The letter to the Ephesians makes a perfect sermon all by itself for All Saints and a day of baptism. I hardly feel as though I need say more. But there is more. Listen to the words that come just before and after what we read and heard today:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. He destined us in love to be his sons [and daughters] through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us. For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth…
And you he made alive, when you were dead…”
God chose us in love, before the foundations of the world, to live as saints of the living God. God chose you, before you knew that you were you, to be a saint, to be holy and blameless before God.
God destined us through love to be God’s daughters and sons, through the adoption of Jesus Christ, so that we might know God’s grace flowing through our lives, through our veins, through our prayers and praises.
God gave us the gospel, God’s word, God’s promise, to be with us throughout it all.
God sealed us with the Holy Spirit, the breath of God kissing our foreheads, lighting us up like candles.
God has given us wisdom and revelation, the knowledge of good and evil, the wisdom of a baby who knows where to find warm milk and a warm embrace; the wisdom of a child who knows how to hold her gently; the wisdom of parents and godparents to know what is good and what is evil for their children, how to raise them in truth and love.
God has enlightened the eyes of our hearts to see the glorious inheritance of the saints, to see beyond our own lives, beyond our own days, to recognize in relationships of love and glory the touch of eternity, so that even when we are parted by death, we know that those who have died in Christ are alive in Christ, and we shall see them again.
We make some bold promises when we come to baptism, when we bring our children to baptism, when we renew our own baptismal covenants.
We promise to turn away from all that would separate us from God, and turn towards Jesus Christ, with the eyes of our hearts enlightened to see and trust him as our Lord and Saviour.
We promise to continue in the apostles’ habits of prayer and praise, study and worship, breaking bread together and celebrating as the saints of God; we promise to be here, together, regularly.
We promise to return, not if we sin but when we sin; we promise not if but when, knowing that even with our hearts enlightened, even with the revelation, the wisdom of good and evil, we will fall, we will fail; but knowing too that God made us, chose us before the foundations of the world to be holy and blameless before God, so that however we fall into sin, whenever we repent and return, God receives us with open arms and a forgiving embrace.
We promise to share and to demonstrate that Gospel promise.
We promise to seek and serve Christ in all people, loving our neighbours as ourselves, seeing each one of them with the eyes of our hearts enlightened, not dimmed by prejudice or envy, fear or favour, but seeing them clearly as creations of Christ, of the living God, destined just as we are for God’s love and grace.
We promise to help them find it, striving for justice and peace, dignity and honour, so that we all may stand with integrity before the throne of God and praise God with the saints in glory.
We promise all of these things, invoking God’s help, knowing that it is only because God has already destined us for them that we have any hope of success. They are bold promises; tall orders. But we do have hope. We have the hope of the inheritance of Christ, hope that sustains us through our lives and beyond death.
Because on this feast of All Saints, we celebrate not only those new saints that come to clothe themselves in baptism, and join the throng dressed in white, but we celebrate also those saints who came before us and whom we see no more. When we raise our voices to affirm the promises of those who come for baptism, when we promise to uphold them in their vows with a loud, “We will,” it is not only we who speak, but their great-grandparents, their cousin, the matriarchs and patriarchs of this place, those who have loved them and their parents and godparents, those who have made it their business to support the ministry and the mission and the lives of those who are baptized into this, God’s holy church – all of them shout with us, “We will.” We will continue to pray for them, to watch over them, to support them and encourage them, as only we who have seen eternity can.
As these children come to their baptism today, to enter into those promises that God has already made to them since before time began, they are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. Some of those witnesses are visible to us all, flesh and blood, all of you, the saints of Epiphany drawn together in worship and praise to support these new saints in their journey with Christ. But there are others, there are more, and they are here for the children, and they are here for you, for me. They know the promises that God has made to us all, and they know, better than anyone here, that those promises are real and are fulfilled. They know all about the forgiveness of sins. They know all about redemption. They know all about the destiny of all of God’s children as sons and daughters, beloved. They know what it means to be made alive.
And when you renew your own baptismal covenant, those bold promises, this morning, they are standing right beside you, among you, promising with God’s help to uphold you in your saintly life: