Embracing the saints, closing the gap, and walking in faith-All Saint’s Day

Embracing the saints, closing the gap, and walking in faith-All Saint’s Day

Year A, All Saint’s Day
November 5, 2023

Year A: Revelation 7:9-17; Psalm 34:1-10, 22; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12

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Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.1 

As we gather to honor the memory of all the saints, we are reminded of the profound words of Christ in the Beatitudes. These words echo the spirit of the communion of saints, those who maintain hope against the odds, with the reassurance that their faith is not in vain.  

On this All Saints’ Day, we are called not just to remember and revere those who have gone before us but to embody the essence of their devotion—a devotion that exemplifies the Beatitudes, a series of blessings that Christ bestowed upon us as a blueprint for Christian living. 

All Saints’ Day is a remembrance of the departed, but it is much more. It’s a day to honor the resilience and hope of those who have gone before us, those who kept believing in the promise of hope, resurrection, grace, and the teachings of Jesus. They are the ones who have passed on this torch of faith to us. 

Among these saints are the familiar—our parents, grandparents, friends and mentors, who despite their imperfections shaped us into who we are today. Their influence persists in the church and in us, continuing to guide and inspire long after they have left us. Other saints are those we never knew personally, our forebears in faith, whose stories and examples continue to influence us, and who contributed to the foundation of the church. 

Over the last few days, Chris Hartmann, Chip Belyea, Marcia Brownfield and I engaged in the Diocesan Convention – it was both tiring and uplifting. The theme of the Convention was “Closing the Gap Between Religion and Life, a phrase and concept first coined by Archbishop Derek Worlock of Liverpool. Archbishop Worlock says, “Close the gap between religion and life, between what goes on in the Church and what goes on at work and at home; to make our faith a living reality that can be a sign of hope to people in rather troubled times.” Bishop Stevenson reminded us that in closing the gap “a life lived in the power of the things of religion – that life is a powerful life. These words remind us that we love Jesus and Jesus loves us.” 

How do we close the gap in our lives? How do we remind ourselves that we can be and are being transformed by the love of Jesus Christ? As Episcopalians, have we strived to “close the gap”? 

When we close that gap, we do so grounded in our tradition, embracing the sacraments and teachings of the Church as a compass that guides us toward living a life that reflects the love, compassion, and grace that is at the heart of Jesus’ message. We find strength in community, in the shared experience of worship, and in the commitment to service and justice that defines our faith. Through prayer, reflection, and action, we remind ourselves of our transformative journey in Christ, continuously seeking to embody the Gospel in all that we do. 

The Beatitudes present us with paradoxes—blessings that emerge from struggles. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” Jesus tells us. The saints understood this well; their lives were often marked by trials and sorrows, yet they found comfort in the arms of God. In their mourning, they were drawn closer to the heart of Christ, and they serve as a testament that our sorrows too can be a source of blessing if we allow them to draw us closer to God. 

How, then, do we live out these paradoxical Beatitudes in our daily lives? How do we, as modern-day Christians, “close the gap between religion and life”? The answer lies in looking at the saints as our examples. They were not saints because they were free from sin or doubt or because they led lives of unattainable perfection. They were saints because, in their humanity, they sought to live out the teachings of Christ earnestly and authentically. They bridged the gap between faith and action, between piety and practicality. 

Consider St. Francis, who embodied the Beatitudes by renouncing wealth and embracing poverty of spirit, finding richness in a life lived for others. Reflect upon St. Elizabeth, who mourned the plight of the sick and the poor and found comfort in service to Christ in them. Think of St. Augustine, who hungered and thirsted for righteousness, and who, in his quest for truth, laid down a path for us to engage with our faith intellectually and spiritually. 

In their honor, let us seek to close the gap in our own lives. Let us be “poor in spirit” by acknowledging our need for God’s grace. Let us “mourn” by feeling the pain of the world and responding with compassion. Let us “hunger and thirst for righteousness” by pursuing justice and peace in our communities. By doing so, we not only walk in the footsteps of the saints but also bring the realm of God into our everyday experiences. 

As we contemplate the lives of the saints this day, let us be inspired to live a life that reflects the Beatitudes. Let us strive to be peacemakers, to show mercy, to be pure in heart. For it is in living out these blessings that we close the gap between the ideal and the real, between the sacred and the secular. It is how we manifest the kingdom of heaven here on earth. 

As we look to the saints, we see not just the reflection of Christ’s glory but also the embodiment of Christ’s teachings. They were the merciful, who received mercy. They were the pure in heart, who indeed saw God. They were the peacemakers, called children of God. And they, like us, were persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs was the kingdom of heaven. 

It is a profound truth that the lives of the saints were interwoven with trials and triumphs, with moments of clarity and periods of doubt. Yet, through it all, their faith remained steadfast, a beacon that has endured through the ages. They closed the gap between religion and life by making their lives a testament to their faith. 

We are called to do the same. To close the gap between religion and life is to let the Beatitudes shape our interactions, our decisions, and our perspectives. It is to let the light of Christ shine through us in our workplaces, in our homes, and in our communities. It is to let our lives be a sermon without words, a living testimony to the transformative power of living in Christ. 

As we go forth from this place, let us carry with us the courage and conviction of the saints. Let us be the light of the world, a city that cannot be hidden. Let us be the salt of the earth, preserving and enhancing the flavor of life with the love of Christ. And let us remember that the ultimate blessing is not in the recognition of our sanctity, but in the realization of God’s kingdom here and now. 

In closing, let us reflect on the promise that we are blessed not when we are perfect, but when we are wholeheartedly seeking God. Let us strive to be like the saints, whose lives were not marked by the absence of struggle, but by the presence of grace amid struggle. Amen. 

1 Matthew 5:3-4, New Revised Standard Version (“NRSV”)