In our society we have become so obsessed with Halloween we forget the following day, November 1st, is All Saints Day.
When we confess the Apostles’ Creed*, in particular the phrase ‘the communion of saints’ our words echo with the voices of the saints, believers from throughout history.
All Saints’ Day is a time for us to remember the ordinary people who’ve made possible our faith, to recognise that we speak with their tongues, that we’re indebted to their faithfulness. On All Saints’ Day, we remember that we are not alone, that they accompany us.
In the book of Revelation, we glimpse a heavenly vision of the communion of saints, of believers in solidarity with us — a multitude “from every nation, tribe, people and language” around the throne of God (Revelation 7:9 NIV). When we say, toward the end of the creed, that we believe in “the communion of saints,” we’re calling upon that scene in Revelation 7 — the reassurance of a people on our side, the knowledge that their God is our God.
“The communion of saints” isn’t a select club of very special people. Instead, the phrase is a name for the church through the ages, the many people who’ve made possible our communion with God. They welcome us into a community that reaches out to us from beyond death.
Saints are people who offer their lives as a home for God, to make room in the world for God’s life to grow. They bear witness to what it looks like to let God live in this world through them. In other words, saints show us how to be disciples. They reveal that discipleship is about hospitality to God: welcoming God’s love into our lives so that new life may be born for others.
That’s why Mary, the mother of Jesus, is the first saint, the person who “brought God’s salvation to the world.” She is the first one in the Christian story to show hospitality to Jesus — God with us, God of her flesh.
Other than Jesus, there are two people named in the Apostles’ Creed: Pontius Pilate and Mary, “the one who says ‘no’ to him,” the Anglican theologian Rowan Williams remarks, and “the one who says ‘yes’ to him.” Pilate the sinner, Mary the saint. Their lives outline the possible responses to God.
As sinner and saint — each of us as both at the same time — we wobble from one figure to the other. From day to day, moment to moment, we teeter between resistance and reception of Jesus.
We’re usually like Pilate in our rejection of God’s work in the world and in our lives. But we’re called to be like Mary, to echo her yes, to emulate her posture of welcome to God’s life, the labour of hospitality, to make room for God.
“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord,” Mary responds to God’s plan for her life. “Be it done to me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38).
Saints like Mary, the mother of our faith, guide our discipleship. They testify to the miracle of grace. They bear witness to the movement of God, the labour of the Spirit who transfigures our lives with the Word when we say yes to the gospel. They share the life of God with the world. Their witness beckons us into the gospel, into Christ’s love, for God’s love to become flesh with us.
The lives of ordinary saints not only provide models for discipleship; they proclaim a truth about God, that the Spirit dwells with people, that Christ welcomes us into his body. Like Mary, Christ has said yes to each of us. He has opened his life to receive our lives; he draws us into communion with the saints.
We are here, as members of God’s people, because the Holy Spirit has baptized us with grace, joining our flesh to the faithful who’ve come before us, all of us as members of one another.
All Saints’ Day is an announcement of the hospitality of God — that we are being welcomed into a communion that reaches from Mary to us, through people of every generation, all as a declaration of God’s love for the world. Saints surround us with the Spirit’s embrace.
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth;
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son Our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into Hell; the third day He rose again from the dead;
He ascended into Heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God, the Father almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.