‘For all the Saints’ was preached by Ralph Mallinson on 3rd November 2019 at St John with St Mark, Bury.
Imagine you’re looking at a photograph. Not any old photo but a wedding photo. It’s a photo taken with a very wide-angle lens, to get everyone in.
You can see all the family and friends gathered around the bride and groom. Who are the bride and groom? As you look, you can see that Our Lord Jesus Christ is the groom, and his bride is the Church.
And you realise that all those gathered round are the saints of God, God’s people from the first days of Christianity until today. They are from every country in the world, black and white and brown and every shade in between.
Then you realise that the photo hasn’t yet been taken, because you can see that all the guests aren’t yet there.
Take a look at some of those who are there: Mary, the groom’s mother, and Joseph. Her parents, Joachim and Anna. John the Baptist, Peter, Paul, Mary Magdalen. A whole host of well-known people from history: Francis from Assisi, Hildegard from Bingen in Germany, Mother Teresa from Calcutta, Oscar Romero from El Salvador, William Temple, George Bell and Henry Newman from this country, Desmond Tutu, John Henry Newman and Nelson Mandela from South Africa.
You realise that this is a wedding where the colour of the guests’ skin doesn’t matter, nor where the style of clothes worn matters. It is indeed a rainbow assembly, with people from all over the world looking just like themselves – tho’ you’ll probably notice that they all have something of the bridegroom in them.
On All Saints Day we remember all those who are with God in heaven, many of whose names may never be publicly proclaimed as being on the list of saints in a prayer book. The list might include people whose love, sacrifice and faithfulness we have seen for ourselves and who have inspired us. It might include our own mother and father. It might include all those who belong to the great multitude of witnesses who went through their struggles and persecutions and found the blessings and the presence of God within their daily lives. They saw God in this world and are now fully alive to him in the next.
Look again, and you’ll likely recognise people from your own past. A neighbour from childhood, a friend from long ago, a much-loved Sunday School teacher. Perhaps someone you’ve worked with, a favourite aunt or uncle, someone from church whose funeral you went to? Certainly you’ll see members of your own family whom you love but see no longer.
And look again – chances are you’ll see yourself there.
It’s a vast crowd gathered to celebrate this wedding. A real picture of real people, all of whom are guests at the wedding to which they’ve come as friends of the bride and groom. And maybe you’ll recognise too people you are surprised to see there. People you never thought would have much to do with Jesus and the Church, but they are there nevertheless.
Perhaps in this picture is the secret of All Saints Day. For the saints of God are beautiful people, but real and ordinary people. The great and the good as well as the ordinary folk like you and me. All gathered around the bride and groom in this wedding photo of Christ and his Church.
The grace of God shows its full colours in the glory that is at work in all of God’s people who are called to be saints. That grace which is at work in you, the saints of God who are in Bury, the real and ordinary people who here and now hold in your hands the invitation to that wedding, along with those invited and called from the first days of Christianity until today, from every country in the world, black and white and brown and every shade in between.