Feats of All Saints
Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
5 November 2023
Today, we commemorate the Feast of All Saints, honoring all the saints who have come before us in the faith. The saints are an integral part of our public worship and private devotions. Here, at St. Mary’s, we have our patron saints, whom we name at every Mass – Blessed Luke, Blessed George, Blessed Cecilia, Blessed Therese, Blessed Margaret, and, of course, the Blessed Virgin Mary. And throughout the year, we commemorate the saints on our church calendar during Daily Masses. Today, after the sermon, we will chant the Litany of the Saints. Beginning with Mary, the Litany will present a kind of panoramic history of two millennia of Christian history, calling out the names of holy men and women from many different eras and places.
So, you might ask, especially if you’re from a more Protestant background, why all the focus on saints? Why all the services dedicated to the saints? According to today’s Collect, we remember and honor the saints because they present for us models of faith: “Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living.” Follow thy blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living. When we think about the saints of old, their extraordinary achievements seem beyond our reach. Most of us will never be called, as Perpetua and Felicity were, to pay the ultimate price and suffer martyrdom. Most of us will never be called, as Columba, Aidan, and Patrick were, to become missionaries and preach the Gospel in hostile, foreign lands. Most of us will never be called, as Francis and Clare of Assisi were, to vows of absolute poverty.
But whatever our personal circumstances may be, we are called to the same life of “virtuous and godly living” as followers of the same Lord Jesus Christ. We could spend a lot of time discussing what “virtuous and godly living” means, and we may have different opinions about what is virtuous and godly. Ancient theologians and philosophers used to compile different lists of virtues: the four cardinal virtues, the three theological virtues, the seven capital virtues, and so on. And, of course, there are plenty of lists of vices as well – and they tend to be more interesting. The fact is, we don’t need a long list of virtues to live a “virtuous and godly life.” In last week’s Gospel reading, we read about the Pharisee asking Jesus which of all the commandments is the greatest. Jesus responds with what some call the double love command, also known as the Summary of the Law: love God and love neighbor. All the laws and commandments are rooted in these two.
Or to put it another way, all the various virtues emanate from loving God and loving neighbor. To turn again to today’s Collect: “Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys which thou hast prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee…” Unfeignedly love thee. The saints are all about love – loving God and loving neighbor.
That’s why among the saints’ names on the Litany, we have Fr. James Stewart-Smith and Fr. Edwin Merrill. Fr. Stewart-Smith and Fr. Merrill were both beloved priests at St. Mary’s. They’re the two priests whose portraits grace the back wall of St. George Chapel. This past Thursday, on All Souls Day, we celebrated Mass at Forest Hill Calvary Cemetery. And we paid our respects to Fr. Merrill and Fr. Stewart-Smith, who are laid side by side in the cemetery. I took a photo between the two tombstones in the hopes that some of their saintliness might rub off. Fr. Stewart-Smith served twenty-three years as rector from 1891 to 1914, and Fr. Edwin Merrill, for 35 years, from 1918 to 1953. Between the two of them, they served St. Mary’s for basically the first half of the twentieth century.
But we remember and honor Fr. Stewart-Smith and Fr. Merrill not just for setting records in terms of the length of service but because of their deep and abiding love. They loved God, expressed through their life of prayer and worship. Everything they did was grounded in their profound spirituality. And they loved neighbor, establishing numerous ministries for the poor and needy. One of the tributes to Fr. Stewart-Smith at his death described his life as “a labor of love…walking among the lowly, the poor, the distressed and the fallen as a ministering spirit to relieve comfort and to lift up.” Fr. Stewart-Smith and Fr. Merrill are modern-day, local saints who have bequeathed to us at St. Mary’s a powerful and beautiful legacy of love.
Fr. Stewart-Smith and Fr. Merrill, and all the saints that we name on the Litany are long dead and gone. But they are alive to us not just in memory. We are united in Christ as one body. Again, to use the words of today’s Collect, we are “knit together in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of Christ our Lord.” We, the living and dead, are all united through faith in Jesus Christ. And we experience this unity with Christ and the saints most fully in the Eucharist. In the sacred mysteries of the Eucharist, the veil between heaven and earth disappears, and we are joined by the saints and all the citizens of heaven.
So, dear sisters and brothers, on this happy feast day, we celebrate all the saints. We hold up these models of embodied love to remind and inspire ourselves of what it means to live as followers of Christ Jesus. And as we gather at the altar, we join our voices with those of all the saints in our eternal praise and worship of the Lord our God.
 W.F. Kuhn, “Tribute to Fr. Stewart Smith,” The Kansas City Free Masonry, August 21, 1915.
The sermons preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!