Sermons from St Faith's   

All Souls and All Saints

Paula O'Shaughnessy, Sunday 4th November, 2018

  We will have all noticed the festivities for Halloween going on in the local community.  It seems to be more noticeable every year.  The costumes that the children and young people wear becoming ever more grotesque and bloody.  In America, there was an 80% increase in sales of Halloween merchandise.  The phenomenon is getting bigger every year, it seems.  For families, it can be an occasion of harmless fun, with pumpkin carving and silly dressing up.  However, there is also a darker side. - with a visible police presence on the streets and at the railway stations on Halloween and the day before that, known as 'Mischief Night'.  The newspapers in Liverpool and across the country reported some violence, bricks through bus windows and other similar incidents.

Halloween is of course otherwise known as the eve of All Hallows or All Saints.  For practising Christians, the focus is on All Saints itself and the feast of All Souls, which immediately follows it.  Our focus is on the light of Christ and all saints, whilst we also remember all souls, the faithful departed.  This knowledge and focus, or meditation offers protection and consolation.

The ever increasing preoccupation amongst the wider communities with all things Halloween, ghoulish and misty – does show the need that people increasingly have for a connection with spirituality.  This is a cause for hope, as well as concern.  At least there is some awareness of the solemn feast, as well as interest.

There is always the need to connect Christian faith with the real world, even if the world does not recognise the need to connect with Christian faith.

If we look at the historical context of the Bible, there is a real awareness of the worldly reality and context within every passage from scripture.  In Isaiah, the prophet himself makes the direct connection between the people's relationship with God to how they find their earthly experience.  Isaiah constantly reminds the people of their need to live as God's laws tell them, and to be sincere within their souls, in all their endeavours.  If they do this, they will be freed from oppression.  The historical context of Isaiah is of a melting pot of rival empires and kingdoms, with the Kingdom of Judah embroiled within the bloody politics of the power struggles of the region – often on the losing side.  The intrigues and wars, invasions and oppression are like they are today, just without the advanced technology, which would have created more casualties and victims.

Isaiah's prophecies recognise the constancy of God, where the human efforts can so often degenerate into destruction.  This is the reality of politics and power.  Worship and idolatory of false Gods, is the path to spiritual destruction, which Isaiah warns the people against.  On Mount Zion, however, under the protection of God, the people are saved.  We are told that 'the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces' and 'swallow up death forever'.

This is the hope which transcends the darkness.  Following the darkness of Halloween, there is the light and the hope – the setting free from death.  This is the truth which shines its throughout the land.  We celebrate the lives of the saints, and their eternal glory.

In today's reading from Revelation, there the words of John resonate with Isaiah: God 'will wipe away every tear from the people's eyes.  Death will be no more'

We are told that the martyrs will reign with God, in Heaven.  This is the protection, the hope and the promise given to us.  In John's Gospel, today, we have heard the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead.  This is the seventh sign in the Gospel, within the narrative of Jesus' ministry.  As a 'sign' this can be understood as prophetic, and a story unique to the four Gospels.  Following this, the Gospel then follows the path Jesus took towards glory, through death and resurrection.

The love and sacrifice of Jesus is our inspiration and our hope.  If there is anything which can lift the hearts and souls of people above pain, suffering, knowledge of evil – this is it. It can transform lives and give strength and courage.

A film that I can recommend is the 1988 apocalyptic 'The Seventh Sign'.  It's not often that Hollywood does religion or apocalypse particularly well, or with much spirituality, but this is one that does melt the heart and teaches a sound morality lesson.  Not to give too much away, it is the need of mankind to show a willingness to make a real self-sacrifice, through love.

I was asked by a family member once about why Christianity doesn't often seem to offer solace.  The profound reason for this, I replied was that faith is often about being asked to do things.  That does not always bring with it peace of mind. 

For the feast of All Saints, we celebrate the lives of the saints, their sacrifices and their examples.  We remember also the departed, for All Souls.  Our thoughts and prayers are for the peaceful repose of all the departed.

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