Readings: Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14; Psalm 24; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12
People are still unsettled by the gaps in the year: the move from winter into spring, new year, mid-summer, mid-winter. Where the seasons change not only can we expect colds and small ailments but other uncertainties also. What about darkness, storms and snow? Are we prepared for the time ahead? Many customs survive that mark the crossing of these gaps and the negotiation of these uncertainties. The gaps need to be filled, the bridges crossed, one part of the year linked with the next, perhaps spirits need placating. In the face of such moments of fear and threat, people often cope by making lots of noise, lighting fires, and dressing up, mimicking the spirits to frighten them off before they can frighten us.
Halloween takes us from autumn into winter, and continues to gather many such rituals to itself. The fact that in the northern hemisphere we are moving from light into darkness makes this transition more frightening than most. In the Christian calendar we celebrate All Saints and All Souls on the first two days of November. The saints are the men and women who stand in the gaps of the year, who fill gaps, build bridges, keep things going. When I was a novice I remember a prior thanking a departing brother for 'filling a gap'. It seems there was not much to say about his preaching or the other things he was involved in, his great contribution had been to fill a gap. It did not seem much at the time and was even amusing since the departing brother was quite portly. But perhaps filling a gap is a more profound, more important role than it seems at first.
Christ is the one who fills the most threatening of gaps. A new Moses, he stands in the breach (Ps 106:23; Amos 7:7) that alienates human beings most fundamentally from God. He is the just one who stands in the gap on behalf of the people (Ezekiel 22:30; 13:5), the mediator who negotiates on their behalf, the one who secures the wall of the city. Crucified on a hill just outside the city wall, his body points in every direction. He is the still point of the turning world, the rejected stone that has become the foundation stone, the one who enters into the deepest darkness of the great gap of death and causes light to shine there. He stands at the gate, a crucified hero, saviour of his people, the breach-mender.
At All Saints we celebrate all those people, especially the ones who have not become famous, who have filled gaps with the love of Christ. We all know two, or five, or eight such people, not known perhaps to any other of our friends. So already that is a lot of good people who in small, ordinary, but very important ways have done this: by helping the poor, teaching the ignorant, comforting the sorrowful, helping sinners to be reconciled, encouraging the downcast, forgiving injuries visiting the sick and imprisoned, and so on. These are all significant gaps which are filled by friendship and love. The saints are those who bring hope where there is despair, light where there is darkness, pardon where there is injury, and love where there is hatred.
The saints are those marked with the sign of the cross, the sign of the just man standing in the gap. They are the poor in spirit and the pure in heart, hungering and thirsting for justice. They weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice, They show mercy and they make peace. Understood in these ways there is nothing better that we can say about those who have gone before us: the good and holy people we have known filled gaps, and filled them with faith and hope and love.
You will find here another homily for the Feast of All Saints