The early church believed in the importance of witnessing to faith. The Greek word for witness is the same as our English word 'martyr'. To die for Jesus was the ultimate witness. You have to believe and trust to give up your life and they knew the love of God and so even death was no match for their faith and hope.
Each year on the anniversary of the martyrdom, Christians gathered at the site to celebrate the eucharist; they worshipped God and celebrated God’s love and victory. They also celebrated the faith and faithfulness of the martyr.
Over time this practice produced lists of martyrs and numerous dates of remembrance. But many who died were unnamed and unknown. So a day was set aside to honor all of them. And as the church grew this practice included all the saints who lives reflected the Kingdom. Not all were martyrs. Not all die for Christ, but they all lived for Christ.
We are all saints, set apart and holy for God. But, we also know, some are more saintly than others. The second volume of Luke’s Gospel, Acts of the Apostles, is a reminder that the church, Christians, are the presence of Jesus in the world.
Chapter 7 of the Book of Revelation provides twin views of the church. 7:1-8 is an earthly viewpoint, declaring God’s seal is on all those who belong to Him. The church on earth is the famous 144,000 (a symbolic number twelve times twelve; which is Israel and Apostles squared times one thousand). They (us) are promised protection in persecution. However 7:9-17, which we read today, views the church from a heavenly perspective (all time and places, including the end of time), so the number is so large that no one can count. There in heaven they are joined by angels where they worship God. (That same worship is taking place here, with a fewer than 100 of us, yet with all the angels and saints, as well, a number too big to imagine). We know God’s desire for us and His plan for us. So, the Apocalypse writes about the future in the past tense: they worship day and night, sheltered by God, there is no more hunger, no more thirst, no more suffering from the heat of the day…every tear is wiped away.
This reality, believing God’s promise so completely that we live today in the darkness as if it is already the Light of the Last Tomorrow, is what we ponder today. The Saints believe more deeply and live more completely in that faith and love. They are with us (I believe in One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church and the communion of Saints!). Many times, though, we are worried about being "too holy." We want to go to heaven but we draw the line at being too much a saint. We are like kids who are trying to pass with a 70! No extra effort!
How do we become the fullness of sanctity and holiness God intends for us? Look at the church windows. [for readers I did a tour of the stained glass in our sanctuary and some of the symbolism of each]
1. Jesus loves us as His children. He blesses and protects us. None of us is too big--to Him we are small and weak, but also beloved and precious. Believe it! No doubt, not fear, no ego, no embarrassment. Be a child to enter the Kingdom. We love kids so why not alow ourselves to be loved by Him as His child?
2. The Bible. Note that it is open: Scripture is God's word and self gift.. Pray, read the Bible, mediate, respond. Repeat daily...Believe in the Word, believe in the Word made flesh. Share what you believe. Saints do that.
3. The chalice. The Blood of Christ. Victory over sin. Victory over death. The world, the flesh and the devil are defeated by the blood of Jesus. Your communion with Him is a sign of that. Receive! Become what you drink! Communion is a grace and a commitment. The Saints know that.
4. Keys of the Kingdom. Keys to unlock the power of satan, sickness, and sin. Jesus gave His church the keys, use them! Saints confess their sins to activate forgiveness and free others as well.
5. Wheat: the bread of life, Jesus body, the heavenly food. Believe it is Him and let the power of eucharist heal and save you. Also, the great harvest: Evangelize. Bring them to Jesus!
6. Harvest: some seed fell on good ground and produced, a hundred fold. Open your life to God in faith and do signs and wonders. Judgment is a time when God shows you all that you could have, should have, would have been if you were faithful. All the pain that was avoidable. All the healing that was possible. He forgives you that, but wouldn't it be better (for everyone) to produce?
7. The Holy Spirit. The power given you at baptism (like Jesus). The breath of God. It isn't your strength it is His. God provides! But understand, you are a spirit magnet. You draw all manner of spirits and they will lead you, so be lead by The Holy Spirit! Saints do that.
8. Crown. Jesus is Lord. Jesus is King. We share in that, we are royal and adopted as heirs with Jesus. Be royal like Him.
9. Anchor: Hope. Live in Hope. Let Joy rule your life. God is faithful. Christians are not allowed to despair, We can only have hope and joy because Jesus rose and is Victor!
Back to Jesus and the children. You are loved and He wants to fix you. Your broken mind, your broken heart, your broken work, your broken relationships, your broken ministry. All that is weak He wants to strengthen. He wants to fill you and make you a saint.
Today, right now.
But you have to want it too.
You have to trust He can do with you what He did with Peter, Paul and every apostle, with Ignatius, Polycarp, Agnes and all the martyrs. What He did with Basil, Jerome, Augustine, Thomas and all the scholars. What He did with Francis, Clare, Benedict and all those who gave up earthly riches for a greater wealth. What He did with Mother Teresa and every servant of the poor.
All of them, limited, normal and just life you. All of them changed by His power and His love because they believed and obeyed.
I pray God’s glory on you, in you and for you. I pray “God sanctify them and make them Saints. Let them believe Your love and trust You”