Preacher The Revd Wilma Roest
Most people are familiar with the church year: that great cycle of prayer and liturgy that takes us from Advent through Christmas and Epiphany, on through Lent and Easter to Pentecost, and into the long stretch of Sundays after Trinity. Fewer people will be familiar with the calendar of saints. While most of the saints of the Church have a special feast day assigned to them, it is not often that they get a mention in Church on Sundays. Unless you say Morning or Evening Prayer, often we are not even aware of the saint’s days in our calendar.
It is, in a sense, a pity; for there is always much we can learn from the lives of the saints. Some were great scholars; others illiterate. Some were ancient; others modern. But what is particularly striking about the calendar of the saints is that it is a hodgepodge – messy and unpredictable. In the calendar of the blessed, saints come and go in no particular order. Ninth-century saint follows twentieth; European, American, African; young, old; and so on.
Just in November, for instance, twentieth century archbishop William Temple, who is remembered on November sixth, hobnobs with Reformation-era Richard Hooker, of November third, and medieval queen Margaret of Scotland, of November sixteenth. It must make for some very interesting conversations in high places.
The calendar of saints mirrors our own lives in many ways. People come to us in no particular order. For example, we probably did not choose the particular members of our parish and church community. Friends and future partners appear seemingly out of nowhere. And we definitively do not get to choose the people without whom we would not be here: our parents.
Those described as blessed, or saints, in our gospel text from Luke today are also a pretty mixed lot – perhaps an unfortunate and desperate one. They are not particularly popular, or well-off, or prosperous. They are the poor, the hungry, the weeping, and the despised. If they have anything in common, it is perhaps that they are those not in control of things. They are those who are often described as victims and vulnerable.
No one – martyrs and saints included – wants to be victimised, used, manipulated or cheated. Certainly scripture does not require that of us. We read the daily papers and shake our heads as we learn of all the evil things our fellow human beings are capable of, including the shedding of innocent blood. We do not want such things to happen to us – no matter how committed we are to the Gospel.