All Saints, 4th November 2018

The Very Rev’d Frank Nelson

Isaiah 25: 6 – 9

Psalm 24

Revelation 21: 1 – 6a

John 11: 32 – 44

All Saints’ Sunday – one of my favourite days in the church’s calendar. Not only do we sing stirring hymns but we recognize, acknowledge and celebrate the rich tapestry of people woven together into the saints of God. All Saints’ is a wonderfully inclusive concept – a catch-all day when even the forgotten are acknowledged in their forgottenness! It’s a sort of rainbow celebration as one colour morphs into another, one style of worship complements another, each differing theology (so often seen as a point of conflict) adds to the texture, each language, people, culture, class finds its place at the table of the heavenly banquet so beautifully imagined by Isaiah. “A feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines, of rich food with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear.” (Is 25: 6)

All Saints’ is a festival when we acknowledge and worship the God who invites us, one and all, to share this banquet. It’s a festival when the tears are wiped away by our God who makes God’s home among mortals – Emmanuel, God is with us, among us. It’s a festival when we read that most moving account of the raising of Lazarus, entering into the depth of sorrow and despair, of anger and denial, experienced by Mary and Martha – and know we are not abandoned in that dark pit. Jesus himself is there – weeping too. All Saints’ is a festival when, with the psalmist, we too can climb the steep path to Jerusalem and the holy temple and shout out to the gates: “Lift up, lift up your heads, O you gates and everlasting doors – the king of glory is here.” (See Psalm 24) It’s a festival when the question is asked and answered: “Who is the king of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the king of glory!”

Although we are not singing it today 20th century hymn writer Fred Pratt Green has captured some powerful and expressive themes in his hymn “Rejoice in God’s saints” (Ancient and Modern 308). Each verse adds more texture to the painting of God’s saints that Green is trying to capture. The first reminds us that at the very heart of Christianity is the call to prayer and worship. Faith comes through, and is enriched by, acquiring the habit of prayer. What an interesting choice of words – ‘acquiring the habit of prayer’. This suggests that prayer and worship, adoration of God, is more than just feeling-based. Worship is an intentional act of the will. Prayer means deliberately putting ourselves into the presence of God – setting aside time, going to a sacred space, using carefully prepared language. We are blessed at St Peter’s Cathedral at having such a beautiful holy space to worship in. We are blessed in the richness of the liturgy crafted by generations of worshippers and added to as new ideas, new concepts, new music comes to the fore. We are blessed in having the opportunity of starting each working weekday knowing that, even if we can’t be there, the Eucharist is celebrated and prayers are prayed for us and all people in this Cathedral. The saints are those who have acquired, and continue to strive to acquire, the habit of prayer.

Among the saints are those who, according to Green, “march with events to turn them God’s way.” Often these ‘marchers’ are people deeply rooted in prayer, able and willing to withdraw from the world as Jesus did, to be refreshed and encouraged to go out again into the fray. Around the walls of this cathedral, and pictured in the stained glass windows, are some of those who have gone through fire and through flood, have crossed oceans and confronted hostile peoples, to spread the word of God’s loving action in Jesus Christ. These are the saints who have carried the gospel to others, and stood alongside the forgotten, the marginalized, the left out.

And then, says Green, there are those saints who are unpraised and unknown. Those people whose names never get into history books, whose faces don’t appear in stained glass windows, or even on facebook. But who, nonetheless, do the work of the saints. Carrying another’s cross, wiping away the tears, living the simple life which reflects that of the servant king, the one called Teacher and Lord who washes his disciples feet (John 13: 13). These humble unknown servant saints, says Green, “shame our complaining, our comforts, our cares.” Their courage and patient caring of others serves as an inspiration to us.

The fourth and final verse of the hymn approaches that most difficult of questions asked, especially, by those who, intrigued by God, remain deeply skeptical. How do we know if it’s true – this God-stuff? Again it is to the third line of the verse that we go for Green’s insights. “In loving, in caring, they prove it is true: the way of self-giving, Lord, leads us to you.” Faith in Jesus Christ, in the cross and resurrection, the good news of God’s love, and the inspiring empowering of the Holy Spirit cannot be ‘proved’ except through the example of those who believe. This is where the saints inspire and encourage. It is their loving, their living out of the Gospel, their putting into practice the implications of their being baptized into Christ that point the way to God. It is a bold, or foolish person, who dares to say, as St Paul did, “If you want to see Christ, look at me!” (e.g. Phil 3: 17) The door-keeper of the Benedictine monastery is instructed to greet the stranger at the door as if they were Christ. When we come to pass the peace today let the Christ in me greet the Christ in you.

One month out from Advent Sunday, the Festival of All Saints is a fitting day to launch our Festival 150 brochure and programme. Many of you know that on 29th June 2019, next year, it will be one hundred and fifty years since Bishop Augustus Short, first bishop of Adelaide, laid the foundation stone of this Cathedral. It took seven long years of building, and then only half of what we have now, before regular services were held in this sacred space. Beginning on Advent Sunday, 2nd December, we will keep a year of festival, Festival 150. Among all the different events, services and activities planned for the coming year, two driving principals stand out. We wish to celebrate the past, remembering with thanksgiving Bishop Short and those visionaries who worked alongside him, the benefactors and faithful people who built and worshipped and made St Peter’s Cathedral what it is today. And we want to spend time imagining what the future of the cathedral and its mission and ministry might look like. These two ideas – celebrating the past, imagining the future – will shape the year to come.

For months, in some cases years, a number of people have been quietly beavering away, toying with ideas, fine-tuning them, approaching people. Today you have received the first draft of the Festival 150 brochure with its inspiring logo and real sense of purpose, excitement and mission that it holds. And it all begins on Advent Sunday, 2nd December, when, at the evening service, we play the First Chords on the fully restored organ. What a great connection that will be as this grand old lady, entering into her 90th year, is given a new lease of life for the next 90 or so! And doesn’t she look fine with her facelift and new make-up! Wait till you hear her speak! While not over yet, this project of restoring the organ, with the daunting amount of money needed, has been a work of inspiration which has touched and will continue to touch many people.

And while we are talking about the organ and thinking of saints it is such a joy to have been able to back-light the St Cecilia Window. The window was installed even before the Cathedral was being regularly used for worship – a gift from the citizens of Adelaide in memory of Lady Edith Fergusson who died in 1871. In making this beautiful window able to be seen from outside of the Cathedral (we still can’t, and never will, see it from inside) I feel we have given back a gift to the people of Adelaide. Do come round one evening or early in the morning and see for yourself.

Let me close today by praying, for the first time in public, the Festival Prayer written for our use and printed in the Festival 150 brochure.

God of all time: Alpha and Omega, beginning and end.

We praise and thank you for what has been, what is and what is to be.

In this year of celebration we give you thanks for those who have gone before us in faith, courage and generosity.

Give us imagination, purpose and grace to step into the future with you, our Creator, Redeemer, and Life-giver. Amen