“After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes”
There has been an All Saints’ Day from at least the beginning of the 3rd century, and probably before that, from almost the beginning of the Church. The Western Church settled on the present date, November 1st, in the 9th century, where that Anglican’s have always had it.
There is much modern confusion about the meaning of the word “saint.” This confusion is due, in part, to movies about the Roman Catholic “canonization of saints,” as well as to a resurgence of interest in books about “the lives of the saints” or painted pictures of the saints such as icons.
But in reality, a saint is simply a human being, living or dead, that God has chosen for eternal life, and upon whom God has lavished his grace. We are all Saints in the making. We should find comfort in the continuous keeping of a holy day this old, as we consider our God-given hope and our call to saintliness in Christ.
We should remember with joy and thanksgiving the generations before us that answered Christ’s call and received the grace to become his saints. When we are afraid, we can ponder the fact that there is no trial or tribulation that we can face in our own lives that some Christian before us has not conquered gloriously.
As we praise God for the victory that he has given to the saints now gathered around his throne in heaven, we can imagine some future All Saints’ Day, if our Lord does not return to end the business of this world during our lifetime on earth, when our descendants will praise God in heaven for the lives we are living now, and for the victory that Christ began to give us openly on the day of our Baptism, and continues in us today, if we are faithful.
Humility about ourselves is a great virtue, but humility about God is a great sin. We may be as humble and modest about ourselves as we like. In fact, there is probably something dreadfully wrong with us if we can’t find a great deal in our lives to be humble and modest about.
As Christians, however, God is the great, beating heart of our lives. God is our life itself. It is from God that our lives have come, and it is to God that our lives are going. Christians ought to boast about God: to boast about God’s greatness and mercy; to boast about what God is doing in our lives as he restores them according to his purposes.
This kind of boasting is not only permitted by our religion, it is actually required. This kind of boasting is a witness to the Truth: to the truth of God in the Church; to the truth of God in the Scriptures; to the truth of God in the lives of the saints in heaven and in the lives of the saints on earth
And lest anyone should get the notion that Christians are swell-headed for claiming to be witnesses to God’s Truth, it is worth observing that the word for “witness” in the original Greek of the New Testament is “martyr.”
It is frankly impossible to talk about God and his saints without also talking about blood—not simply because so many that we revere as saints have witnessed unto blood to the Truth of Jesus Christ, at the cost of their lives, but because holiness and blessedness are themselves matters of blood.
The word saint is the English form of the Latin word for “holy,” which comes from the same Latin word as sacrifice. These words translate the Greek word for “holy,” used before Christians spoke either Latin or English; and it is, itself, only a translation of the Hebrew word used in the Old Testament.
What all these words have in common is that whoever or whatever is “holy” is set apart for the exclusive use of God, is consecrated to him, is God’s possession, and is meant to be as separate from the fallen and profane world around us as God is.
While it is the action of God, the Holy Ghost, that makes a person or thing holy, the outward and visible sign of this spiritual reality is blood. Sacrifice means “to make holy”; and the word blessed, used so many times in this morning’s Gospel of the Beatitudes, comes from the English word blood, as a form of the English word bloodshed, and means literally “to consecrate with blood.”
The Old Testament tells us that the blood is the life (Deut. 12:23), and that it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul (Lev. 17:11). In the New Testament, the Epistle to the Hebrews combines these facts to remind us: “And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22). Blood, literally “washing with blood,” is the outward sign of holiness.
“Holy” isn’t something we become through our own good works, or through anything else we can do for ourselves. Holiness is a gift from God. We are made holy by Christ, as he pours out his own Blood to cover our sinfulness and weakness.
In the vision of heaven from the Revelation of St. John with which we began, there is one thing only that unites the saved multitudes of all nations, kindreds, and peoples, and tongues before the throne of God. All in that multitude have been washed in the Blood of Jesus Christ; all have been made holy by the grace of God; all are saints in Jesus Christ.
A saint, then, is only this: a human being who belongs to God, who has been set apart from the world by the Blood of Jesus Christ, shed on a cross and received in the Holy Communion. Nobody else is a saint, and there is no other qualification. We are holy because of God’s action in our lives, or we are not.
Please today, let us remember all of the Saints in our lives.