All Saints Sunday 2017
1 John 3, 1-3; Rev 7, 9-end; Matthew 5, 1-12
I have a confession to make. I am absolutely hopeless sin understanding how to use new technology. I feel not so much like a Luddite, which is like an iconoclast, but more like a dinosaur, which is prehistoric.
I can email, and like to email. My mobile phone can receive my emails as well. This is big step forward for me. I can take pictures on my phone – but I don’t know how to forward them to anyone else, so they just sit there in my photo gallery. I can text with my phone, though my fingers are too clumsy, so I often accidentally send off a message when I’m only half way through it.
I hear of people who Facebook, Tweet (I gather since coming to office Donald Trump has sent out 36,000 tweets, and has 48million followers), Facetime and Skype, Drop Box, and a vast number of other things that ordinary people can do with phones, lap tops, ipads, tablets and the like.
I prefer the old ways and I’m always at my most comfortable when I’m on familiar territory. That is why I feel very comfortable with the idea of an ‘i-cloud’. Have you heard of it? Some of you think I am talking about technology again where the i-cloud is where every message everyone sends to anyone anywhere is stored for ever and a day as evidence, a witness, to what you have ever said in any message to any person, anywhere. The amazing thing is that this contemporary i-cloud doesn’t exist anywhere. You cannot see it, touch it, smell it, taste it, or hear it. It has no existential reality – it is simply there.
But no I’m not talking about that sort of cloud. I’m going back a bit. I’m going back to the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews, one of the New Testament Scriptures. Way before i-cloud existed in this state of ‘Erewhon’ ie Nowhere, or Utopia, outopos, there was a glorious vision by a follower of Christ who described something very beautiful. It has a place but no GPS would never find it for you. This place is full of the evidence of Christian lives lived well, witnesses to a different kind of communication, the communication of love between God and humanity, humanity and God, and between human beings.
This cloud described in Hebrews is a ‘cloud of witnesses’. This is what he says, ‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.’
What a lovely image, so visual and pictorial. It is a description of the saints; that company of heaven, who with Archangels and angels and all the heavenly host have an existence in constant and pure worship of God the Creator, the Redeemer, the Sustainer, or as we know it better, Father Son, and Holy Spirit, the divine Trinity.
We are surrounded by saints, embracing us in their ceaseless round of prayer and praise, occasionally gazing at us, glancing at us, holding out a hand to us, seeking to embrace and involve us as we hear, see, taste, feel, smell our worship of God here in earth. We are invited to inhabit the cloud, to cuddle the witnesses, to be a full and complete community brought about through the cross and the empty tomb, through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ who is the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. Pioneer, archegos in that he goes before in his risen life; perfecter, teleiotis in that he completed everything in his death on the cross.
The danger is that we think of clouds in the sky – distant, untouchable, elsewhere. Yet, there is a strong biblical tradition of humans being overshadowed by the cloud, or consumed in the cloud, or taken up in the cloud. It was a pillar of cloud in the day that led the people of Israel through the journeys of the Exodus. It was a cloud that completely covered Moses on the top of the mountain of the commandments. It was from the cloud that God set his seal of approval when Jesus was baptized; from a cloud that God transfigured Jesus on Mt. Tabor; into a cloud that Christ ascended 40 days after his resurrection. In all of these situations the cloud is a way of describing nothing less than the every presence of Almighty God himself, the Shekinah.
Bringing us down to earth with a bump, St. Paul knows where the saints are to found. For him they are not up the sky somewhere. Far from it! They are the ordinary Christian folk struggling to be followers of Jesus in Rome, in Ephesus, Corinth, Thessaly – even the Christian folk struggling to be followers of Jesus in St. Paul’s Athens. Yes, here too there is a cloud of witnesses, and here too the glory of God shines just as he has in every generation.
So on this day when we reflect on the great cloud of witnesses we are drawn into the cloud, into the presence of God himself, where we join with the whole company of heaven as we sing ‘Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might. Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest.’