All Saints is a principal feast. This means it is one of the high holy days of the Christian year. And unlike days like Christmas and Easter, most people don’t really know what we are doing today on All Saints’ Day, other than, and very frankly said, celebrating those people who have died before us.

What might be helpful is a brief march through history, and an explanation of where Anglicans find themselves….
In the earliest of Christian days, it was Christian martyrs who were viewed as Saints. This is why we hold Saint Stephen to be so very important to the faith, as the first Christian martyr. You see illusions to this in the reading we had today from the Revelation to St. John. Referring to saints only as the martyrs continued for the first couple of hundred years of Christianity.

By the 3rd century, people began to include local heroes as saints, along with martyrs – those whose lives were exemplary demonstrations of Christian discipleship. We then began to cross boundaries of communities to find and celebrate our saints. Following this, communities began observing saints out of their local context. Over the course of the next few centuries, there arose not one, but several, sanctoral calendars.

Again, over time, Christians celebrated many saints, some in local and some out of local context. The Western calendar grew in significance, with so many saints to remember. When we hit the 16th century the reformers were not so sure about all these saints, it seemed a bit hocus pocus like, and so the reformers cut way back on the number of saints.

At that time the Protestant traditions switched to using the word “saints” to recover Paul’s use of the word, which simply meant all members of the church, all followers of Jesus. Capital “s” “Saints”, then, were those who were thought to have original contact with Jesus himself – the original disciples become original apostles.

As it is then Anglicanism, has always been in tension on the concert of saints. Are they all ordinary believers? Or just the original apostles? Or other heroic examples of discipleship? The answer varies among Anglicans and right now the Episcopal Church is in a moment of review of our sanctoral calendar, trying to sort all this out. Perhaps then we can leave that story for now, and turn the what might be more pressing for us this day: however wide we cast the net in thinking of the saints, why remember them at all? What is going on this day when we celebrate our faith in Christ with a remembrance of the saints?

Perhaps G.K Chesteron can help us here. Chesterton once said: “Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.”

What this quote gets at is the need to resist the idea that the faith of the living (in other words, our faith) somehow out does, is more important, more reasoned, more thought out, than the faith of those that passed this way before us. We imagine that our understanding of what is reasonable and rational is also therefore what is true. And yet, in the scheme of history, we are a but a blip on the radar. There is a heavenly host, with whom we worship as well. Their (meaning that of the heavenly host) understanding of faith is perhaps very different. On All Saints Day, we give them a hearing. Faith then is not all about me and what I think or us… but instead we receive and carry on, something much larger, something bigger. With this, we get offered a huge dose of humility.

I’m inclined to borrow from the Orthodox Christians, that the local assembly is never the whole assembly. When two or three are gathered, it is not only important that God is in the midst of them, but that they are joined by a whole assembly of those who have gone before.

There is something to this faith; there is a reason why these scriptures speak to us now as well as people 2000 years and older. There is something to being Blessed. There is something to being a saint. This doesn’t change with 2000 years, because there is something to having a life focused on God. God cares for those who know and honor God. In particular, God cares for those who are downtrodden by any number of means. It is not God’s way to do a cheap fix, but it is God’s way to provide peace that passes understanding. Saints have known that for thousands of years and saints know it still. This walk that we walk— the faith walk—shares at its core a dependence on God. In this we are joined with the fullness of the heavenly host, in relation with the triune God and all who know God.
They lived not only in ages past,
there are hundreds of thousands still,
the world is bright with the joyous saints
who love to do Jesus’ will.
You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea,
in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea,
for the saints of God are just folk like me,
and I mean to be one too.

[said, not sung, for once…]