I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to damage earth and sea, saying, "Do not damage the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have marked the servants of our God with a seal on their foreheads." And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred forty-four thousand, sealed out of every tribe of the people of Israel.
After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, "Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!" And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, singing, "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen." Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, "Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?" I said to him, "Sir, you are the one that knows." Then he said to me, "These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
"Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
The life to come is beyond our ken, for "no eye has seen, no ear has heard" [1 Cor 2:9, ] yet images give a foretaste of what lies in store, beyond this world. Those in heaven are no plaster saints, no gloomy killjoys, but a glorious band of decent people who have lived life with such love, they went went straight back to the God they loved so well.
They went "marching in" -- happy to be meeting face to face with the One who always held them in the palm of his hand. Heroes and ordinary people. Some who have inspired the church for centuries, and other unsung heroes, living a quiet life of family, work and friendship, in the spirit of the Gospel, as peacemakers, pure of heart and gentle of spirit.
"A great multitude that no one could count" -- because God is rich in mercy, and in the Father's House there are many mansions. There's place there for all of us, and the surest way is to cling to "the Way, the Truth and the Life."
Jesus has just given us his challenging advice on how to be good people. He has told us, in fact, how to be the best people we can be, and about the qualities he wants to see in us, his followers. A quick focus on those qualities shows us that they are the very opposite of common and accepted standards and values: -
The world around us says, Blessed are the rich, because they can have anything they want. But Jesus says, Blessed are the poor in spirit. By poor in spirit he means those who put their trust in God rather than money; and those who admit that it is not their income, possessions or bank account that makes them rich in the eyes of God, but what kind of people they are.
The world says, Blessed are those who live it up, and never stop having fun. But Jesus says, Blessed are those who mourn. He means those who let themselves feel the misfortune, pain and sorrow of others, and who respond to them with understanding, sympathy, kindness, compassion, and practical assistance.
The world says, Blessed are the assertive and aggressive that talk tough and act tough. But Jesus says, Blessed are the gentle. Gentleness is not weakness, but a form of strength. Saint Francis de Sales used to say that you can catch more flies with a spoon full of sugar than a barrel full of vinegar. In Jesus book there's just no place for bullies and bullying.
The world says, Blessed are those who hunger for power, status, and fame. But Jesus says, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for what is right. The only power and status we really need is to keep living in God's way and to keep doing the right thing. More satisfaction and contentment will be found in living with a good conscience than in hanging out with the movers and shakers and wannabes of this world.
The world says, Blessed are those who show no mercy and who take no prisoners. But Jesus says, Blessed are the merciful. Happy are those who make allowances for the faults and sins of others, and whose greatness lies in their ability to forgive. They will receive mercy and forgiveness from God for their own sins.
The world says, Happy are those with clean fingernails, sparkling eyes, gleaming teeth, and unblemished skin. But Jesus says, blessed are those with clean hearts. It's from the heart that all our thoughts, words, and actions flow. If the heart is clean, then everything that flows from it will be clean, as clean as water flowing from an unpolluted spring.
The world says, Blessed are those who get even and exact revenge. But Jesus says, Blessed are the peacemakers. Happy are those who spread understanding among people, those who welcome strangers, and those who work for a more just and equal society. They are truly the children of God.
The world says, Blessed are those who lie and cheat and get away with it. But Jesus says, Blessed are those who make a stand for what is right and true. They may suffer for their stand, but the wounds they bear will be marks of honour and integrity. Jesus practised what he preached. In his own person he was the beatitudes. Living them day after day made him the thoroughly good person he was. It's the same for us too.
Today's Feast of All Saints is less concerned with the canonised saints than about all the good and holy people who have ever lived. None of us, I feel sure, is aspiring to be or expecting to be a canonised saint. We don t fantasise that one day the pope will tell the world what saints we were. We don t kid ourselves that our picture is going to pop up one day on the walls of churches. Not for a moment do we imagine anyone saying prayers to us or carrying around pieces of us as relics. We don t foresee any statues of us being carried high in processions. But in its document on the Church, the Second Vatican Council wrote a chapter called The Universal Call to Holiness. So surely our Feast today is reminding us of our deep-down longings to become better people than we currently are! Surely too it is reminding us that Jesus Christ can and will empower us to practise what he preached and to live what we believe! Surely, then, we won't ever want to stop receiving him as our Bread of Life in Holy Communion!
Many of us have weird notions of what a saint looks like. Years ago, at the funeral in England of Princess Diana, Diana's brother cautioned against making her into a kind of a saint. Addressing his dead sister he announced: 'indeed to sanctify your memory would be to miss out on the very core of your being, your wonderfully mischievous sense of humour with the laugh that bent you double, your joy for life transmitted wherever you took your smile.'
But is it really true that the saints never broke the rules (Saint Augustine?), never experienced the dark night of the soul (The Little Flower?), never had a sense of humour? ('God save us from sullen Saints' -- Saint Teresa of Avila), never broke into a great smile? The answer is, 'of course it is not true.' The saints were fully human. They struggled with temptation; they savoured life's joy. On All Saint's day I think of all the good people who have crossed my path and enriched my life -- parents, class mates, parishioners here in the parish. They were not perfect, but they were in their own way great human beings.
The priest asked the class: what do you have to do to become a saint? One hand shot up: 'die, Father' said the little boy. I disagree. I know many living saints!
When we celebrate the feast of all saints we are not celebrating those who have died. This way of thinking causes us to believe that sanctity can only happen after a person has died. No, we are celebrating all who have experienced the gospel message and know that God dwells with them now. Death is not the criterion required for sanctity. Neither is perfection. Often, in fact, the road to wholeness/holiness is through imperfection.
Sanctity isn't something we achieve. It is something with which we participate. It is much too big, as is sin and death, for us to experience alone. As we participate in sin and death, so too can we participate in holiness and life. We each have within us at this moment the power of God. The only thing that prevents us from living the power of God is that many of us are not aware that we have it. We are all children of God, not later when we die, but now, this moment.