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, Revelation 7:9-17

This Homily was video-recorded, and posted to the Church’s Facebook page, and only a summary provided at the actual Service of Baptism and Holy Eucharist (which was both in-person and streamed via Facebook-Live, in order to keep the Service within the 45 minute limit asked by our Bishop.
The following poem was not read in the recorded Homily, but was posted with the video on Facebook.

Eddi’s Service
(A.D. 687)
by Rudyard Kipling

EDDI, priest of St. Wilfrid
In his chapel at Manhood End,
Ordered a midnight service
For such as cared to attend.

But the Saxons were keeping Christmas,
And the night was stormy as well.
Nobody came to service,
Though Eddi rang the bell.

“Wicked weather for walking,”
Said Eddi of Manhood End.
“But I must go on with the service
For such as care to attend.”

The altar-lamps were lighted,—
An old marsh-donkey came,
Bold as a guest invited,
And stared at the guttering flame.

The storm beat on at the windows,
The water splashed on the floor,
And a wet, yoke-weary bullock
Pushed in through the open door.

“How do I know what is greatest,
How do I know what is least?
That is My Father’s business,”
Said Eddi, Wilfrid’s priest.

“But—three are gathered together—
Listen to me and attend.
I bring good news, my brethren!”
Said Eddi of Manhood End.

And he told the Ox of a Manger
And a Stall in Bethlehem,
And he spoke to the Ass of a Rider,
That rode to Jerusalem.

They steamed and dripped in the chancel,
They listened and never stirred,
While, just as though they were Bishops,
Eddi preached them The Word,

Till the gale blew off on the marshes
And the windows showed the day,
And the Ox and the Ass together
Wheeled and clattered away.

And when the Saxons mocked him,
Said Eddi of Manhood End,
“I dare not shut His chapel
On such as care to attend.”

The story I’m about to tell you may seem made for Christmas, but bear with me, it is relevant to this day.

It was Christmas in England, the year was 687 C.E., and along the Sussex coast of the English channel people were making merry. Eddi was a priest, chaplain to Bishop Wilfred, one of the great early English bishops. Eddi had announced that he would celebrate midnight Mass “for all who cared to attend” in a little chapel on the coast, but the people in their villages had laughed, and explained they would be busy with their own feasts. Now, as Eddi slowly walked towards the chapel in the dark, people scoffed as he passed their open windows and looked in on their partying.

On the coast a great gale was blowing, and the loud booming of the ocean could be heard. It was a foul night, and by the flickering light of his lantern Eddi struggled towards the chapel, a low stone building, with small shuttered windows, standing on a low hill. Eddi made everything ready for the midnight Mass, lit the altar candles, rang the bell, and waited. No one came!

He rang the bell again, and waited. No one came. Then he heard footsteps. Slowly the door was pushed open, and in walked a donkey, escaping the storm. It trotted up to the chancel, its little hooves clicking on the ground, and stood in front of the altar, with its long ears hanging down, and stared at the flickering flames of the candles. Eddi heard some more steps, and again the door was pushed wide open. In walked an ox, a plough beast with the marks of the yoke on its shoulders; it too had come to the chapel to find shelter, and it too came up to the altar and stood beside the donkey.

Eddi began the Mass, and the two beasts stood and listened, and never stirred. Eddi read the lessons and preached his sermon. He told the ox of the manger in Bethlehem, and of the ox who had stood there and looked on the Christ-child. And he spoke to the donkey of Jerusalem, and of the Saviour who had ridden into the city on the back of an ass. The beasts solemnly stood and watched as Eddi celebrated Mass, and made his communion, and then when Eddi dismissed them, and extinguished the candles, and the storm had quieted, the ox and the donkey walked out into the night.

And Eddi knew that, somehow, he had not failed in his duty!1

I tell you this charming legend, which Rudyard Kipling made into a poem, which is posted with this video, on All Saints’ Day. It illustrates one mark of sainthood that is common to all whom we call saints. That one mark is not heroic deeds, steadfastness in persecution, great preaching, brilliant writing, or the conversion of thousands. The one common mark of sainthood is faithfulness!

When we use the word “saint” we probably don’t think of a simple soul like Eddi. When we refer to a living person, someone we know or have heard about, we usually mean someone we think is “holier than we,” someone who seems to be doing a better job at being a Christian than we are. We forget that such people are usually the last to think of themselves as holy and are horrified at the idea that they are better than others. Sometimes we mean stiff figures in stained glass windows, or unreal-looking people in holy pictures, or un-lifelike plaster statues. We forget that the real men and women behind these would probably laugh at the caricatures the centuries have made of them. Or perhaps they’d cry!

