Feast of All Saints
Daniel 7.1-3, 15-18
Sunday 6 November 2022
Woven into the web of being ©Suzanne Grimmett
The gathered glories by Malcolm Guite
Though Satan breaks our dark glass into shards
Each shard still shines with Christ’s reflected light,
It glances from the eyes, kindles the words
Of all his unknown saints. The dark is bright
With quiet lives and steady lights undimmed,
The witness of the ones we shunned and shamed.
Plain in our sight and far beyond our seeing
He weaves them with us in the web of being
They stand beside us even as we grieve,
lone and left behind whom no one claimed,
Unnumbered multitudes, he lifts above
The shadow of the gibbet and the grave,
To triumph where all saints are known and named;
The gathered glories of His wounded love.
This sonnet written for this Feast of All Saints by Malcolm Guite reminds us that saints are not only those named and honoured by the Church. Though the dark glass of this life is fractured, light continues to shine resolutely against the darkness, and is radiated from quiet, steady lives in our midst. Present, too, are those we see no more, woven ‘with us in the web of being’ and those whose lives on earth were not famous or even not seen as worthy of attention or honour but who are now part of the gathered glory of Christ’s ‘wounded love’. Here is an echo of the upside-down kingdom proclaimed in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” The scales of God and the unlikeliness of some saints will no doubt always be surprising us.
Our reading from Ephesians also expresses the sonnet’s high language about the saints in Christ who shine beyond our seeing, more glorious than any power of this world;
God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.
And what are the powers of the world that hold dominion? This question brings into focus the short reading from Daniel we have this morning. The four great beasts of the dream could represent empires which have sought to control and colonise, wielding power beyond their due. In this case they probably represent the Babylonian, Median, Persian, and Greek empires and their rulers, but we have known other such in more recent history and even in our own lifetimes. Different leaders amongst nations and even religions rise up and claim authority and wield power which time reveals to be ultimately violent and self-serving, creating systemic injustice and doing harm to the destiny of humankind and life on earth.
What we do now impacts both now and eternity, for good or for ill…or at least that appears to be what is being suggested by the writer of Ephesians and the prophetic voice of Daniel. The infinite possibilities of life are such that we affect one another, shaping one another’s lives as we participate in the open-ended adventure that is our time here, part of the flow of all things held in life by the source of our being whose name is love. We know we die, but we also have hope that we are made for eternity. We know we live, and we can have faith that by our living we shape the universe towards forgiveness and mercy, reconciliation and grace, thereby creating more possibilities for light in the world. This is the work of the saints. Author David Williams describes it thus;
We can cling to power, grasping at existence, possessing it and seeking to possess and control others. We can exist in a way that bears no resemblance to the abundant and infinitely generous grace of our maker, instead striving to manipulate and confine the will of the Other….It is the yearning of a self that exists in isolation from others… the source of our brokenness, the heart of our separation from the creator. Or…we can be different. We are free to turn away from those options that involve brokenness and horror and darkness, and free to understand the difference. When we exercise our freedom in keeping with the nature of Being-Itself, we reduce the probability of evil and increase the probability of grace. We move toward reconciliation and hope and light, and in doing so open up new realms of possible joy.
Maybe this could be a good if rather clumsy definition of what makes a saint; one who exercises freedom in keeping with the nature of Being-Itself, reducing the probability of evil and increasing the probability of grace in each moment. But perhaps a more grounded practical example might be better than a wordy definition.
Francis is a favourite saint of many here, and the story I am about to tell has been told in several different ways. But this version where Francis is shown to be initially in the wrong speaks loudly, I think, about the real qualifications for sainthood.
In 1219 in the midst of the fever and violence of the Crusades, Francis travelled to Damietta, a Saracen fortress on the Nile delta. He went with the intention of seeking an audience with Sultan Malik al Kamil, Muslim ruler in Egypt. Francis saw two outcomes of his visit, and either would have suited his purposes. The first would be that he would eloquently convince the sultan through theological debate that God was indeed Triune and Jesus, God incarnate on earth. He would then have made a new convert to Christ.
If this failed, then Francis could achieve his other cherished ambition of martyrdom: a way that he believed would bring him closer to Christ through the manner of his death. If the sultan decided to kill him he would offer forgiveness and love so that the way of Christ could be witnessed in this demonstration of merciful non-violence.
But neither of these things happened. This was not all about Francis acting in isolation. When Francis began to explain the nature of God, the sultan intervened and silenced the debate, stating that ‘creatures debating about God were irrelevant. When Francis offered to die, the sultan responded that he could tell the difference between a holy man and a crusader, and he had no intention of killing a holy man.’
On his own, Francis’ impact would have been minimal. Through the dynamic meeting of these two, a way of peace was found which would shape the future. Francis instructed his friars never to engage in theological jousting and futile debate, but, particularly amongst Muslims, to go amongst them and offer their most humble service in a spirit of love for brother and sister.
The sultan gave Francis a gift of an ivory horn that was created to sound the call to prayer. Francis called a new people to prayer, but also, when he sounded the horn, to a new way of peace and the end of the violence of the crusades.
Francis’ life could have been a single thread, maybe a heroic story, but ultimately it would have been limited by what he could imagine. Francis being open to being corrected, even chastised by someone whom he regarded as outsider to the true faith, shows something greater. It shows that he was able to be converted by the Spirit and the gentle prompts of divine love to abandon his well thought out plans and surrender to Christ in himself and Christ in the other.
Being open to divine love means being open to our thread of life being woven into the fabric of life with others so that greater possibilities for love and goodness emerge. Jesus calls us to die to our dreams of individual greatness so that we can take up the fullness of life lived as a member of the body in service to one another.
So may we on this Feast Day of All Saints, recognise that we are all being woven into the fabric of being, and that every moment is an opportunity for grace that can change us and transform our world. May we recognise the saints amongst us and even in ourselves. And may Christ so dwell in our hearts through faith that we, (to receive the blessing from Ephesians 3:17-19), may be so grounded in love, that we have strength to comprehend with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, and be filled with the utter fullness of God.
-  Williams, David. Christ and the Multiverse: Following Jesus in Our Wild, Infinite Creation (pp. 60-61). Apocryphile Press. Kindle Edition.
 As retold by John Shea in “Following Love into Mystery: The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers” Liturgical Press Minnesota, 2010. P 236