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All Saints & The Invisible Church

Sermon #324 St. Martin’s #80 (Riverway) 11/5/23

After this I, John, looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, "Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!" And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, singing, "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen."Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, "Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?" I said to him, "Sir, you are the one that knows." Then he said to me, "These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. "For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."

Revelation 7:9-17

All Saints' Sunday I’m not really into Halloween, but I know people love to dress up and think about the spirits coming out; all the ghouls and goblins and whatnot. Megan and I went to college the town over from Salem in Massachusetts, and that was the case for the whole month of October.

But All Saints’ Sunday is when all the saints come out, and the spirits run and hide. And thinking about our reading from Revelation we are reminded of just how vast a saintly gathering there is. John tells us it’s a great multitude that is made up of every tribe and nation, and they are standing before the throne and the Lamb.

And though John’s vision is of the end of the age…this heavenly crowd has already started forming. What we did during our service on Thursday for All Souls was to name some of those who had joined that eternal crowd over the past year. All Saints’ Day is a reminder for all of us that we are united with them.

But how? How can we really be united with those who have died, including the great saints of old?

The early Christians said it had everything to do with the Holy Spirit. They saw the Holy Spirit’s fiery entrance on that first Pentecost as a sign that this third person in the Trinity was the great unifier of God’s people, who were scattered throughout the world, from every nation, tribe, and language. Jesus, who had ascended into heaven, was gone but now God’s Holy Spirit would live in the heart of each believer.

The culmination of the Holy Spirit’s work in our life, and our profession of faith, is the Sacrament of Baptism. When we baptize someone we say that they are united with Christ, but they are now also members of his mystical Body.

Because of the power of the Holy Spirit, believers were now grafted into the spiritual Body of Christ; they were members of this Body with Jesus as the head. Somehow, someway, Christians were now one because they had the Spirit of the One True God dwelling in them.

So, we are united with saints from long ago because we share the same Spirit, who transcends every age. We are linked to St. Peter, St. John, St. Mary (and so many others)—they are our ancestors—not through blood, but through faith and baptism.

Why is All Saints’ Day important? Because the stories we tell about the community or communion of saints—that great fellowship of apostles and martyrs, and seemingly ordinary men and women who did extraordinary things in the name of Jesus…well, it’s our story too.

Invisible Church John Henry Newman was an Anglican priest in the 19th century who later became a Catholic Cardinal (and is now a saint in the Catholic Church), One of his most famous sermons was about the unifying role of the Holy Spirit and the communion of saints. And what he said sparked my imagination. He talked about the visible and invisible church.

The visible church is what we see on earth. It is made up of people and systems and structures. And if you read any article about “the church” (or Western Christianity in particular) these days, it usually paints a grim picture. Membership is either aging or simply not attending, funds are dwindling, and churches are closing.

But good ole John Henry Newman would scoff at these pessimistic articles, and tear up the different stats because he’d say their data is only looking at one half of the church. We’re Christians after all, and we claim that there is more to life than what you and I can see. We are members of the visible church, but we not forget the invisible church.

This invisible Body of Christ is made up of all the faithful who have gone before us. It began with St. Stephen, the first martyr of the church, who joined Abraham and the great prophets of old in God’s presence, and it has never stopped growing.

Where our church is made up of only a few, the invisible church is as numerous as the sand on the shore.

Do you remember that memorable story of the prophet Elisha in 2nd Kings where the King of Aram surrounded the city where the prophet was staying? Elisha’s servant woke up early in the morning and looked out of his window and saw a vast enemy army around the city, ready to take Elisha to the King of Aram. The young man was terrified, and yet Elisha, the man they were after, was calm. To show the boy why he was so calm, Elisha asked God to let the boy see what he saw, and the boy’s eyes were opened, and saw the heavenly host—horses and chariots of fire surrounding the enemy army. The prophet looked at the boy and said, “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

The same holds true with God’s one Body; one church separated by life and death. The invisible church is the true church, it is not made up of sinners, but rather those who have been perfected by the presence of God.

“The invisible church,” Cardinal Newman says, “never changes and yet is ever increasing. What it keeps it never loses, and though the visible is fleeting and transitory it continues to pass off into the invisible. The visible church is ever dying for the increase of the invisible” (162).

Do you see what that means for us? All those “we love but see no longer” are the gain of the invisible church. The stats will never be able to calculate this eternal side of the church, and even if it could, it would spend eternity trying to count the multitude.

Cardinal Newman reminds us that churches like ours are only the tip of the iceberg when we consider the church in its fullness. He said, “Though the visible Churches of the saints in this world seem rare, and scattered to and fro, like islands in the sea, they are in truth but the tops of the everlasting hills, high and vast and deeply rooted” (164).

We are connected to this vast, invisible Church because we share in the one Spirit, we take nutrients from the same Vine that the invisible church does.

And so, we are intimately connected with the saints who, while on earth, devoted their lives to the work of the Gospel. Why would we assume that they are not still fighting for the sake of the Gospel even now, cheering us onward to take up the calling God has given us?

St. Paul, who tirelessly preached the Good News of Jesus Christ is now more alive than he ever was when he walked this earth. Even now from his apostolic throne, he preaches and implores the visible church to take seriously the work we have been given to do by God.

St. Martin is looking down at us and encouraging us to live into our baptism where we were made one with the saints.

This is what it means to take seriously the communion of saints. We have not been left here alone to fend for ourselves. We have the whole host of heaven surrounding us, as with the prophet Elisha.

Like looking at the night sky and being overwhelmed by the sheer size and beauty of the universe—All Saints’ Sunday gives us the proper perspective we need in our life and vocation. We are not alone; the saints are cheering us onward.

Conclusion It seems fitting today that we should not only be reminded of the faith that was passed down to us, but we should once again recommit to the faith and work that was given to us at our baptism.

And so, I’m going to invite you to stand, and we are going to say the Baptismal Creed that is said by each person before their baptism in the Episcopal Church. Whether you were baptized in this tradition or not, this really sums our faith and gives us a clear call to action.

As we say this, you’ll notice the response is the Apostles’ Creed—yet another nod to the ancient faith that was passed down to us. And so, look around as we proclaim this together—we are connected one to another—but also think about all the saints who are looking down at us, cheering us on.

The Baptismal Covenant

Celebrant Do you believe in God the Father?

People I believe in God, the Father almighty,

creator of heaven and earth.

Celebrant Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?

People I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.

He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit

and born of the Virgin Mary.

He suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, died, and was buried.

He descended to the dead.

On the third day he rose again.

He ascended into heaven,

and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Celebrant Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?

People I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy catholic Church,

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and the life everlasting.

Celebrant Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and

fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the


People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever

you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you proclaim by word and example the Good

News of God in Christ?

People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving

your neighbor as yourself?

People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you strive for justice and peace among all

people, and respect the dignity of every human


People I will, with God’s help.

All Saints’ Sunday. Year A. Revelation 7:9-17. “The Communion of Saints.” Selected Sermons, Prayers, and Devotions. John Henry Newman.

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