Having said that the one common mark of saintliness is faithfulness, the question remains, faithfulness to what? I am not the first to suggest that being saintly is connected with handing over one’s self-will to a greater will. For a Christian, to be saintly means handing our own will over to Christ’s will.

In George Bernard Shaw’s play Saint Joan there is a scene in which Joan of Arc is desperately trying to get Charles, the weak, spineless, insipid heir to the French throne, to show some, any, even the least little bit of initiative. Exasperated, she shouts at him there is one thing he has never learned. Intrigued, he asks what. Joan replies, “Charlie, you have never learned that we are put on this earth not to do our own business, but to do God’s.” We are here on this earth not to do our own business; we are here to do God’s business. To accept this is at least the beginning of becoming a saint.

But there is something else to be considered, and that is the New Testament use of the word “saint.” St. Paul in particular, but also other New Testament authors make it clear that calling oneself a Christian is to lay claim to sainthood. For St. Paul, to be baptized is already to be a saint. Thus, all of us who are baptized are saints. We may be good saints, or we may be bad saints; we may be spiritual giants of sainthood, or more likely, we may be mediocre attempts at sainthood, but all who claim the name “Christian” are to a greater or lesser degree, saints.

And today, all of us, those present physically, and those watching the live video-cast, saw one more saint being made, and assisted in that saint-making. None of us have any idea how the sainthood of Kadeem King Martin will develop; our hope is that he will be a faithful saint, perhaps a great saint, but no matter what, he is a saint, and will always be a saint, and our brother in the faith.

Sainthood then means to be baptized. Ideally it also means giving one’s self-will over to the will of Christ. And that means seeing oneself as doing God’s business on earth, rather than one’s own business. So far, that sounds like a lonely job.

But let’s look at a vision, one of the great visions of the Bible. We heard it read earlier, as our 1st Lesson. Among many other things, it shows us how we might think of saints. The vision is that of St. John the Divine, recorded in the book we call Revelation. A huge crowd is stretching in all directions to the horizon. People from every age and nation are in that crowd somewhere. A great hymn of praise is rising to God, who is seated on a throne in front of this great multitude. John is told that these are the hosts of people who have come through tribulation, through trial and adversity.

This vision has had many interpretations; let me suggest a very simple one. Wherever we are in our Christian journey, whatever we do and whatever befalls us, we are not alone. We are surrounded by the endless host of those who have gone before us in the faith, those who walk this earth with us now, and those who will follow after us in the way of Christ. We are not alone. Others have experienced what we experience, felt what we feel; spiritual fullness, spiritual dryness, spiritual strength, spiritual weakness; falling away, returning, repeated! Others are experiencing it now. Others yet will experience it in the future. In the enormous community of the faithful of all times and all places that surrounds us there is shared experience, wisdom, love, and support available for anything we might live through, if we choose to see ourselves so surrounded. We confess our belief in this Communion of Saints every time we recite the Creed. We can make that belief a reality, by accepting that we are each one small cell in that vast community; that vast Communion.

Our experience of life can be solitary and lonely. It is easy to feel that no one cares about us. In facing that loneliness, we Christians can remember that we are part of a community of faith, companions to our lives with whom we share a common bond, a common will, a common activity, and a common end. Our common bond is baptism; our common will is the will of Christ; our common activity is the doing of God’s business on earth; our common end is to, with our brothers and sisters of all ages and places, stand before God’s throne and worship. And all this can be summarized into the one common mark of sainthood with which I started; faithfulness. Not success; faithfullness!

That ancient word “saint” speaks to us in many ways. It names spiritual giants of the past, whose lives enrich and inspire our lives. It names that vast community of the past, present, and future, of which we are members, and which surrounds and enriches our lives. But above all, unbelievably and mysteriously, the title “saint” is yours and mine. It is not ours because we have earned it with spiritual heroics, but because it has been given to us with our baptism into the name of Jesus Christ. We are saints, by the grace of God!

On this day, and always, remember your sainthood, it is a pearl of great price at the heart of your lives.

1    Adapted from “Eddy and the Beasts” in Stories and Prayers at Five to Ten, Richard Tatlock, ed.; A.R. Mowbray & Co. Ltd., London, 1959, 1962

Copyright ©2020 by Gerry Mueller (Kipling poem and story from it excepted)