Order of Service
Organ prelude: Voluntary in A: Allegro – John Stanley (1713 – 86)
Call to Worship – Revelation 7.9-11 (NRSVA)
‘After this I 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 worshipped God’.
Tune: St Matthew – William Croft (1678 – 1727)
Come, let us join our friends above
that have obtained the prize;
and on the eagle wings of love
to joys celestial rise:
let all the saints terrestrial sing
with those to glory gone;
for all the servants of our King,
in earth and heaven, are one.
One family we dwell in him,
one Church, above, beneath,
though now divided by the stream,
the narrow stream of death:
one army of the living God,
to his command we bow;
part of his host has crossed the flood,
and part is crossing now.
Our spirits too shall quickly join,
like theirs with glory crowned,
and shout to see our captain’s sign,
to hear his trumpet sound.
O that we now might grasp our guide!
O that the word were given!
Come, Lord of hosts, the waves divide,
and bring us safe to heaven.
Charles Wesley (1707-88) altd.
Opening Prayers and Lord’s Prayer
Lord God almighty, seated on the throne, and to the lamb, we come to bring our praise and worship, glad that we can, not because of anything we have done, but because we come in Christ Jesus. We come to worship with all the saints in heaven and on earth, all those who have gone before us in the faith, and those who have suffered for you and are especially honoured in heaven. With that vision of heaven on our hearts, we are aware how we so often let you down, not worthy to be part of that throng in heaven. Yet, as your precious children, we give thanks that you came into the world, not to judge us but to save us, and we rest assured of your promise of forgiveness, and your acceptance of us as we are and as we intend to be. As we worship, maybe alone or with family members at this time, we know we are part of the whole company of those who seek you through Jesus. We give thanks for that, and in this time in your presence, ask that you would renew us for your service, along with all the saints, for your name’s sake, and with them, we say the prayer that Jesus taught us,
Our Father . . .
Introduction to the first reading
This is Luke’s version of the Beatitudes, the verses from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. Most of us will be more familiar with the Matthew version, which is actually in the lectionary for today. There are two main differences. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is teaching the crowds, and so the second difference is that he teaches in the third person, “Blessed are they who . . .” Whereas in Luke’s gospel, Jesus is speaking directly to his disciples, “Blessed are you who . . .” As you read it, hear Jesus’ words to you.
Reading – Luke 6: 20 – 31
Organ interlude: Voluntary in A: Adagio – John Stanley (1713 – 86)
Introduction to the second reading
In this Chapter, Paul talks about God’s plan, and those in Christ as part of that plan. He develops the latter in these verses, reminding us of the seal of the Holy Spirit and the promised inheritance. On this All Saints Day, we hear Paul calling all Christians ‘saints’, and later on in the verses that the saints make up the Church, the fulfilment of Christ’s body on earth.
Reading – Ephesians 1: 11 – 23
Mahatma Ghandi said, “You Christians look after a document containing enough dynamite to blow all civilisation to pieces, turn the world upside down, and bring peace to a battle-torn planet. But you treat it as though it is nothing more than a piece of literature.”
Jesus’ teaching in the Luke reading indeed have world-changing words, as do Paul’s words in Ephesians, and we can wonder why us Christians haven’t yet changed the world. I think Ghandi is right that so many in the West treat the Bible as literature, rather than the words of life it brings. It is not just to be read, but to absorb and live. It is also true, of course, that the world doesn’t always want to change, and governments resist all attempts to bring fulness of life to all. Some say change is brought about one person at a time, ‘and it begins with me.’
As I said in the introduction to the Luke reading, we are probably more familiar with the Beatitudes in Matthew’s gospel than in Luke’s. They are a beautiful piece of writing, of literature, we might even say. They give hope to the hopeless, rewards to those who are deserving in God’s eyes. But somehow, we can think of them as about others, about life in the world to come, and therefore miss what Jesus is saying, and that call to follow him whatever the cost in this world.
Last week at worship@4, we heard words from Leviticus 19: 2, ‘You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.’ That is the call on this All Saints Day, to be holy, set apart, part of Christ’s body, and to bring the good news to those around us. It’s a call in this passage to live differently.
We are reminded from the Ephesians reading that we’re called saints, the original Greek word meaning holy, and our word coming from the Latin for holy, ‘sanctus’. We are part of that cloud of witnesses, past, present and future, set apart. Our call is to be holy to glorify God in following Jesus in the way we live. It is in that living that we are a witness to others.
How does that sense of being set apart fit with Jesus’ words in Luke’s gospel?
Luke’s Beatitudes are very definite words to the disciples. We discover there were actually a crowd of disciples. Jesus is addressing them, not those who are there for the ride. He is addressing the poor among them, the hungry, those who weep. It’s spoken as good news to the poor: yours is the Kingdom of God . . . you will be satisfied . . . you will laugh.’ God will bless you.
Yet it wasn’t words for some time in the future. It was a blessing for now, and hope for now. We remember many would have been destitute, especially in the time of Roman occupation and taxes. Those who were healed would have had no income, many had been outcasts of society, and there were women who had no means of their own. Healing would have given them hope for a more secure future in that society.
So Jesus calls them blessed: the Kingdom of God is theirs. Jesus is saying God accepts them as they are, God is on their side, they are part of God’s Kingdom now and would be blessed. In a way, Jesus is pointing to the birth of the Church, when the Kingdom people would be looking after each other, and through the Holy Spirit, would have joy and be comforted.
