I don’t know if you usually do something for Halloween – carving pumpkins, dressing up, having a bit of a scary time – or if you avoid it at all costs. I confess to being rather bemused by the whole thing, there seems to be enough that’s scary to not need anything else. And the most scary are not the dead who might walk, even though they don’t, but the living; a psychological thriller is far more frightening than a zombie apocalypse.
This has been a year where fear, death, threat and deep anxiety seem to have had the upper hand. We have a real-life Halloween with an out of control virus and the prospect of many more deaths. What is more it has the horror of not knowing, if you catch it, if this will be serious or something you will brush off quickly. I’ve met people in both groups. And now we are about to enter another period of lockdown.
Today, then, comes as a welcome counter, not just to bring balance but to restore perspective. Today is All Saints Day, the day we celebrate the light of love and hope shining in and through human lives who have lived and made visible God’s kingdom among us. We need the light today brings in abundance. It is a timely reminder that this is God’s world and whatever comes we have a hope beyond passing enjoyment or fortune. This is a hope that keeps giving even if we have to face the hardest news or outcomes. Today we celebrate the lives who have borne witness to this hope and who inspire us today.
Throughout the year we celebrate saints in their great variety, each on their own day. Today we bundle them all together and let their light shine in one great firework of sparkle and joy. From the first followers of Jesus, those who became Apostles and those we will never know about, the men and women who told the story and gave voice to what they had seen and heard, through the countless host down the ages to those who gather each week here or online, in all our churches.
So today is not just about saints of the past, people remote and long gone, carved in stone and wood. You are today’s living witnesses, who live in the hope of God’s Kingdom, and keep this torch of faith burning and shining. The baton has been handed on to us today and our call is to proclaim in a world with much darkness that light is stronger than darkness, love than hate and life than death. It is our call to find where this is being affirmed elsewhere, all people of goodwill, including our Muslim friends – because we are not the only ones who do this – and celebrate it. Give it the spotlight that it needs, turn up its volume and turn down the volume of those who would depress, bring gloom and despair.
Amidst the fear and the reckless behaviour of some, there have been so many acts of generosity and caring. The selflessness of so many key workers – from cleaners to clinicians, churches to classrooms, commerce to creative arts, councils to carers – people who have overcome the fear and anxiety which stepping out into the public realm brings. And it does bring fear and anxiety.
I saw an article recently in which a teacher mentioned the anxiety of going into the classroom each day, not knowing if this would be when he became infected. People rising above this and struggling on – beyond merely putting on a brave face, to actually embrace what might be the consequences. Some of course have no choice and the struggle is greater.
Today, as we face a fresh lockdown, and all the frustrations this brings – frustrations that it is necessary, frustrations of what it means for disrupted lives and livelihoods – we have a calling to keep alive the story of hope, the assurance of hope.
Today is a counter to the narrative of despair, not in spite of it, but staring it in the face. We light a fire of faith, hope and love and so let the fireworks be for us a sign of this sparkle. Light is stronger than the darkness, hope than fear, love than hate and ultimately in Christ life than death. As we celebrate the saints, we celebrate all who live in tune with God’s Kingdom and affirm confidence in this hope.
So, as with all the best celebrations – we have a cake and some sparkle. May this help inspire us to be lights in the darkness of despair and convince us of the hope we have in Jesus Christ, who has the final word and ultimate victory.
Sermon for All Saints Sunday, Peterborough Parish Church, Sunday 1st November 2020