Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Bolton

Stay with us, Lord, on our journey

Cycle A

Feast of All Saints

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Apocalypse 7:2-4.9-14

“I saw a huge number …

people from every nation, race, tribe and language …”

In recent times we have become accustomed to hearing figures expressed in hundreds of billions, whether of pounds sterling in the economy, or of years in the order of creation, or of miles per hour in the world of atomic research. Against such a background “a hundred and forty-four thousand” does not sound particularly impressive, hardly a “huge number, impossible to count”! But this figure is not intended as a head count; it is purely figurative – twelve tribes squared and then multiplied by a thousand, that means lots and lots, yes, even impossible to count.

Such is the encouraging image of heaven: not the preserve of a tiny elite of the perfect, but the massive assembly of people of utterly diverse backgrounds in the thrilling presence of God and of his Son, the slain and risen Lamb. In union with the choirs of angels they are worshipping God with “praise and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and strength”. That heavenly assembly and song of worship embraces, in the Communion of Saints, our own assembly and song of worship as we gather “to give him thanks and praise”.

As we celebrate today the Feast of All Saints, we rejoice to be one with those in heaven already, with those waiting in joyful hope, and with all who are still on their pilgrim way; we are all one. And here is the sheer beauty of that image of the Communion of all the Saints: we all sing together. Everyone can sing. Everyone can be part of that heavenly music. Some may sing more confidently than others, some with flare and others with timidity, but all are part of the one song of praise, and the sound of it all far surpasses the sum of the individual parts.