All Saints Sunday – sermon preached by the Provost, John Conway – Sunday 30th October

Ephesians 1.11-23; Luke 6.20-31

Cavalcade, a poem by Jonathan Magonet, a British Rabbi and scholar.

For copyright issues, we are unable to reproduce the poem.

Today we celebrate All Saints Sunday, celebrate the cavalcade of people through time, and across the world, who have overcome fear, lived out their faith – lived, as our reading from Ephesians put it, ‘for the praise of God’s glory’. Magonet conjures up the somewhat motley nature of that company – not necessarily the respectable and upright, but the weary, the whimsical, the prophetic, the clown. And something of that same surprising company is encountered in Jesus’ Beatitudes that we heard from Luke’s Gospel. Jesus purposefully blesses those often disregarded and thrown aside in our rush to judgement: Blessed are the poor, the hungry, those who weep, and the hated and excluded for their prophetic witness. A motley crew indeed, the company of saints, the blessed.

And today we invite Cassie, through baptism, to join that company; and all of us who have been baptised are reminded once again that we too have been invited into their ranks.

For saints are those who, in their following of Christ, help the Church to be Christ: live out Christ’s continuing transforming presence. And so saints are, like Christ, surprising, irreligious, compassionate, unafraid, and trusting. We can so easily think that the Church’s call, our call, is about being right, that being the Body of Christ means behaving in particular (respectable) ways. And we live in a society that continually offers us a consumer fantasy of what the perfect life looks like. But the saints show that the desire to follow Christ, in loving God and loving neighbour, takes us beyond what is reasonable and necessarily sensible. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus follows the beatitudes, the blessing of the overlooked, by first pronouncing woes upon those who are the self-satisfied, the exalted in the eyes of many; and then suggests that we need to go beyond the sensible and rational: ‘I say to you that listen, says Jesus, Love your enemies…. Do to others as you would have them do to you’. Love is revealed to be, not so much a warm fuzzy feeling, but that which brings us into mutual relationship with others, with the different and puzzling, even with our enemies.

And the start of that journey of faith is baptism. In a moment, parents and godparents, on Cassie’s behalf, you will renounce evil and turn to Christ. And you will promise, in loving and caring for Cassie, to follow the apostles’ practice and prayer; to proclaim God’s good news in word and deed; to work for justice and peace in all creation. This is the shape of life that the saints embody, but it’s not easy or straightforward. Baptism itself, in its language and symbolism, is about entering the waters of death, the waters of chaos and confusion, through which we are re-generated to participate in Christ’s resurrection life.

And so the saints we celebrate today are those who witness to the call and the work of God in the midst of that chaos and confusion. They are the people who re-trace that baptismal journey through death to resurrection: they respond to the chaos, not with fear, but with love; to the confusion, not by retreat, but by taking risks; they are those whose eyes are not fixed on their own needs, but on God and on the people given to them to love.

Parents and godparents – the calling given to you today not to bring Cassie up to be a morally upright, productive citizen – or at the very least not simply that. The calling is to be alive to the divine spark within her, the desire to be in God’s blessed company, the re-birth we celebrate today. The call is to nurture that which makes Cassie truly Cassie, so that in the company of all God’s people she is alive to the possibilities of a God who encompasses more than we can imagine, whose welcome always exceeds ours, whose arms are wider than we dare believe. For after all, we may never see Cassie’s like again. So hang on, don’t be afraid. She can join the cavalcade.