“Therefore with Angels and Archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious Name..."
These words from our Eucharistic Prayer invite all of the saints who have gone before us to join with us in our celebration of the Eucharist. As I read the New Testament, I understand these words to mean all who have followed Jesus on “the Way.” That includes all of us, now, and all of our Christian ancestors, all the great and famous personalities of Christianity. We are all the saints of God, and we stand in good company.
Paul begins his famous letter to the Phillipians, “...to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” As far as Paul is concerned, if you are “in Christ Jesus”, if you have been baptized and marked as “Christ’s own forever”, then you are a saint.
It is true that our Episcopal tradition recognizes some of the faithful departed as “extraordinary servants of God and of God’s people for the sake, and after the example, of their Savior Jesus Christ.” (From “Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints.”) In1964 the General Convention of the Episcopal Church approved the inclusion of over a hundred saints days with collects and readings from scripture for inclusion in our worship. Today we have hundreds more.
It was not until I joined the Order of St Helena, in 2001, that I began to honor the saints who had gone before me with prayer, hymns, and homilies. It was learning to preach in this setting that gave me a new vocabulary and provided me with fantastic stories of some very unusual people to follow as role models. I didn’t care if they were “approved” by our church or not.
I read about St Francis of Assisi, St. Teresa of Avila, Anthony the Great, and of course, all of Jesus’ apostles, including the Apostle to the Apostles, Mary Magdalene. What depth of character and heart-rending stories accompany these diverse people! Even the word to describe the stories, hagiographies, fascinated me.
This All Saints Day we will combine the services for All Souls Day into our liturgy so that we won’t leave anyone out. We want to remember the heroic along with the ordinary. Our prayers will unite us with the “great company of heaven”, where our ancestors hold hands with the saints of old. They stand with the angels as they pray us along our own pilgrimage of sainthood in the making.