It’s been a busy week – All Hallows Eve (Halloween) All Hallows Day & of course, All Saints Day. I wonder what pictures come to your mind with the word Saint? Halo’s? Shining faces? Statues? Very spiritual dead people? How many do you know of? We might begin to think now about patron saints of nations or churches who were frequently tortured and put to death in the most dreadful ways imaginable. Of the four churches dedicated to Saints in the Benefice, it is St Margaret of Antioch in Hawes who certainly suffered more than most; but what or who is a Saint?
The Bible answers this question for us. A saint is the opposite of a sinner. With our modern sensitivities we don’t care much for terms such as ‘sinner’ but the truth is that it is used to describe a state of condition and in the new testament there are over 300 references to unbelievers being known as ‘sinners’ and over 200 references to believers being called ‘saints’. The apostle Paul in his letters to the various churches frequently begins by affirming this condition with the statement: ‘To the Saints in …’ Ephesus, Philippi, Colosse etc.
Our readings today make for a wonderful combination of truth. Revelation tells us that knowing God is not a passive activity but one in which we must make a conscious decision over. John’s letter informs us that this decision results in a new identity and Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel, lets us know of some of the qualities we acquire as part of this new identity. Let’s look deeper into what this identity is and how we might gain it.
The imagery in the book of Revelation is very vivid with statements of washing robes clean in blood but what does this mean? In our modern western culture, blood is usually associated with death but to the Jews, blood was strongly associated with life. For the Jew, new life (after sin) came only by the offering of a sacrifice, the shedding of innocent blood, usually a lamb. White robes were associated with purity and victory and it took a great deal of time and effort to make them so, but here the robes are cleansed by washing them in the ‘blood of the Lamb’ – surely a bizarre contradiction, but the lamb referred to here, is Jesus; and notice something very important: Jesus has made redemption possible, but we have a part to play in our own salvation, for ‘they’ chose to wash their robes. They made a decision.
So how do we make this transition? Simply by placing our trust in who Jesus is and all He has done for us. By seeking forgiveness from the way in which we have separated ourselves from God by our sin and desiring a change in our circumstance and in our future. By asking Jesus to come into our lives and make a difference. We do it in faith and by God’s gift of grace, but it is a decision we must make. John tells us that we then become ‘children of God’ and Jesus speaks of the faithful as having the ‘kingdom of heaven’, being ‘blessed’, ‘comforted’ and, amongst many other things, receivers of ‘mercy’. If you have asked Jesus for forgiveness and invited him into your heart … good news … you are a saint. Not will be .. you are. Now, because you’re human you will still mess up and fall short of God’s desires for you, but this will not change your new identity - you will still be a saint, but from a biblical perspective, a saint who sins is still very different from being a sinner.
Over the last few weeks as the world has prepared for celebrating Halloween, the churches and schools within the benefice have been focussing on how the Pumpkin may be used as a positive symbol for all Jesus can do in our lives. The Pumpkin lantern can be a wonderful picture of that transition in status and identity, for God lifts us up, takes us in and washes us clean. He creates a new smiling face in us and then brings us to life by putting his light inside of us, so we can shine out for others. As a saint in Christ Jesus, may you know and celebrate your identity each and every day!
With the Lord’s blessing
Rev Dave Clark
Vicar of the Benefice of Upper Wensleydale