(Ecclesiasticus 44:1-10, 13-14; Revelation 7:2-4, 9-17; Matthew 5:1-12)
This past Monday, Halloween was celebrated. People dressed up and went door-to-door saying, “trick or treat” and receiving candy. According to Wikipedia, “It is widely believed that many Halloween traditions originated from Celtic harvest festivals which may have pagan roots, particularly the Gaelic festival Samhain, and that this festival was Christianized as Halloween. Some academics, however, support the view that Halloween began independently as a solely Christian holiday.”
The Christian name for Halloween is All Saints Day. Again, according to Wikipedia, [the] “Christian celebration of All Saints' Day . . . stems from a belief that there is a powerful spiritual bond between those in heaven (the "Church triumphant"), and the living (the "Church militant").” It is celebrated in honor of all the saints of the Christian faith.
Does anyone here know what qualifies a person to be a saint? Many people think a saint is someone whose life is an example of extraordinary faith. For example, there is Saint Bernadette, who had 18 visions of Mary, the mother of Jesus. During one of those visions, Mary told Bernadette to dig in the ground in a particular place. As Bernadette dug, a spring of water began to flow. The next day it continued to grow larger and larger. When people used this water, miracles occurred. Or, how about St. Francis of Assisi? The son of a wealthy businessman, Francis gave up all his wealth and position to become a wandering preacher. Eventually, he founded the Franciscan religious order, the mark of which was radical poverty. The members of the order had no possessions, literally. The lives of Bernadette and Francis are examples of what we think of when we think of saints.
The New Testament, however, doesn’t define a saint in this way. A saint, in the New Testament, is any disciple of Jesus Christ. So, according to the New Testament, I’m a saint and you are a saint. All of us are saints – and so is anyone who is a disciple of Jesus Christ. A saint, then, is not a person whose life is an example of extraordinary faith; a saint is anyone who has recognized that he or she has been bound closely to God in love through Jesus Christ. Sainthood, then, is not about our qualifications, but about God’s love. We become saints not when we have acquired certain qualifications, but when we have accepted God’s love and pledged our love to God in return. We become saints when we consciously enter into a loving, intimate relationship with God. And when we enter into a loving, intimate relationship with God, we enter into one with each other, too – for we are all bound together in Christ.
We are all bound together in Christ, which is why we can speak of the “communion of saints.” The communion of saints consists of all Christians from all times, living and dead, throughout eternity. The life that we live on this side of the grave continues on the other side of the grave. The Christian community that nourishes and sustains us in this life continues into the other life. All Saints’ Day is the day we celebrate that great community, both the living and the dead, the near and the far.
One reason to celebrate All Saints Day is to recognize all who have passed on to life on the other side of the grave in the recent past. Another reason to celebrate All Saints Day is to remind ourselves that we belong to a particular part of the communion of saints, the community of saints that is the Canton Community Baptist Church. As people join and leave this part of the body of Christ, we are reminded that the body of Christ is fluid and malleable. It is a living thing that moves and breathes and changes, and yet it also stays constant. Whether we are here in Canton, or there in Cheshire; here in the United States, or there in South America; here on this side of the grave, or there on the other side of the grave, we are the body of Christ, members of the communion of saints, bound in love to God and to each other, even as we move from here to there, wherever “here” and “there” are.
Some of our lives will be examples of extraordinary faith, a faith that never wavers, like Bernadette’s and Francis’. Some of them will be examples of ordinary faith, a faith that wavers and waffles, like Augustine of Hippo’s and Kathleen Norris’, both of whose faith wavered and waffled repeatedly. But they will all be examples of saintly faith, for we all desire to accept the love of God, and we all desire to return it, and we all have moments of doing both of those things. Even beyond that, in the midst of doing those things, we might be the vehicles through which others come to desire such things, through which others enter the community and become one of the saints. Who knows when a Bernadette, or a Francis, or an Augustine, or a Kathleen will walk through our doors, a saint-in-the-making, needing only our welcome and our embrace to complete their conversion? We need only ask them what their names are and how they’re doing, and we just might witness a resurrection; we just might see the birth of a saint. Amen.
Sermon preached by Rev. Amy Johnson, Canton Community Baptist Church, Sunday, November 6, 2016, the Twenty-fifth Sunday After Pentecost.
 Information about St. Bernadette and St. Francis of Assissi is from www.catholic.org.