by Robert Brow (www.brow.on.ca)
We began our service with the hymn "For all the saints who from their labors rest" (William Walsham How, 1823-1897) with that wonderful tune by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). Let me say three things about All Saints Day from that hymn.
SAINTS - Saints are not the people we see in stained glass windows. They are not even particularly special people. There are a few saints that we remember and admire like Francis of Assissi and Mother Theresa. But in the Bible all Christians are saints. You can see that from the beginning of several of Paul's epistles (Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:2, 2 Corinthians 1:1, Ephesians 1:1, Philippians 1:1, Colossians 1:2).
But what distinguishes hockey players is not how good they are but that they are set apart to play hockey. When Mollie and I came to Canada our boys thought about Gordie Howe, Frank Mahovlitch, Eddie Shack, and others some of you don't even remember. But there are hundreds of thousands of hockey players in Canada - Peewees, Bantam, Midgets, but only a few are remembered as N.H.L. players.
What distinguishes soldiers is that they are set apart to be trained to fight. And as saints we are set apart to learn about love from Jesus the Son of God. So all of you who have come to church this morning are saints.
The second word we need is ALL. In the book of Revelation saints are described as "a great multitude that no one could count" (Revelation 7:9). The Jehovah's Witnesses count only 144,000, but you can see that is not a literal but a symbolic number which multiplies 12 x 12, and then multiplies that again by 10 x 10 x 10, and none of us could count that far in church this morning. We might as well think of billions.
I was reading the other day that there are already more Anglicans in Uganda than in the Church of England, Canadian Anglicans, and Episcopalians in the United States. That's a lot of saints, even if you don't count all those of other denominations. Paul wrote a letter to "The saints who are in Ephesus" (Ephesians 1:1). It was a city of perhaps half a million people. And those who made shrines to Artemis for the tourists there complained that "not only in Ephesus but in almost the whole of Asia (western part of Turkey) this Paul has persuaded and drawn away a considerable number of people" (Acts 19:26).
Here in the city of Kingston I met with the Saints in St. James' Anglican for 11 years, and in St. Mark's, Barriefield, for eleven months. But there are also United Church saints, Roman Catholics, Baptists, Alliance, Pentecostals, and those of many other congregations. So your congregation of Christ Church is one of dozens of gatherings of saints in the Church of Kingston. Imagine all the other cities of the world, and the saints who gather in them. And that would still miss out all the saints who have before, which we will think about in a minute.
As we think of all these millions of saints, the impressive thing is that they are all volunteers. A few of them are paid, as I am, to do certain tasks, but the vast majority serve long hours as many of you do for nothing. Why do you do it, and why do millions of saints all over the world do it? The only reason is that they think Jesus the Messiah is worth serving, and his work is very important.
Thirdly let me say a few words about the words "who from their labors rest." When I first came into this building I noticed a tombstone, which on one side had just one word RESTING. If I die, please don't write resting on my stone, or "rest in peace." I can't think of anything worse than resting doing nothing for ever. When I was a little boy there was a picture in my bedroom of a woman lying peacefully for ever and ever on a cloud with two little wings behind her shoulders. That is a terrifying picture for a child. So if you want to write something on my tombstone, you could write "Freed to be all he longs to be and do." Or you could write "Having a wonderful time."
The saints who have finished their course and have gone before us are
not sitting inactive. Heaven is a vast city with plenty to do with people
of all nations bringing their glory into it. As we are told in the last
book of the Bible : "The city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it,
for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations
will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory
into it." (Revelation 21:23-24). It is never boring being a saint
on earth or in heaven.