As the year moves on once more towards its end, and the daylight hours grow shorter, we begin to think again of those who have gone before us in faith, now at rest in God's presence. We may not know who they all are, or all that they have done. Yet scripture gives us some idea of what their lives will have been like.
They will have been God's true politicians, having lived out Jesus's manifesto in today's Gospel of the Beatitudes: real peace-makers full of mercy and righteousness; pure of heart, meek; having mourned and suffered persecution. They will have worked and prayed for the building of God's kingdom here on earth, both forgiving and seeking forgiveness. They will have practised the spiritual and corporal works of mercy and sought to look after the orphans, widows and strangers of their world and time, and practised prayer, fasting and alms-giving in all its forms.
Many will have been lights or lamps not hidden under a bushel for however long or short a time. Many others will have lived hidden lives of prayer and charity, their right hand not knowing what the left hand has done.
There will be those who have lived lives of faith in all its fullness, and others whose baptism is that of blood or desire, known only to the infinite God of love.
The whole point of today's celebration is not just an excuse for backward-looking nostalgia, or a celebration of the lives of those who have gone before us. It is a very real participation in the communion of saints, who are in a living and loving relationship with us in the very life of the Trinity. This is our real and living act of hope. We sum this up in our credo of faith personally: 'I believe in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting, Amen.'
Sin is what separates us from God and from each other. Bodily death is what separates us from our life together here and now. Life everlasting can only come after these radical separations have been finally overcome by our radically entering into the death and resurrection of Jesus who has conquered sin and death.
As we celebrate the communion of saints, we pray for the final purification for the souls in purgatory on the commemoration of All Souls tomorrow. This great act of faith, hope and love unites us in the words of days gone by as the 'Church Triumphant, the Church Suffering and the Church Militant', perhaps now worded as those in love, those in hope and those in faith. The point is that it now spurs us on to try and live lives of faith, hope and charity in our present life.
Perhaps we need to hear the invitation of Jesus anew: come to me all you who are burdened and heavy-laden. Take my yoke which is easy and light. Jesus is the good shepherd who wants to call us and lead us home to the Father. He will bring us through the valley of the shadow of death. He offers himself to us as the bread of life. He instructs us gently: take ye and eat; take ye and drink. This is my body; this is my blood of the new covenant. Do this in remembrance of me. And as he returns to his Father, so the Spirit of them both is given to us to go out into our world and time, preaching the gospel, the good news to the ends of the earth.
A wee fat old pope gave us some sense of hope at the end of the 1950s and into the early 1960s writing about peace on earth. A wee not-so-fat old pope has now written about God who is Love. Islamic scholars and leaders have just written a letter to him and to other Christian leaders seeking a joint way for approaching the problems and difficulties of our time. We pray for them all and for all of us in our common search for peace, justice and the good of our world.