Matt. 10:23-24, 27-28, 19:27-30
The daily liturgical calendar of the Church called the “Typicon” lists all the saints whose memories are celebrated on each day. Every day we find that there are multiple saints remembered. Some days it’s not just one or two, but ten or twenty saints that are remembered. Even with such a multitude of saints recorded for our memory, there are still a multitude of saints who aren’t listed and even those whose names aren’t known. Today, on the feast of “All Saints”, we remember the whole choir of saints, those who are well known, those who are lesser known and those known only to God. Today we rejoice at the realization that the choir of saints is innumerable as the sands of the sea or the stars in the sky.
Where did all these saints come from? How did there get to be so many? The answer to that question is simple – the saints are those who, by the action of God’s grace in them, have made real their potential to be the image and likeness of God. These are the ones who have entered into true union with God and who live in eternal communion with Him. These are the ones who have fulfilled the purpose for which God us. This purpose – to live in eternal union and communion with God – is not just for a few lucky people, but is the purpose for every person who ever lived or who ever will live, from our first parents, Adam and Eve to the end of time. This purpose is our purpose – yours and mine; we are called to be saints and to join this great choir which we honor today.
The Only-begotten Son of God descended from heaven, was incarnate and came to us not only to reveal Himself to us, but also to restore us to our destiny: to become like Him and to enter into union and communion with Him. His very incarnation demonstrates for us the union of God and man. Therefore every word that He spoke, His every action, every characteristic about Him show us not only Who God is, but also how to become like Him. It is necessary for us only to see Him, to hear Him and to follow Him as He leads us into His Kingdom.
The difficulty for us is our own sinful nature – which at its core is ego-centric and resists any movement towards being displaced and replaced with the God-centric nature of the new man. For this reason the simple act of following Christ becomes the ascetic labor of self-denial and of taking up our cross. In order to “put on Christ” we have to continually “put off the old man” of sin and self love. In order to love God we must sacrifice our own love of self. It is this struggle that our Lord explains to His disciples in the Gospel that we heard today. Our love for God must surpass every other love in our lives – we must love God above all else and allow nothing else to come between Him and us. This requires an act of will, a decision, a choice on our part – not just once, but every moment of every day. We must constantly choose to follow Christ. This struggle is not something that ends during this life, but it consumes our whole life – every year, every month every day, every second.
When we make this choice, then the Holy Spirit fills us with grace which is the only means by which we are changed and transformed into His likeness. We cannot do this by ourselves or on our own power, in fact we have to renounce even our own ideas and our own efforts to be saved. We have to choose to follow Christ and to live in complete obedience to Him. And so we have to give up trying to please ourselves and indeed any other person and to please our Lord Jesus Christ instead. Therefore if you love your father and mother more than Him, if you love your husband or wife more than Him, if you love even your own children more than Him – then you will not be able to follow Him. If you love your possessions, your home, the esteem of others, your accomplishments, and indeed anything in your life more than Him – then you will not be able to follow Him. To follow Christ means that we must give up every other love, every other pursuit, every other priority, and love Him alone. This is what it means to deny yourself and to take up your cross so that you will be able to follow Christ. Does this mean that we should not love our parents, our spouses, our children, our neighbors? Certainly this is not incompatible with loving God, however, the love of God must always surpass even this love. When our Lord pointed out the two great commandments of the Law, He first said to love God and only then to love our neighbor. The love of neighbor, the love of parents, the love of husband or wife, the love of children flows from the love of God. If we do not love God then we cannot truly love anyone else. Without the love of God, then any other “love” that we might have in our lives is nothing more than a self-gratifying emotion. If we do not love God then every other love is tainted by our self love.
And so Peter, the most outspoken of the disciples, asked the Lord, “Since we have already given up everything, what will we receive?” This he asked not only for himself, but he spoke the question that was on the mind of every one of the disciples and indeed the question that arises within us as we struggle to give up everything to follow Christ. “What will we receive in return?” The answer is given first to Peter and to the Apostles, and through them to each of us. To the Apostles it is given that they will sit with Him on thrones to judge the nation of Israel – for they are the remnant of the house of Israel who fulfilled the purpose of the chosen people, to proclaim the Messiah to the world. And then He says to all of us, “Everyone that has forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or mother, or father, or wife, or children, or lands for My name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.” If we give up our whole lives to follow Christ, then in return He will bring us into His eternal Kingdom where we will be with Him and share in His Life. If God is the object of our love, then there can be no greater reward than to be continually with Him in eternity.
This then is the calling that is before us today, to follow our Lord Jesus Christ above all. To set aside our love of possession, our love of others, even our love of self and instead to love God alone above all else. We are called to join the heavenly choir that we honor today – the choir of the saints. We are called to be saints. Let us then, from this moment forward, set aside every encumbrance, every obstacle, every other purpose and pursue our Lord Jesus Christ and love Him with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind and with all our strength. In this way He will fill us with His grace, share with us His Life, transform us into His likeness and bring us into His eternal Kingdom where we will live in full and complete union and communion with Him.