If Christianity is vitalising that’s not why we’re in it. We’re in it for the praise and service of God. Vitalisation comes with the territory.
You’re vitalised by the friends you keep and being friends with Jesus fills your spirit with unalterable youth.
Our first two readings for All Saints Day speak of heaven using the symbol of Mount Zion the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem innumerable angels in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven (Hebrews 12:22-23 with this from 2 Esdras 2:43), In their midst was a young man of great stature, taller than any of the others, and on the head of each of them he placed a crown, but he was more exalted than they.
In such words centring on their risen Lord Jesus early Christians spoke of communion and fellowship in the mystical body of … Christ … and the inexpressible joys … prepared for those who truly love God.
We’re a society passionate for inclusion but the inclusion we’re talking about today comes from the unalterable newness of Jesus that reaches beyond death to knit together a mystical body ignorant of mortality.
Christians don’t age or die in spirit. They’re kept young, in the prime of joy, by the most precious and meaningful and awesome reality – I mean the age and death defying Lord Jesus.
The church bell rang 33 times this morning as it does before every service because at that age death encountered the Lord Jesus. ‘Who is that young man who is placing crowns on them and putting palms in their hands?’ He answered and said to me, ‘He is the Son of God, whom they confessed in the world.’ So I began to praise those who had stood valiantly for the name of the Lord. (2 Esdras 2:46-47)
I don’t see God as an old man white a white beard sitting on a cloud – do you? I see him in the 33 year old youth and power of Jesus and in the saints. If I see God in the weak Babe of Bethlehem and the powerless figure on the Cross, in solidarity with the weak and powerless, I see him ultimately in the ring a ring of roses youthful dance of heaven where God’s joy is written large in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn.
It’s the first day of November, month of holy souls, when in the northern hemisphere falling leaves are reminders of mortality. In the southern hemisphere trees are blossoming. Life on earth has such cycles and they’re pointers to a higher realm, revealed to us by Jesus Christ, recorded in Bible and creed and celebrated at the eucharist, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. That realm runs above and counter to the joylessness of materialism, false religion and scepticism none of which come near God.
You can’t know God exists without joy and joy’s the sign you’ve come near to him. You can’t imagine heaven without joy - that is our destiny, to enjoy God forever with all the saints.
If you think about why you’re in Church this morning you won’t have to think long before identifying holy souls who’ve helped shape your active faith. They’re in our past and they’re among us now, in very surprising places. In recent weeks I’ve found quiet joy visiting church members in the harshest of circumstances. It was to people in such circumstances, theirs linked to persecution, that the 1st century authors of Hebrews and 2 Esdras were inspired by God to write with reassurance about the world to come. Today’s liturgical celebration is given to write that reassurance large.
In the Gospel reading from Matthew Chapter 5 we have the secret of eternal youth from the lips of the Son of God. Jesus announces attitudes that pave the way to possessing unalterable joy with all the saints saying: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven… those who mourn… the meek… those who hunger and thirst for righteousness... the merciful… pure in heart… peacemakers and those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3-10)
These qualities aren’t so much rules or doctrines to grasp but a line by line description of how you live real. To live real you need undeceiving by the world, the flesh and the devil, by a media which at times says the very opposite to what Christ says of the triumph of humility, meekness, purity and enduring humiliation for the truth’s sake. People with these qualities are our best teachers on the route to holiness. They reveal the Lord’s reality and all we are considering today about heaven is based on that and nothing less.
Christianity’s a revelation more than it’s an explanation of what’s real. Like our spire it points beyond the pursuits of this world to what’s real, to the inexpressible joys … prepared for those who truly love God.
Do you truly love God? That’s the challenge in today’s gospel. Without setting your heart as Jesus says, with his help and for his glory, that love isn’t true. You know, it’s the sort of ‘I love me and want you God’ sort of love not found among the meek, merciful or poor in spirit.
Archbishop Robert Leighton, a pastor of great unselfishness, who in 1684 was buried here wrote If you ask, ‘how shall I do to love?’ I answer, ‘believe.’ If you ask, ‘how shall I believe?’ I answer, ‘love.’ ‘Believe, and you shall love; believe much, and you shall love much. Leighton preached in this very spot and wrote on the subject of sanctity we address on All Saints day: The journey we are engaged in is indeed great and the way uphill; but the glorious prize which is set before us, is also great, and our great and valiant Captain who has long ago ascended up on high, supplies us with strength.
Robert Leighton sensed as many Christian teachers sense today that the issue for humanity is nothing more or less than the supernatural and that the denial of the supernatural is ultimately dehumanising. In other words human beings can’t go it alone and never were meant to go it alone. We have within us our own unmaking and ageing to death in our pride, anger, lust, envy, gluttony, avarice and sloth. We can have though, also within us, if we invite him, the supernatural power of our re-making and revitalising through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
God who is in us is greater than the evil inside of us writes St John (1 John 4:4b). Believe it! Be loosened from sin’s shackles! Let the youthful exuberance of Jesus shine forth within you to counter inner tiredness for as Isaiah prophesies those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.(Isaiah 40:31)
Saints of God, come to our aid, lend us your prayers, that we may truly love God and make God loved in this place!
At your prayers and ours may St Giles grow in faith, love and numbers into the unalterable youthfulness of Jesus, to whom be glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit now and for ever. Amen.