NOVEMBER 1, 2008- ALL SAINTS: REV. 7:2-14; 1 JOHN 3:1-3; MT 5:1-12
SEE WHAT LOVE THE FATHER HAS BESTOWED ON US IN LETTING US BE CALLED CHILDREN OF GOD. Already in the earliest writing of the New Testament, the faithful believers in Thessalonike are viewed by Saint Paul as examples of holiness. Their fidelity and perseverance in hardship and persecution were a source of strength that gave consolation to Paul. He confidently assured them that God will “reward you who are suffering now, with the same peace as he will give us, when the Lord Jesus appears from heaven with the angels of his power.” (2Thes 1:7) Not long after, when he wrote to the Corinthians, Paul addressed the faithful there as holy opening his letter with these terms: “I, Paul, send greetings to the church of God in Corinth, to the holy people of Jesus Christ, who are called to take their place among al the saints.” (1Cor 1:1-2)
How many were there among these men and women who persevered in fidelity to the Lord even in a society that was as dominated by immorality as first-century Corinth? We cannot know their names or number. In the first reading taken from the book of Revelation, Saint John informs us that there are countless numbers of martyrs who come “from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and the Lamb, dressed in long white robes, and holding palm branches in their hands.” (Rev 7:9) With these martyrs, have been united still more unknown saints continue in their praises even now, celebrating the victory over death made possible by the blood of the lamb who stands before the throne in glory. Their number continues to increase through the ages as the word of God fructifies in the hearts of the faithful and guides them to the heavenly world where God is all in all.
Faith in the risen Jesus has been given to us that our life on earth might prepare us to enter into their company. In fact, even now we are joined to them in a hidden manner as we offer this sacrifice of the Eucharist in thanksgiving and adoration of the Father, through his Son, in the Holy Spirit. When the Lord Jesus comes upon this altar in the course of this Eucharist, he opens heaven to us so that we are united with those before the throne of God whom we commemorate today. The angels too are present here as we proclaim in the preface of this mass, so that our offering of praise is united with their song that celebrates God’s holiness: “Holy, holy, hold is the Lord, God of hosts” introduces the most sacred portion of this service. This invisible presence of the angels was brought home to me some years ago when in Rome I attended a mass in the Syrian liturgy. At the consecration a deacon began shaking a loose-headed staff he held at the foot of the altar that made a kind of fluttering sound. I was rather perplexed by the significance of this sound and so enquired as to its meaning. “It represents the adoration of the angels,” I was told, “the movement of whose wings is symbolized by the sound.”
While this symbol speaks from another world and culture that is foreign to our taste, yet it conveys an important truth that we do well to advert to: we are not alone in this church as we offer this service to the glory of God. In the words of the Epistle to the Hebrews we are surrounded “with so many witnesses in a great cloud on every side of us.” By our attentive faith we are admitted to their company even here and now. Their presence is not passive but serves as a pledge and a prayer that we be made worthy one day permanently to become their companions in the great hymn of gratitude and of praise to our God and Redeemer. Our worship is not a private affair. We are here to intercede for the whole Church, indeed, for all the world. In doing so, we prepare ourselves for a place in that heavenly company of witnesses where forever we are to be so filled with the fullness of life and joy that God’s loving mercy imparts to his faithful children through the sacrifice of his Son. He is the lamb of God, slain yet living, ever interceding with his Father on our behalf, even now as we offer this Eucharist to the glory of the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. Amen.&
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger