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A Sermon for the Feast of All Saints, preached at York Minster by the Precentor, Canon Victoria Johnson
Title: All you Saints of God, pray for us.
Someone once said that a Saint, ‘is a person who lets the light of Christ shine through their lives’. Lives which, as we look back upon them, help us see the world through the eyes of faith, and give us a glimpse of the glory of God.
We have witnessed just a year or so ago the saint-making of John Henry Newman, a 19th Century priest, writer, and theologian from Birmingham, our newest English Saint. It was in fact, he who said that ‘a Saint, is a person who lets the light of Christ shine through their lives’. In Newman, we can almost touch one of the great cloud of witnesses that surround our steps as we journey on.
Even more recently, you may have read about the British born, Italian teenager from Assisi, Carlo Acutis, who died of leukemia in 2006 when he was just 15. Since his death-Carlo has been beatified for his saintly life- which involved coding for catholic education websites, helping the poor and homeless and worshipping God. His body is to be found preserved under the altar of St Francis Basilica, he is wearing Nike trainers, a red T-shirt and a tracksuit.
I can’t help thinking that the three Christians killed in Nice this past week are now numbered with the Saints in light. Vincent Loquès, the churchwarden, Nadine Devillers, life-long worshipper, Simone Barreto Silva, careworker who ran to get help and died from her injury’s, but not before she had said ‘tell my children I love them’. There are also the saints with whom we might be more familiar- Blessed Mary, Peter the Apostle, Paulinus, Alcuin, William of York, the hosts of northern Saints: Wilfred, Oswald, Aidan, Hilda, William Wilberforce, Florence Nightingale, Martin Luther King, Oscar Romero, and on and on the list could go, at least one saint for every single day of the year. We are literally surrounded, if we only have eyes to see them. All you Saints of God, pray for us.
So what is a Saint? A saint is a person whose life and death point towards Christ And embody in their own lives the cross and resurrection –they will have known the pain and suffering that living a life in Christ can bring, they will have had their own journey to the cross, their own passion, but they will also have known that Christ gives joy and life in abundance; in all that they did, their lives will also point to the hope of the Resurrection and the glory and grace of God.
Every Saint is a window into the mystical body of Christ- which is the company of all faithful people, living and departed. They lead us into community, into a great company, from every tribe and language and nation, a great cloud of witnesses who worship God night and day, praying without ceasing, praying for us -their brothers and sisters in faith here on earth- and oh, how we need their prayers today. All you Saints of God, pray for us.
As we set our faces to enter into this next phase of the pandemic, we will all be facing our own ‘ordeals’ to a greater or lesser extent, we are being tested, individually, locally, nationally, globally, we face fracture, discord, brokenness, confusion, we might feel not only deflated and tired, but also as if our world is crashing down around us- but as Christian’s what is our hope?
Our hope is in the God who loved the world so much he gave his only Son, who showed us the Father’s love that we might not perish but have life everlasting, the Son who took upon him our sorrows as we nailed him to the cross, who journeyed to the depths of hell to wake the dead, and rose again through the power of the resurrection to bring new life, and new hope and new love to the whole of creation. Our hope is in the one who created a community of life, filled with his Spirit which we call the church- flawed and fallible on earth but shot through with the glory of God and made one with the church of heaven, those saints in light who endured to the end, who worship with us now, who assist our song and pray for us without ceasing, every day, every hour, every minute.
They too lived in this hope, they died in this faith, they have gone to glory and now they worship with us, and for us. We are not alone in all this. Their lives remind us of where we have come from, who we are, what we believe, and what we can become, they point to light in times of darkness, hope from despair and new beginnings from all that seems lost. They are promise and fulfilment and they hold us in their prayers.
All you saints of God, pray for us, we can be assured on this day of all days, that they have been, they are, and they will be praying for us, now and to the end of the ages. Amen.
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