Preacher: Canon Nigel Davies
I wonder what comes into you head when you hear the word ‘Saint’ or ‘Saints’ mentioned. Seeing as how we are in a Cathedral just now, I am sure your thoughts turn to the heavenly host or the unseen cloud of witnesses. There may well be an ‘unseen cloud of witnesses’ present this morning, but we are surrounded by saints in all their glory. There are statues of them in various niches around the inside of this place either in plain stone or highly coloured as well as perched precariously around the outside of the building especially at the west end. If you look carefully you will see them in the stain glass windows, some easily visible other more difficult to view due to the height of that particular window.
They are a fascinating bunch especially the ones who are thought sufficiently worthy to record some biographical detail as the book ‘Exciting Holiness’ does. In that book along with the propers, prayers and Bible Readings you can read something about each of them, their exploits and deeds of piety, which have caused them to be remembered and to have been beatified. Indeed, they are thought to be so potent and so holy that they are to go to saints if you want to ask a favour. These are described as ‘Patron Saints’ who can be prayed to for help for particular problems or for the strength they can offer.
There are Patron Saints for every manner of thing under heaven. Countries have them, St. George being ours. All conditions of men and women, every kind of activity and craft it would seem has as patron Saint here are a few chosen at random, but at the same time revealing something of my thought processes!
Amand - patron saint of bartenders, brewers, innkeepers, merchants, vine growers, vintners,
Bernardine of Siena – advertisers
Clare of Assisi – theatre performers, embroiderers, gilders, laundry workers, goldsmiths.
Dymphna – mental health professionals, psychiatrists, therapists.
Eligius – metal-workers, jewellers, mechanics, taxi-drivers, farriers, harness makers, numismatists, Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers soldiers, veterinarians, farmers, farmhands, husbandry.
These just being 5 selected from the first 5 letters of the Alphabet. There are many more indeed 21 more letters to go at and if you have an idle moment and access to Google.
As I researched for this sermon, I discovered that the Catholic Church recognises some 10.000 Saints, so there is one for everyday of the year and then some!
Today is, as you know, All Saints Day, a special day when the Church commemorates all those ‘saints’, men and women from history, who it is believed have attained heaven. Many are known even more remain known only to God. What might you ask are they for, why celebrate those who are now counted among the Heavenly Host?
Perhaps it is to do with inspiring us to be better Christians. I am sure that we all have a favourite amongst the throng, who we admire, who we would secretly or not so secretly want to emulate. We may have special ones who we pray to for strength to face difficult days, because we imagine that God might be tied up with something really important and might not have the time to assist us.
Undoubtedly, we believe that these men and women who become saints are those in receipt of the Blessings that Jesus speaks about in the Gospel passage that we have just heard. It is a topsy turvey message, I am sure you will agree – the reason I am on my third draft of this sermon – as I tried to get my head around what Jesus is trying to convey.
Certainly, it is serious stuff for we are left in no doubts about this by the way. St. Matthew (there’s another one) set the scene. Jesus goes up a mountain, reminiscent of Moses going up Mount Sinai – something significant is about to happen. He sits down and his disciple gather around him. This isn’t a casual parable on the way or #given in response to a bystander’s question. Jesus is about to say something important; he is about to teach and the fact that Matthew uses the portentous words ‘then he began to speak’ leave you in no doubt that this is serious stuff. In fact, it is the beginning of what is now known as the Sermon on the Mount and in Matthew’s Gospel it takes us three whole chapters ending with this reaction from those who were listening in Matthew’s words’
“Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.”
This sermon not only contains the Beatitudes but also the Lord’s Prayer along with other key elements of Jesus’ teaching. It is the core of his message to the world he came to redeem and has been drawn together in this one block of the Gospel, a distillation of his teaching over the three years of his public ministry, It sets the bar high as far as what is expected of a Christian is concerned turning the world’s way upside down, which is in effect what the Beatitude’s do right at the start.
The word beatitude comes from the Latin beatitudo, meaning "blessedness." The phrase "blessed are" in each beatitude implies a current state of happiness or well-being. For those who were listening to Jesus this expression held a powerful meaning of "divine joy and perfect happiness". The people listening would understand that Jesus was saying "divinely happy and fortunate are those who possess these inward qualities” or manifest these behaviours.
They enjoin upon us attitudes of mind and ways of behaving which are challenging, as well as reassuring us of comfort, for those who struggle with the vicissitudes of life there is a positive outcome Jesus says.
Perhaps this reading is chosen for All Saints Day because it bears testament to those behaviours and attitudes of mind that are more commonly associated with those who attain Sainthood, not the stuff of ordinary mortals such as we. They certainly are challenging and perhaps on reflection we think them to be ‘unattainable’ except by all but a few. Yet before we become too despondent there is one beatitude which is not contained with the sermon on the mount which all of us here can claim for our own.
Recorded in John’s Gospel, around the events that occurred when Jesus appeared to Thomas in the upper room. When Thomas had been convinced of the reality of our Lord’s resurrection and blurted out ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus pronounces this last beatitude, which is often overlooked, but which perhaps without a doubt numbers us with the saints in heaven and on earth. Jesus says:
‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’