All Saints Day
Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
November 3, 2019
In our first lesson, we hear the prophet Daniel recount a fantastical dream he had. Well, we heard the beginning of the dream in which four great beasts rise out of the sea. But then the lectionary skips 12 verses. In those verses, there are descriptions not only of the four beasts and their terrifying power, but ten horns arising from the fourth beast, with an eleventh horn with human eyes and a mouth speaking arrogantly. In response to this last beast with its mouthy eleventh horn, the Ancient One kills the beast and deprives the other three of their power. Then, “one like a human being” comes down from heaven on the clouds to reign on behalf of the Ancient One.
The lectionary then picks back up and we hear the heavenly attendant’s interpretation of the dream. The four beasts represent four kings or kingdoms, but in the end, the “holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom.”
Who are these holy ones?
The book of Daniel was likely written sometime in the 2nd Century BC during the reign of Greek Emperor Antiochus IV Epiphanes, under whose rule the Hebrew people suffered persecution and martyrdom. Up to this point in Hebrew literature, the word we translate as “holy ones” was used exclusively for divine beings and angels, never human beings. The holy ones in this passage are granted dominion over the kingdom that had already been granted to “the one like a human being” in verse 13. Later in Daniel, this “one like a human being” is identified as Michael the Archangel, the head of God’s heavenly army. Thus, this story originally referred to the divine army gaining control over the cosmic forces of evil and chaos. However, “holy ones” was interpreted by the Jewish Rabbinic tradition as referring to the Jews who were persecuted by the Greek Emperor Antiochus, and then later, even more broadly, as a reference to righteous humans sanctified after death. These “holy ones” are wise and pious men and women, who will suffer persecution, be purified, and awake to everlasting life, where they will possess God’s kingdom.
A couple of centuries later, the early Christians began commemorating the anniversary of those who were martyred for the faith. As persecution became more widespread, the number of martyrs became so great that a separate day could not be assigned to each. And so, the Church appointed a common day for all the martyrs as early as 373 AD. A few centuries later, the feast was broadened to include all saints as well as martyrs.
We continue to celebrate all the saints on this day so many years later. The “holy ones” we remember today, like those in Daniel’s apocalyptic dream, are those who contended long for their Savior’s honor…those who appear like stars…who stand before God’s throne wearing a golden crown and praising loud their heavenly King, as we will sing in today’s closing hymn. In the New Testament, the word “saint” refers to all of the baptized, but from the very beginning, some Christians began to be recognized for their holiness and sanctity, and the word saint in English is now more closely associated with them. Today’s feast isn’t commemorating or remembering all Christians throughout time – that’s All Souls Day which is the day after All Saints Day. No, today, we celebrate the saints – the “holy ones” – who lived out a heroic faith that has been recognized by the wider Christian community over time.
These heroes of the faith encourage us to keep running with perseverance the race set before us. We don’t worship them in the way we worship God, but we certainly honor them for their holiness which sprang from the grace given to them by God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Daniel was given a vision in his day when the empire that ruled over the Jewish people persecuted them to the point that they rebelled against the Emperor and ultimately prevailed, a rebellion we call the Maccabean Revolt. The Jewish festival of Hanukkah celebrates the re-dedication of the Temple following this great victory. In fact, this dream can be seen as a dystopian story not unlike the Handmaid’s Tale or the Hunger Games. Like Daniel, we live in a time when the empires of the day exalt injustice and hatred, and pay little attention to the poor, the sick, and the needy. As in Daniel’s day, the beasts with terrifying power seem to rise up out of the sea, threatening to overcome us.
The feast of All Saints reminds us that that the divine army will ultimately win the battle against evil and chaos. But more importantly, on All Saints Day, we are spurred on to a greater holiness by those who, even when they were with us on earth, were not with us in reality, for their minds were focused on God. “They lived on earth as citizens of heaven. Having here no lasting city, they sought a heavenly one; having no earthly riches, they sought the riches of heaven. They were strangers and sojourners” here just as the Jews were under the rule of Antiochus. “Strangers to the world, their whole heart was absorbed in the things of heaven…They longed for the beauty of heaven, its mansions and dwellings, its choirs and hymns, its feasts and its eternal blessedness.” The saints, by God’s grace, sought after these things, and by God’s grace, they attained them. “Their striving was rewarded by admission to the heavenly bridal chamber. Because they labored, now they exult. Because they were not negligent, they now rejoice.”
Friends, let us give thanks to Almighty God for the lives of the saints, and spurred on by their heroic devotion to Jesus, let us “lay aside every weight and the 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.”
 Much of this paragraph is from Wendland, Kristin J. “Commentary on Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18 by Kristin J. Wendland.” Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18 Commentary. Working Preacher. Accessed November 2, 2019. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4271.
 David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown. Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word. Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Pr., 2010), 223.
 Michael David. Coogan, ed., The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version: with the Apocrypha: an Ecumenical Study Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 1248.
 Much of this paragraph from Bartlett 223.
 The Hymnal 1982: According to the Use of the Episcopal Church (1985: The Church Hymnal Corporation, 1985), 286.
 The quotes in this paragraph are from a sermon by St. Anastasius of Sinai (d. sometime after 700 AD) as printed Maxwell E. Johnson, Benedictine Daily Prayer: a Short Breviary (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2005), 2184.
 Hebrews 12:1 (NRSV).
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