Sermon – All Saints – All Souls

I managed to resist the temptation to preach on the text, “Lazarus, Come Out!” this morning. Instead, here is what I did say:

I want to begin this morning, not with a story, but with a stained glass window.

It isn’t a window in this building. No, it is in the place where I first started in ordained ministry – the St Ninian’s Cathedral in Perth.

It is a building not unlike this one – the style is similar to the style of this one – Victorian Gothic with knobs on. And of course, it is filled with stained glass. Worshipping there, just as it is when we worship here, we are surrounded by the saints. They surround us in the windows to such an extent that we often forget that they are there. Just like here, in Perth, there are saints wherever you look.

Not long after I had been ordained, I took myself on a little walk around the cathedral and I spotted a window which interested me. It was biblical scenes. Saints of yore. In the bottom left, there was the young girl that Jesus raised from the dead. On the right there was another scene which I can’t recall right now. And at the top, there was Lazarus being called out of the tomb by Jesus – the story that I have just read. The thing that made me stop and stare at this window was not the colours. It was not the artistry. It was not the skill of the designer or particularly the theme of the window. No, what made me stop and stare was Lazarus’s moustache.

You see. Lazarus had such a fine moustache. And when I looked closer I saw that he was not some middle-eastern dead body wrapped in grave-clothes, but rather, he was a late Victorian chap. Quite handsome. Quite fresh faced. And with a very fine moustache.

It made me want to know more about the window – and I eventually discovered that it was put there by one of the great benefactors of that building, one of the Earls of Kinnoull. And what we saw in the window was a collection of Bible stories. In each one the biblical saints were there, each one in one of the gospel scenes of resurrection.

The faces of the saints though were very obviously family members, including this Victorian young gentleman.

And across the window it says, “I am the resurrection and the life”.

When that window was installed, of course, death was much more common in the Victorian home than it is for us, especially the death of your people. And there, someone had brought together the saints with pictures which would remind them of family members whom they had lost. Saints and souls together in one image, with the light of the sun shining through into the church.

Now, I want you to keep that image of that window in your mind as I preach this morning.

I’m often aware these days that as people join this congregation, they often come from other traditions, and sometimes find it hard to grasp the festivals we keep and today I want to preach about what we are up to at this time of year.

On this day, today, we remember the saints. In doing so, we remember the heroes of faith. Those apostles, teachers, evangelists, martyrs, healers, and preachers who served God in their service of God’s people. The saints through the ages – those whom we know by name and those whose names are known only to God are remembered every year at the start of November.

When we remember them, we recall the special things that they did. The acts of courage. The lives of service. The faithful actions of those who brought the church into being and brought the faith, somehow or another to us.

We remember them, as the bible says, as a great cloud of witnesses. The cloud of people who witnessed to their faith in their time here on earth and are remembered forever more as being God’s beloved.

And immediately afterwards, the day after All Saint’s, tomorrow evening, we remember something which is similar, but different.

And the two usually, purposefully, intentionally get a little muddled up. All Saints and All Souls tend, quite properly, to get mixed up. And the light shines through both and illuminates the church.

Today we remember the saints.

Tomorrow we remember those have died who were known more personally to us.

I find that tomorrow’s festival when we remember those who have died is one of the most important to me in my ministry. For being with people when they are dying and being with people when someone has died are some of the most profound privileges of ministry.

I never sit with someone who is dying without being conscious that God sits with us.

I never stand at a grave or at the crematorium without feeling hope swell up in my own bones. Hope in a God who will take all things to himself in the end. A God who unites us, ultimately unites us within himself by drawing us on in love.

Sometimes I know that I am the only one who is there who has that hope.. But I know I have it. And I believe.

There is something important about doing these things together. We celebrate the saints. We commend those who have died to the care of Almighty God. We meet as friends of Christ. Christ who stood at the edge of the grave of a friend and wept.

Let me suggest two things to do make these feast days real. Today when you approach the altar of God, bring something with you. Come with thanksgiving in your heart for those who are responsible for giving you the faith you have had. That might be the Gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It might be saints who built the church in Scotland or wherever you are from – Mungo, Kentigern, Margaret. It might be those whom you have a special devotion to – for me that would be Cuthbert, Aelred and Columba. It might be saints of modern times, living or dead who inspire you – Martin Luther King, Cicily Saunders, Gene Robinson, Desmond Tutu, Jean Vanier, Rosa Parks. Give yourself time to work out which names you want to remember.

As you come to the altar with open hands, bring their names in your hearts and give thanks for them.

Tomorrow evening, do the same thing. Come to the altar with open hands and bring with thanksgiving the memory of those whom you have loved by whom you see no longer for they have died.

When we do these things, when we keep these festivals, we dream the kingdom of God into being. Let us keep the hope of heaven in our hearts and build the kingdom of God here on earth.

Countless thousands have gone before us building God’s kingdom. Endless love has been poured on us by the God who made us. All the hopes and dreams of humankind have lived in the minds of those who have taught us to love and those whom we have loved in return.

And so, let us live with love and thanksgiving in our hearts. And giving thanks, let us love, for love brings life to the world. Amen.


  1. When this Gospel was read in my Parish, I was struck forcibly not by the command to “come out”, but by Jesus’ instruction “Unbind him, and let him go”. Our deacon, too, nearly broke down as she read those words to us.

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