All Saints' Sunday | Choral Evensong

  • Preacher

    The Rev'd Canon Kathryn Fleming, Precentor

  • Readings

    Isaiah 65 & Hebrews 11 & 12

The Precentor's sermon preached at Choral Evensong on Sunday 5 November 2023.

Say what you like about the author of Hebrewsl...he’s nothing if not logical!

On this All Saints Sunday we’ve been given snapshots of the stories of some of the heroes of the faith, and reminded that they represent unfinished business, since their company and their story is incomplete without US…

The evidence is amassed in Chapter 11 and then, after perhaps the briefest pause for reflection, chapter 12 begins with a triumphantly assertive THEREFORE, answering any question that might have been lurking at the back of our minds

“So they did! So what?!”


“THEREFORE since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses….”

Our ancestors in faith, men and women whose spiritual DNA should run in our blood, firing us up to follow in their footsteps. On a good day, it’s easy to answer the “so what?” question as we stretch out willing hands to receive the join in the children’s hymn with conviction…

 I sing a song of the saints of God,
patient and brave and true,
who toiled and fought and lived and died
for the Lord they loved and knew.
And one was a doctor, and one was a queen,
and one was a shepherdess on the green:
they were all of them saints of God, and I mean,
God helping, to be one too.

Oh yes. We’re called to be saints. Let’s get on with it, right here and right now. Where do I sign?

Except – did you notice how many of them had a pretty miserable time of it. - tortured, mocked, flogged, stoned, sawn in two

This is not really the stuff of stained glass windows, nor, if I’m honest, the kind of adventure I really long to sign up for.

Physical courage isn’t my forte…

I’m inclined to agree with S Theresa of Avila, who famously said

“If that is the way you treat your friends, Lord, it’s not surprising you have so few of them”

And yet – and yet – we ARE surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses...and the courage that filled the hearts of the martyrs of old burns bright in God’s Church even today.

Behind me in front of the high altar the Tears of Gold exhibition illustrates this powerfully.

I’m sure many of you will remember the horrific news in 2014 that school-girls had been kidnapped by the terrorist group Boku Harem

The world was, rightly, outraged and we prayed for those young women in many of our churches for weeks on end. Now some of those stories have faces. .In the Sanctuary there are self-portraits of some of those Nigerian Christian women, created as they began to process their traumatic experiences, and to look for healing and hope. In each self portrait, the woman weeps, - but she weeps tears of gold, a reminder that the God who holds all our tears in their bottle, treasures each woman and their story of faith and courage.

For now the tears are all too real. The pain of the world is acute today, and our pictures give but the tiniest glimpse of it, but our first reading gives us a promise that God is not oblivious to that suffering, but hears the cries of God’s persecuted children.

 “no more shall the sound of weeping be heard...or the cry of distress” we are told.

The picture of hope in Isaiah’s prophecy takes us into the same realm  of realised perfection that we will meet later, in Revelation 21, where what is broken is restored, what has been lost recovered, where the future is secure

They shall build houses and inhabit them”...and where even the natural instincts of fallen creation are transformed.

“The wolf and the lamb shall feed together and the lion shall eat straw like the ox….They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain”

A parallel transformation is expressed in our exhibition through the art of Hannah Rose Thomas which stands side by side those self-portraits. Those rather naive, childish images, the ways in which the women see themselves, are turned into something very different as Hannah Rose writes them afresh as parallel icons. Their stories of suffering become windows for the soul, enabling us to look through the likeness, the brushstrokes, colours and shapes, to glimpse the deeper mystery and meaning of God’s love.

 As we pause, look, and listen with our hearts, we are changed and perhaps those unspeakable experiences, and that untold courage seems less remote, less unattainable, after all.

Many have called icons windows for the soul. The word “icon” comes from the Greek for image or likeness. And, as I’ve shared, God’s image and likeness can be found everywhere. Icons—and other forms of art—are invitations to look beyond the brushstrokes, colours, and shapes to the deeper mystery and meaning. If we take the time, we may all glimpse God;s face gazing back at us, as we gaze at these beloved daughters.

My favourite All Saints story is the apocryphal one of a Sunday-school child who was being quizzed by the vicar about what he had learned in their session that All Saints morning. Looking wildly around he spotted a halo’d being in the nearest window and announced “A saint is someone that the light shines through

I’ve always loved that...because, you see, though there are so many tales of great heroism to be told within the Church of today as much as that of the past, in the end its not our stories that matter. Each of those women at the altar would see themselves, I’m sure, as very ordinary, just as each and every Christian persecuted for their faith in every age would, just as that great cloud of witnesses would...…just as you and I do.

And yet, by God’s grace shining through us, each of us CAN be a sign of hope, of courage, of loving-kindness...building up the Church to be all that she is called to be


I sing a song of the saints of God,
patient and brave and true,
who toiled and fought and lived and died
for the Lord they loved and knew.

They were all of them saints of God and I mean

God helping, to be one too.