Here in my hand is a very fat book and on the spine of it is written its official title. It is in Latin – and it says Martyrologium Romanum – translated – the Roman Martyrology. What is it? A list of all the saints for every day of the year. When I open it for the first of November it says it is the Feast of All Saints but we’ve got all kinds of other saints listed, in fact there are 18 of them. People that you have never heard of –people like Rainero Argentino, who I’d never heard of either; Peter Paul Navarro who was martyred in Japan; Rupert Meyer a German Jesuit who was terrorised by the Nazi party; another martyr from the Ukraine, and so on it goes. A big, fat book and it began in the very first days of Christianity because what they began to do was to make a list of the martyrs. It’s why it is still called the martyrology. They made a list of the martyrs, lest we forget. They did so because they came to see the blood of the martyrs was the seeds of Christianity; it always was and it still is in this time when we still have many martyrs around the world. It began as a small list but as the great epic of blood unfolded through those early centuries the list grew longer and longer and longer.
Eventually this book came not just to include the martyrs but all the saints, starting with the first non-martyr saint that we know of – St Martin of Tours, who died in the year 397. There may have been others before him who were not martyrs but he is celebrated as the first ever non-martyr canonised saint. It is from St Martin of Tours from which we get the name of chapel, such as when we speak about the chapel here in the precinct. The story goes that St Martin gave his cloak, or at least half of it, to a beggar. The cloak was called a capella and was eventually regarded as a great relic and put in a shrine which became known as a “chapel”, – the place where the cape of St Martin was kept. So beginning with Martin of Tours and right down to our own Mark MacKillop, who also gets a mention in here, all the saints of the church are included and it is still a matter of “lest we forget.”
What are we as human beings in danger of forgetting? What the love of God does with the human being! The love of God absolutely transfigures our ordinariness. All of these people in the book are all ordinary human beings like you and me. To be a saint is not to be perfect, and some of them were spectacularly short of what might be considered perfection. Yet every name in this book is the name of an ordinary human being; flesh and blood seized by the love of God, the same love as St John spoke of in the first letter that we read – “think of the love that the father has lavished upon us.” That love is not just sentiment, it is power. It takes human ordinariness and it makes something extraordinary of it, so much so that in the saints, you see what the human being really was always intended to be. You don’t see perfection but you see a human being in whom the love of God has taken root and transfigured ordinariness into extraordinariness. They tell us what it is to be human. These are not super-terrestrial geeks; in the saints we see what it means to be truly and fully human and that’s what the love of God does to us. It makes us human beings; not lining up amongst the living dead as zombies but living human beings with a heart of flesh which in the end is the heart of Christ. This is the love that takes the losers of this world and makes them winners. We have heard the Beatitudes this morning. If you look at those who are listed in the Beatitudes spoken by the Lord; the poor in spirit, the gentle, those who mourn, those who have hunger and thirst for what is right, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and the persecuted; they look like the greatest bunch of losers the world has ever seen. They just get trampled underfoot and brushed aside, do they not? And what does Jesus say to them? “Blessed are you.” What does he mean? Blessed are you who seem to be losers because you are in fact the winners, just as the crucified Christ looked the original loser. When he rises from the dead he looks triumphantly a winner. So too are the saints. These are not a bunch of losers, between these bookcovers, they are the true winners in whom we see what victory means and the kind of victory that the risen Christ gives to those who gather round his throne. These men and women, many of them young and some of them really only children because the love of God can take hold of any human being at any time and in any way, are our companions on the journey and what friends we are given in them! They are a fantastic gift. That is why it pays to know the saints, some of whom perhaps you bear the name. All of them are fascinating companions and friends. The journey of faith is not easy and the God who calls us on that journey also gives us as companions on the journey these saints.
Yet what you see in the book is really only the tip of an iceberg. Who could count the great number of saints? We heard it again from the visionary John in the book of the apocalypse. “I saw a crowd, impossible to count, people of every nation, race, tribe and language.” So today we gather them all up, that crowd that is impossible to count. In Rome there is that temple, the famous building known as the Pantheon. The name is Greek and it means the temple to all the Gods. They built a temple to all the Gods because they were terrified that if they forgot one of the Gods that God would be seriously miffed and punish them for their forgetfulness. The thinking was to keep all the Gods happy we will build a temple to them all and so we got the Pantheon. We celebrate all the saints today not because we are afraid of forgetting anyone but because it is our Christian and Catholic way of saying “this is God’s love”. It is not pie-in-the-sky nor up in some far distant heaven that doesn’t touch the earth but we celebrate this uncountable host of saints because we say this is who God is for us and what God does in us. We also pray and our proclamation becomes prayer. We pray this morning that where our sisters and brothers have gone, we too will follow and know the true blessedness of those who stand around the throne and cry out while dressed in the white robes – “Victory to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the lamb.”