Luke’s aren’t some spiritualised words, thinking of those who’ve led a good life. They are words of hope to the followers there and then. They are Kingdom words, that life in the Kingdom of God gives hope. It turns the values of the world upside down. Those who are poor, or hungry are following Jesus now in the Kingdom, and their following him gives them a new life to live, to witness to him in their lives.
I’ll always remember the words of an African lady from the Congo, introducing her choir as they sang for us at one of the Churches in Halifax. They used the building for worship on a Sunday afternoon. She explained that they always sang and worshipped at the top of their voices, shouting God’s praise, because even though their situations were bad on earth, in terms of poverty and fleeing from persecution, they had been given such joy in knowing Christ as Lord and Saviour, that they wanted to express it. It was joy, pure joy, living in the Kingdom now.
We remember Jesus is also speaking to the crowd of disciples when he addresses the rich, those who are full, those who are happy in life because they have all they want. In the upside-down Kingdom, they are not the important ones. It’s a warning to those of us who are well off—that’s the vast majority of us listening to this—about using our wealth in a Kingdom way, which I know we do, and giving our time and energy to bring fulness of life to those suffering in our world today.
Jesus is also addressing a future scenario that will be the experience of those disciples—‘when people hate you’, basically, ‘persecute you’, because of Jesus, count yourself blessed. The verses about loving enemies and doing good to those who do harm to you, are in the context of those who hate them because they follow Jesus.
It’s hard to imagine how it is for those who have to stand up for their faith, for those who have been martyred for their faith. It doesn’t sound blessed, and our prayers go out to the persecuted Church. But for those for whom their relationship with God through Jesus means so much more than keeping their lives, they receive strength and peace as they stand firm in Him. The words in the vision of the apostle John in Revelation show them as the ones who are honoured in heaven.
Ephesians reminds us that we are a part of the Kingdom then, that as Jesus addresses us in his words in Luke, we are called to be a part of something that is life-changing, and something that has changed our lives. We are called to live lives that are holy, set apart, as God is holy, as Christ is holy. We are sealed by the Holy Spirit the one who lives in us to make us into the likeness of Christ, a life’s work, and which gives us comfort and joy.
We are part of that great crowd of witnesses, who one day, we pray, will be one of those in the Revelation picture, of the great multitude, that no one can count, from every nation, standing before the throne and the lamb, giving our praise and worship.
Tune: Montgomery – anon.
How firm a foundation, you saints of the Lord
is laid for your faith in his excellent word;
what more can he say than to you he has said,
to all who for refuge to Jesus have fled?
‘Fear not, I am with you, so be not dismayed;
for I am your God and will still give you aid:
I’ll strengthen you, help you, and cause you to stand,
upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.
‘When through the deep waters I call you to go,
the rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
for I will be with you in trouble to bless,
and sanctify to you your deepest distress.
‘When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie,
my grace all-sufficient shall be your supply;
the flame shall not hurt you, my only design
your dross to consume and your gold to refine.’
The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose
he will not, he cannot, desert to its foes.
That soul, though all hell should endeavour to shake,
he never will leave, he will never forsake.
from John Rippon’s Selection of Hymns
from the best authors, 1787, altd.
Prayers of Intercession
by Tim Baker, The Vine at Home, compiled & produced by Twelvebaskets.
Copyright © Twelvebaskets 2020. Altd.
Glory to you, O Lord, from the whole company of heaven, from the saints in glory, from your people on earth. Father, we give you thanks that in the darkness of this world your saints shine. May we, with them, have a share in your everlasting kingdom; through Christ our Lord.
We give you praise for holy men and women who have been an inspiration to us, for those who have set us an example to follow. May your church be inspired by their lives, seek to keep before it their dedication, and follow after their vision. We pray for all who are seeking to fulfil their vocation, for all who seek to quietly dedicate themselves to you and your glory.
Lord of the saints, strengthen our faith.
Blessed are you, Lord our God. You have called us to a world full of good things.
We thank you for all who have set out to improve our world. We pray for all who work in conservation, for those who care for others, for all who have sacrificed themselves in the service of others, for those who seek to live simply that others may simply live.
Lord of the saints, strengthen our faith.
We give you thanks for those who taught us the faith, for those who gave generously and sacrificially for us, for all who have led us in the ways of goodness and truth.
We pray that our homes and our work may be places of holiness, that we may be an example to others.
Lord of the saints, strengthen our faith.
We give thanks today for all your saints, and we join our praises with theirs. We pray for all who are in need of your strength or comfort at this time. We pray you would strengthen their faith and give them your peace.
For we pray in our faith in Christ,
Tune: Sine nomine – R. Vaughan Williams (1872 – 1958)
For all the saints who from their labours rest,
who thee by faith before the world confessed,
thy name, Lord Jesus, be for ever blessed:
Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might,
thou, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight,
in deepest darkness thou their one true light:
O may thy servants, faithful, true, and bold,
fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
and win with them the victors’ crown of gold:
O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in thee, for all are thine:
From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
and sings to Father, Son and Holy Ghost:
W. W. How (1823 – 97)
As we go back to our tasks for the day, Lord God, empower your Church to fulfil all that Christ has for us on earth.
And may the blessing, of God almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be with us and those we love, now and always,
Organ voluntary: Short Prelude and Fugue in C – attributed to J. S. Bach (1685 – 1750)