The text for the sermon is taken from the Gospel: Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
Tonight as we celebrate our patronal feast, it will be good for us to consider for a moment why we celebrate All Saints Day. To help us consider this, we have been blessed with our new icon of All Saints, perhaps the largest All Saints icon in North America. In all of our icons, but especially the icon of All Saints, we realize that icons, to put it really bluntly, do not look normal. There is a reason for this, of course.
Icons help us focus our prayers and worship by their different perspective of reality. First, they utilize a stylized abstraction in order for us to clearly understand the symbols put its front of us. For example, the buildings are dawn in a stylized way for us to know whether the scene is in a city, inside or outside, not to accurately represent a city. But even more, iconographers utilize a non-realistic perspective to awaken our senses to the symbols. For example, the crown of Jesus does not follow our natural perspective. Along with the heads or hair of the saints, it gets bigger the farther away.
From this strange icon, then, I want to point out three important lessons. First, that the fellowship of the saints is present and true. The saints in the icon, have died, but they have not been reduced to nothingness. The icon helps us understand that the saints are present with us. We see them in the icon, and this is a symbol of our true fellowship with them. As the collect put it, we have been knit together in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of thy son Christ our Lord. Or the hymn we sang last week by Charles Wesley:
Let saints on earth in concert sing
With those whose work is done
For all the servants of our King
In heaven and earth are one.
One family we dwell in him,
One Church, above, beneath
Though now divided by the stream
The narrow stream of death
Though death denies our physical communion with the saints, death does not extinguish being: therefore, we are joined with them in the Body of Christ. At Baptism you have been ontologically changed so that now you are a new creation in Christ.
Second, this fellowship is marked by worship. What I mean by this is that the saints’ fellowship is their worship. And this reality of fellowship becomes present to us most in the Mass where we take part in the eternal worship of God in which the saints are also participating. It is at the Mass in which we experience the eternal worship of God in our space/time reality. Think about our preface!
Therefore with Angels and Archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious Name; evermore praising thee, and saying,
HOLY, HOLY, HOLY, Lord God of, hosts, Heaven and earth are full of thy glory: Glory be to thee, O Lord Most High. Amen.
The saints then worship with us each time we celebrate Holy Communion.
Finally, our fellowship with the Saints becomes a great encouragement and example to us because they show us our end. Again, the collect for today reads:
Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed Saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys which thou hast prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee
The witness of the saints encourages us to align our lives with theirs. And I do not mean in just a historical way, but for us to align our lives with what they did and are doing right now! This means that we take on their reality of a life dedicated to the worship of God. As we saw in the Revelation, our future glory, our future reality is the worship of God, standing before the throne, beholding Jesus as we join His worship of His Father.
The lives of the saints urge us to live this reality now. If we wish to prepare our lives for heaven, we must now participate in that heavenly reality. And this brings us to the Gospel message, of which the saints are great examples. Worship of God demands holiness that the saints exemplify and which God promises to assist us with. Think about some of the beatitudes that Jesus mentions: holiness is being, mournful like St. Dismas, meek like St. John the Baptist, thirsting after righteousness like St. Paul, merciful like St. Alban, pure in heart like Mary, and even persecuted like St. Polycarp. These are lives dedicated to the worship of God, and we should not be ashamed by these things. Instead, Jesus tells us to rejoice, be glad, for their reward and ours will be great in heaven.