility, in our time, to pass the faith from generation to generation. We may do this in such spectacular fashion that it may lead to our being made a martyr. We recall that there are people being martyred for the faith even in our lifetime.

On the other hand, we may quietly pass our faith to only our family and closest friends. Our example of a prayerful life focussed on our Lord with confidence and hope may well be sufficient for the conversion of others. It may be a sense of someone desiring to have whatever it is that gives us peace and confidence in this life. “I’ll have what they are having” comes to mind.

The ideal would be for us, as saints, to be ever ready to share that which we believe and why we believe it. We may never make it onto the reading list in the lectionary to be remembered year in year out, but we will be remembered by some for our contribution of peace and hope in their lives. And they in their turn will pass the faith to the people they know and the people they meet.

This is the celebration of All Saints. We rejoice because the faith is made alive and shared throughout the ages. We rejoice and we give thanks that God loves us and that the evidence for this is found in the basis of our prayers. We pray because the generations of saints before us have also prayed. We pray because we believe, as did the generations before us, that prayer is answered. In our prayers we adore God, we confess our short comings to God, we thank God for all of the people and events that surround us and impact on our lives, and we ask God for our bread of life. Our bread of life comes in many forms but the most effective is generated by love. Does this mean that the basis of our prayers is constantly tempered by the reality of love, both divine and temporal? The answer must be a resounding yes.

This is why we celebrate the feast of All Saints in white. It is a festival of hope and love and life. As the saints of God, we dance and rejoice. As the saints of God, we show the love for God to all the people we meet and with whom we interact.

As I mentioned at the beginning, we also celebrate the feast of All Souls. Only one day separates these two significant Feasts. They are so different, such a contrast, that they are like comparing chalk and cheese.

When we celebrate the feast of All Souls we robe in black, or at the very least we will robe in purple. All Souls is a time of grief and sorrow. It is a time to bring to mind the special people in our lives. It is a time to give thanks for the love we shared when they were alive, and to recognise the terrible cavity that has been left in our lives with their death.

A dreadful and fearful example for us is the reaction of the sisters and the community of Lazarus. The grief expressed is overwhelming. There is much sorrow, even Jesus is recorded as beginning to weep.

Grief gives way to joy when Lazarus is called by our Lord and presented as alive. Jesus shows us in a very practical way that life does not end with death to this earthly life. In this we are assured that the people we love, and for whom we grieve, will live on in the kingdom of God.

It may be that very few of them will be remembered more widely than by immediate family and friends. It is unlikely that they will feature in the daily prayers of the wider church. They may not be titled as a memorialised Saint of the church, they are not listed in a public prayer cycle. They are precious to us and we are the ones who will remember them.

It is because it is a time for remembering the people that we love that we ask for the names of loved ones to be submitted for inclusion during the service. The people whose names are offered are remembered before God and they are prayed for. This is a very real part of our grieving for someone we have loved and cared for.

On the Evening of All Saints we have what is now a pagan festival called Halloween. It has a chequered history and it is believed to have marked the first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. It has many names around the world but is fondly remembered as All Hallows Eve. During this time people would dress as the saints of old and roam from house to house seeking some form of handout worthy of the saint.

Over time the event was modified, and children now dress up as witches and warlocks and seek a massive sugar hit so that they can make their parents life Hell for a few days. The theme of much of the dress up reflects an interest in the afterlife. Witches, warlocks, and skeletons are numerous, and they seek your applause for the costume and the reminder of death.

It is difficult to determine what the current meaning of Halloween might be apart from a financial investment in costumes and lollies.

A Facebook post cheekily described dipping Brussel sprouts in chocolate with an anticipation of children trick or treating.

The evening of All Saints is a time for memories and sorrow. Perhaps Halloween is offered as something to lighten the mood. In a sense it thumbs its nose at death and presents as an opportunity to consider our mortality.

All Saints and All Souls are closely connected as a symbol of life and death; of rejoicing and of sorrow. It is a lived example of our life with its constant movement of ups and downs; life and death.

Most importantly it is an opportunity for us to reflect on the wonder of life and how we share the love that God has for us.

It is this promise from God that will see us welcomed into the kingdom as saints. And because we are saints we will stand before our God with confidence knowing that our judgement will be tempered by the sacrifice of our Lord. He died so that we might live, and that we might live for eternity.

“Therefore, we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus.”