Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14
1 John 3:1-3
To better understand the meaning of All Saints Day, we need to know what a saint is. There are really two meanings of the word saint, two ways that we use this word, and they reflect the two meanings of this holiday. “Saint” means “those who belong to God”, so it partially means all the people in heaven, but it also means all the people in the Church, including us. We belong to God. So today we celebrate the achievements of all the saints in heaven, and we celebrate the possibility of all the saints on earth.
What is the achievement of the saints in heaven? They are happy. They are praising God forever. They are doing what humans were meant to do. If a saint from heaven appeared to us right here, we would think they were an angel or one of the ancient gods, but really they are just a human like you and me. Just some Joe or Sally who lived the way we live. On earth their appearance probably was not impressive, but now we would be embarrassed to stand in their presence. I know that some of the saints in heaven were homeless here on earth. Here they were, to be honest, filthy and smelly, repulsive. There they are now so beautiful that we would not be sure whether to stare in amazement or look away ashamed. This is the achievement of the saints in heaven. These are the people we celebrate today.
What is our possibility, we saints on earth? To be like those saints in heaven. A few years from now, not so many, probably less than we expect, we might be in heaven. We might be like the angels. But how do we turn this possibility into a reality? The answer is in the readings today. Revelation tells us that salvation belongs to our God and the Lamb, Jesus Christ. If we are going to get into heaven, it will not be by our own strength.
In Revelation we see all the saints in heaven praising God. If you want to grow up to be a basketball player or a violinist or anything else, you have to practice, practice, practice. If you want to grow up to be a saint, you have to practice praising God. We need to put in some real time here on earth praising God. We need to set aside time each day to praise God. We need to praise him while we are working. We need to periodically shut off the TV and praise God. No one is ever too busy to praise God.
We do not praise God because he has low self-esteem. We do not praise him for his benefit but for our own. We praise God not out of flattery or fear but because it is the truth. He is great. He is wise. He is powerful. He is wonderful. He is mighty. We forget these things unless we say them. We begin to think that some human person, ourselves perhaps or someone famous, is the greatest, or, if get beyond this delusion, we begin to think that nothing in existence is really that great after all. If we are going to become saints we have to learn the truth: there is something wonderful in this universe and it is God.
The psalm gives us advice about how to get to heaven. It asks, “Who can ascend the mountain of the LORD or who may stand in his holy place?” This was the very question we had, but the answer is not so easy as I had hoped: “One whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean, who desires not what is useless.” I hear that and wonder whether there is any other way. If heaven is only for those who have never sinned, then we may as well give up now. We are in luck though, we sinners. Jesus Christ came to forgive all of our sins. He forgives our sins without lowering the standard. A clean heart and sinless hands and pure desires are still necessary, but he will bring us up to the standard and even higher.
That higher standard is set today in the Gospel. We have here the beatitudes, these beautiful blessings. Some people consider them to be a kind of commandment, but I think they ought to be thought of more as a ruler. In my house, where I grew up, there is a wall, between the kitchen and the laundry room, where we stood as children while our mother marked our heights. Those marks, now barely visible, show how we grew, inch by inch.
The beatitudes are like that wall. Periodically we ought to stand up next to the beatitudes and see how we are growing. Do I care less about money? Am I dissatisfied with this world? Am I meeker? Do I hunger and thirst for justice? Am I more merciful? Are my desires more pure? Am I making peace in the world? Have I been persecuted for my faith? Inch by inch, reaching heaven by inches, always growing, never shrinking back, and someday we will be a saint in heaven.
Beloved: Do you see what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called the children of God? And so we are. We are his children now, but what we might yet be has not been revealed. We know a little, just glimpses, like in the book of Revelation today, but we cannot even imagine what it will really be like. We just know that it is going to be good. We just know that we want to be saints forever.
I want to be a saint forever, and I know that in your soul, each one of you, you do too. I know this because built into every human soul is a deep desire to be in heaven. Some people mistake it as boredom or inexplicable sadness. It is dissatisfaction with this world. It is the mourning that Jesus calls blessed, the feeling that surely there is something more than just this. In some people it becomes greed or gluttony or lust, but neither money nor food nor sex can satisfy this desire. God has made us for himself, and we are restless until we rest in him.