Sermon preached for All Saints 2011

One of the nights of my life which I most remember  is the night that I was ordained as a priest. It was in our cathedral in Perth and was very magnificent. Someone preached a great sermon. The music was as good as it could have been. The crowd was large and their welcoming of me as a priest in the Church of God was warm and wonderful.

But I remember a little exchange that took place which I want to use as my starting point for this morning’s sermon as we consider what it means to keep the Feast of the Saints.

Just as I was preparing to leave the cathedral that night, someone came up to speak to me with a message. She was someone married to a cleric of some significance in our church but whose own approach to Christian faith was, well, not quite as orthodox as others.

She believed in one or two things which I don’t think ever made it into any Christian catechism.

She came up to me in great excitement and proclaimed – “I’ve seen it! Tonight I saw it?”

“What?” I asked. “What have you seen?”

“I’ve seen you aura.” she cried. “I’ve seen your aura … and it is golden!

She dashed away into the night and never spoke to me about it again. Leaving me wondering whether she was a particularly perceptive mystic. Or perhaps someone who was particularly perceptive in knowing what to say to a dedicated attention seeker on the night of his ordination.

There are more things in heaven and on earth than I understand. Perhaps she was both.

There are certainly people who claim to see auras – claiming to see colours around about someone which relate to who they are. I don’t think I see them myself, but I do know what it is like to see someone glowing with health and wellbeing. And those of us who have perceptive personalities often pick up what’s going on inside someone instinctively, and I don’t find it hard to imagine that someone might perceive that intuitiveness visually.

The question I want to ask you this morning is not quite about your aura but about something related to that. It is about your halo.

What colour is your halo? And what shape is it?

(Let it never be said that my preaching is not practical and down to earth!)

One of the traditions in art is that holy people get halos. The saints are consistently represented as having a halo around their head. It is a direct connection to that idea of being able to perceive someone’s nature by seeing something like an aura about them. A way of painting personality. A way of portraying holiness to the world. In religious art, you can easily tell who the saints are. They are the ones whose heads are surrounded by a gold halo. Their holiness shines.

Indeed, if you see an old mural and can’t quite make out the figures, you can sometimes tell which one is Jesus by the way the cross is marked into the halo around his head.

Wouldn’t it be great if we really could tell how people were by the colour of light surrounding them?

Wouldn’t it be great if we could make up our minds about whether someone was good or bad, trustworthy or deceitful, on the make or working for justice, on the razzle or growing in goodness, just by looking at them.

Sadly, it isn’t so. (Unless you happen to be the person who spoke to me the night I was ordained). Instead, we have to use that old faithful way of making judgements about the world we live in – old fashioned, godly common sense – that most unacknowledged of God’s gifts of the Holy Spirit.

But what’s your halo like?

How would you draw it? What colour would it be? If you were depicted amongst the saints, what would be distinctive about your aura.

For part of what we preach and teach is that we are numbered amongst the saints. The saints themselves were a funny, tricky and rather odd bunch on the whole. Though at first glance it might seem unlikely, I suspect that the congregation here at St Mary’s would blend right into that cloud.

For we have two things to do today. To acknowledge and enjoy the saints of the ages, the great cloud of witnesses. And also to acknowledge that there is no gulf between us. We are part of that cloud. Unlikely. Difficult. Troubled as we may be, we belong to God and our own hopes for glory mingle with those of the blessed throughout all the ages.

But, what shape is your halo?

I must admit, that’s a new one to me, but I learned from one of you recently that there is a convention in art that some people are depicted with square halos.

I hadn’t heard of that and had to go away and look it up.

A square halo, in case you are wondering is what you use in art to depict a saint who is still living.

So, what shape is your halo?

I did entertain myself this morning with the idea of making square halos out of coat-hangers and making you all wear them throughout the service in order to get the message over.

Discretion proved the better part of valour however and I abandoned that idea. I thought that you might look like a collection of religious teletubbies.

But don’t forget as you go through this week that as one of the saints – as one of God’s own, a halo belongs to you.

Just up the road from here there is a rather splendid halo. If you look at Oran Mor at night, you’ll know the one I mean. The building used to be Kelvinside Parish Church and then the Bible College and now a venue with restaurant, theatre and nightclub. And they’ve put a halo on the spire recently which is rather magnificently off kilter. Squint. It isn’t just a halo, it is a slipped halo.

It makes me laugh every time I see it.

If we had more money than sense, I’d suggest that we respond with a square halo around our spire.

For as living people, flawed people, odd people, holy people, hopeful people, we are in the company of many saints.

My halo may be square. My halo might be gold like my aura. My halo is certainly from time to time, rather squint.

But I’m on the way to heaven in the company of many saints. And so are you.

In the name of God, Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifyer. Amen


  1. Well as a good atheist, I’m not off to heaven.

    BTW a local chapel has a copy of Roselli’s Last Supper done in mosaic. Judas has a silver halo (the rest of the apostles gold halos).

  2. That same person never saw my aura, funnily enough. But there may have been a doll with my likeness and a pincushion…

    My own halo, I like to think, is a shimmering lilac with a hint of irridescence.

  3. Andrew says

    Why is the text of your sermon followed by an advertisement for FOREX betting? Beware trojan horse attacks.

    • There is advertising throughout the site and has been for a long time. As I’ve explained before, the adverts are chosen by google who aim to target ads towards their viewers. In part the advertisment reflects the text of the page and in part it is affected by other pages that the reader has been looking at. Sometimes it is just random.

      • Indeed, I spent most of my online time surfing football, pop-culture humour and comics sites, yet I invariably get “Uniform Dating” ads here. Perhaps google is trying to tell me something…. 😉

  4. My halo is so shiny and warm,
    I’ve had scottish power disconnect my flat from the national grid.

Speak Your Mind