Preacher: The Very Rev’d Frank Nelson

Revelation 7: 9 – 17, Psalm 34: 1 – 10, 1 John 3: 1 – 3, Matthew 5: 1 – 12

Next time you find yourself driving along the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, looking for the Twelve Apostles – some of which have disappeared into the sea – take a detour inland to the rural town of Camperdown, specifically the Anglican Benedictine Monastery of St Mark’s. You won’t have long to wait before the monks and nuns come filing quietly into the chapel, as they do seven times a day. Once all are seated, the abbot knocks with his ring and the service begins. As he has done for more than sixty years, Brother Placid will intone the opening words of Psalm 34: “I will bless the Lord continually.” To which the others reply, “His praise shall be always on my lips.” Brother Placid – what a wonderful name for this gentle old man who has spent his whole life praising God. Just thinking of him reminds me of the biblical characters found in Luke’s Gospel – Simeon and Anna – privileged to be among the first to see the baby Jesus. (Luke 2)

Day in day out, seven times a day, starting very early in the morning, well before daylight, the praises of God are sung at St Mark’s Abbey. I sometimes wonder how much longer we will be able to sustain our daily weekday Eucharist at 7.30 in the morning, the saying of Morning Prayer at 8.45am or even the three services we offer here on a Sunday. Yet here is a handful of people – mostly elderly now, absolutely committed to singing the praises of God, chiefly through the psalms. Our own service of Choral Evensong, sung in St Peter’s Cathedral by the Choir twice a week, is strongly influenced by the ancient pattern of monastic worship. Five hundred years ago, as the Reformation swept across Europe, Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, condensed those seven services into two – Morning and Evening Prayer. By doing so, he thought that most Christian people would begin and end their day with prayer – and many do.

I’ve had Brother Placid much in mind these last few days as we have kept the great catch-all Festival of All Saints. And those who were here in the ‘empty Cathedral’ last Wednesday night, were deeply moved as God’s praises were sung, including that lovely setting of the words of another gentle old man, Simeon, and candles were lit to remember with thanksgiving our beloved dead. I often struggle with the long list of people whose names are read out each week – those whose year’s mind is recalled. How many of us know them, or anything about them? This cathedral has a one hundred and fifty year history, and there are thousands of people who have called this place ‘home’. For those of us who are more recent arrivals, and whose family members are not remembered here, this practice can be somewhat alienating, exclusive. But then I think of the two Christian festivals of All Saints and All Souls, and the thinking behind having them, and I know that my own family and friends, now gone from life to Eternal Life, are included in God’s counting.

So here we are celebrating another All Saints Sunday, listening again to that wonderful reading from the Book of Revelation as John sees and writes about the great multitude that no one can count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the Lamb and crying out … “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be to our God for ever and ever.” (Rev 7: 12)

This evening we will intentionally gather as God’s people in the Diocese of Adelaide, coming as we do from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages. After acknowledging the first people of this land, the Kaurna people, their elders past and present, we will hear God’s word read to us in some of the different languages spoken by Anglicans across the Diocese – including Dinka, Mandarin, Tamil and Malalayan, Korean and Dutch. A good number of cathedral people do not use English as their first language and the few words of welcome appearing on the front page of today’s service booklet are a simple attempt to acknowledge the increasingly diverse nature of our congregations. Truly the saints who gather at St Peter’s Cathedral are increasingly from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.

But it is not just to sing God’s praises that we gather or that defines us as God’s people, God’s saints in this part of the world. It is that, in some way or another, we have heard and responded to the call of Jesus to follow him. Often this may be quite tentatively, as if we are not all that sure of what we are doing. For others, it is a way of life that has been trod for many years. This way of Christ, summed up of course in the two commandments which we recite at most morning services – Love God and Love your Neighbour – is expanded by this morning’s Gospel reading of the Beatitudes. As you know, the Beatitudes mark the beginning of a block of teaching by Jesus that stretches across three chapters in Matthew’s Gospel. These short sayings, all beginning with the words “Blessed are…” capture much of what Jesus says in the chapters that follow. They provide a touchstone, by way of a summary, of the Christian life – and therefore the life of the saints.

The Beatitudes have been an essential feature of the preaching of the Gospel, being translated into practically every languages spoken under the sun, and part of core Gospel teaching. Those who are interested may like to look out for the 4th round of the Pilgrim Course, likely to start early next year, when the focus will be on “The Beatitudes”. I’ll leave our pilgrim seekers to explore some of the depths of these few verses from Matthew’s Gospel noting only that they speak of people whose lives are completely dependent on God and God’s will and ways. And that while they can sound rather sentimental they are anything but – requiring a great deal of prayerful thought in order to live the Christ-centred life called for.

As the saints of God have spread across the world, taking the Beatitudes with them, the patterns of prayer and worship that Brother Placid and his fellow monks and nuns follow, and that cathedrals and churches like ours practice week by week, so the mind of Christ has sunk deep into our common psyche. Last weekend’s Synod demonstrated something of this. Not only did those who were there deal with a considerable amount of formal legislation arising out of that shameful part of our common history which led to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, but we also made a public apology to those of the LGBTIQ who have been alienated, often shunned or worse, by Christian communities. (And here I note again the words we have used on the front page of our service booklets for a good many years now: “St Peter’s Cathedral is a Christ-centred, sacramental, inclusive, thinking, mission-oriented, faith community.”)

Many Christians are rightly outraged at the inhumane treatment by Australians of asylum seekers on Manus Island. Christians, thankfully, are deeply involved in the Recognise Movement as Australia’s first peoples continue to struggle for genuine recognition in their own country. Synod was challenged to continue to support the establishment of a health clinic in one of the most isolated, dangerous yet needy places of the world – in Bor, South Sudan. An appeal was made for funds to ship theological textbooks and other equipment to Papua New Guinea as the Anglican theological college, so important for the training of clergy, lay leaders and evangelists in that country, is revitalized. We noted with some interest that this year marks the 25th anniversary of the ordination of Anglican women to the priesthood in our Diocese, listened to a few reminiscences of one of those pioneering women, Joan Claring-Bould, and wondered how there could ever have been any doubt as to the validity and effectiveness of the ministry of women. And the saints in this Diocese of Adelaide were challenged and encouraged by our Archbishop to grow – in numbers, in depth of discipleship, in service to community and in generosity of money and resources.

Finally, a reminder of who the saints are. I have always loved some words found in the New Zealand Anglican Prayer Book which talks of “your first fallible, frightened friends who followed you to Jerusalem…” Those early saints were no different to the saints of today; they could scarcely have imagined that their first tentative steps at following Jesus could have influenced the world to the degree it has. We may not be the first, we are certainly fallible, often frightened and always friends of Jesus.

On this All Saints’ Sunday let us take heart, take courage, and go out into our world to live, love and serve the Lord, in the name of Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit.