Materials for Worship at Home on All Saints Sunday

Nerys writes: There is something strangely appropriate about the fact that All Saints Sunday this year falls on Firework Night. For centuries, people have been using fireworks to commemorate saints. In the Philippines and Mexico, the feast days of the Blessed Virgin Mary are celebrated with fireworks, and on St John’s Day every year, there are displays all across Spain and Italy. St Catherine of Alexandria gave her name to a firework, the Catherine Wheel. On eve of her feast day in Malta, villages complete to hold the largest and most intricate displays.

I suppose the famous saints are a bit like fireworks. You could say that they are people who have brought great amazement and joy, although someone like John the Baptist was more like a banger, disturbing everybody with his lifestyle and his preaching! But I’m not sure that this the best comparison. Fireworks are great while they last, but they don’t last for long. When they go off, people often call out Ooooh! with excitement but we’ll soon hear an Aaah! of disappointment when the display finishes. And there’s nothing more depressing than coming across soggy firework cases in the grass the day after Bonfire night! I think St Paul has a better image in Philippians 2.14-18.

Paul, writing from the darkness of prison, encourages his friends at Philippi to keep on shining like the stars on a clear night, bringing happiness to others. Stars shine for a very long time. A star like our sun, for instance, will shine for about 10 billion years. And they keep on shining, even when clouds prevent us from seeing them from earth. Paul wants his friends to be constant like the stars, always doing their best to live in a way that reminds other people of Jesus. If we all did that, the world would be a very different place.

The Beatitudes of Jesus is a very familiar Gospel passage for many of us. I wonder if reading the translation sentence by sentence, interspersed with a paraphrase called The Message will help you to hear it in a different way today?

Matthew 5.1-12
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope.
With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you.
Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God.
He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
You’re blessed when you care.
At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right.
Then you can see God in the outside world.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution.
The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always got into this kind of trouble.

I wonder if any phrase in particular jumped out at you as you were reading? Take a moment to think about it or to reflect on the whole passage.

‘Know that you are in good company’, says Jesus. Sometimes we feel that we are on our own as we try to live the way God wants us to. Paul must have felt very alone at times in prison, but he knew that his friends at Philippi were praying for him and that would have kept him going. One day last week, I had a feeling that a friend of mine in Wales I hadn’t spoken with for many weeks, was praying for me. It made a difference to how I felt that day. When I phoned her later in the week, she said that on that on that particular day I’d popped into her mind during her quiet time and she had indeed prayed for me. She was surprised that I had known and delighted that it had made a difference.

When we pray for one another, we are reminded that we are in good company as part of the Church here on earth and in heaven. The festival of All Saints is accompanied by that of All Souls when we remember ‘the faithful departed’, the ordinary people who may not have made a mark on the world like the saints did, but who made their mark on those of us who loved them. Those people are also loved by God who made them and who continues to hold them close. When we pray we join in with their prayers and those of the saints and the angels.

I invite you to take some time to remember and give thanks for those that you have loved and lost and to imagine them praying for you as you pray for others and for our broken world.

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