Newsletter Article for November 2017
“All Saints’ Day”
O ALMIGHTY God, who has knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord; 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; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
– Collect for All Saints’ Day, p. 256, The Book of Common Prayer, 1928
We shall celebrate the Festival of All Saints’ Day at St. Luke’s Chapel on Sunday November 5th, which is also the Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity. It is helpful, I believe, to pause and reflect on how much this Festival means to us Christians and why it is important.
The above Collect beautifully portrays the unity of our life in the Lord Jesus Christ, a unity fashioned by Almighty God. The picture does not only show our beginnings in Christ, but it also comprises a prayer for God’s grace that we may “follow thy blessed Saints in all virtuous and godly living.” The aim of this prayer of grace and the saintly living of God’s people is that they may come to know and experience all the “unspeakable joys” God has made ready for all who sincerely love Him. The prayer itself at least partly answers the question that many a saint has asked, “How do I transition from this hum-drum life to the dazzlingly resplendent glory of eternal life with the Lord Jesus Christ?” It is by God’s grace at work through our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Other saints have asked, “How do these almost unbearable troubles and persecutions give way to the overwhelming joy of God’s people in heaven?” Again, it is God’s grace given to all His people that they may follow the holy example of the saints that have gone before them. St. James wrote:
My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
(James 1:2-4, KJV)
The example of the saints that have gone before us is given to us supremely in the Bible, both in their writings and in their lives, in whatever of their lives has been made known to us in the pages of the Bible. But it is also shown in the accounts of the lives of the saints of later generations, such as martyrs, confessors of the faith, bishops, priests, deacons, theologians, missionaries, and many who have been a prophetic voice in their generation. There are so many saints to whose lives we can look for examples of the manifold graces and virtues of the Holy Spirit at work, that the writer to the Hebrews can give this encouragement (Hebrews 12:1-3, KJV):
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.
Here we gain a crucial insight, namely, that while the great company of the saints surround us Christians on our earthly journey toward the fullness of God’s presence and love, it is the Lord Jesus Christ, the originator and pioneer of our faith, to whom we must look as our supreme example. He it is whom we must consider and from whom we are to draw strength and inspiration when the going gets tough. Our communion and love is first for the Lord Jesus Christ, and then we look to the examples of the saints in whom Christ’s various virtues and graces are displayed. It is Christ whom we love more than any of the saints. St. Patrick wrote of his devotion to Christ in these words:
… so that I might come to the Irish people to preach the Gospel and endure insults from unbelievers; that I might hear scandal of my travels, and endure man persecutions to the extent of prison; and so that I might give up my free birthright for the advantage of others, and if I should be worthy, I am ready to give even my life without hesitation; and most willingly for His name. And I choose to devote it to him even unto death, if God grant it to me.
(art 37, retrieved from http://saints365.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-virtues-of-st-patrick.htm )
How willingly do we devote ourselves to the service of the Lord Jesus Christ? Many of us can learn from the patience and endurance of so many holy men and women of God through the ages. Chapter 11 of the Epistle to the Hebrews speaks of all that the heroes of the faith endured as proof of their faith. For example, people tend to complain about the high cost of their housing these days, but that needs to be contrasted with some heroes of the faith who “wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (Hebrews 11:38b, KJV). Today some heroes of the faith might well be living among the homeless of society.
Some might complain about the curtailing of religious freedom in the USA today. But what kind of religious freedom did those saints have who “had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented” (Hebrews 11:36-37, KJV)? The faith of these holy men and women of God led them to endure many trials for the sake of God’s kingdom, and their patience and endurance under trial bore the fruit of a good reputation of heroic faith. Yet they did not receive the promise, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews declares, since together with all Christians of every age they shall inherit everlasting life and the whole spiritual heritage promised by God.
How tempting it is to give up one’s faith in the midst of all sorts of trials which seem to make no sense! Yet our attitude to all such trials must be shaped by our love for God. St. Thomas à Kempis wrote:
A lover [of God] ought to embrace willingly all that is hard and distasteful, for the sake of his Beloved; and not to turn away from him for any contrary occurrences.
(p. 163, Paul M. Betchel (ed.): Thomas à Kempis: The Imitation of Christ, III.v.8. Moody Publishers, 2007)
This matches our Lord’s own warning in the Parable of the Sower concerning those who receive the word of God with joy at first, but, since they have no root in themselves, when trials come, they fall away from their faith (Mark 4:16-17). The good examples set by the heroes of the faith serve to encourage us to stand firm in our faith, but most of all the supreme example of the Lord Jesus Christ inspires us.
Now I come to the final part of this month’s article, in which I pose the question to you all, “How will others remember you for your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ?” By posing this question I do not mean to lift up faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as an idol to be worshipped. What I am asking is simply this, “Can people by observing our lives recognize that we are Christians, and living as Christians should?”