“Sine Nomine,” is the title of Ralph Vaughn Williams setting of “For All the Saints.” The hymn was composed particularly for the feast of All Saints which we just celebrated this past week. They hymn is long – eleven verses. The last three are as follows:
The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way.
From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost:
The hymn sings of the triumph of the faithful and the resurrection of the dead. The words, accompanied by wonderful music, express the hope we have in Christ Jesus. Christ, our hope, has lead the faithful, too many to be counted (hence the name – “Sine Nomine”), through life to life.
Hope is so longed for in today’s world – for many people experience despair. The saints give us a witness of lives that were enlivened with hope. They faces challenges, some in the extreme, but overcame them fueled by faith, driven by love. Confidence in their hope was rooted in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. He spoke of the resurrection during the public ministry. Many of his followers heard this and believed. The belief of resurrection was rooted in one of the streams of Jewish faith. Yet until that time no one had risen from the dead. When, three days after Jesus was tortured and died on the cross, He rose from the dead it was like a brilliant light shining in the darkness that led his followers forward and showed them the way. The readings for today’s liturgy point forward to the resurrection. We have a teaching, a witness and an encouragement to live in that hope.
Jesus teaches us about resurrection. The Sadducees, as the gospel passage notes, did not believe in bodily resurrection. These are the ones who question Jesus. They do not seem to be sincere in their questioning but may be trying to trip Jesus up or force him into an argumentative corner so to speak. Nevertheless, Jesus answers their enquiry on resurrection. He emphasizes that those “deemed worthy” of the resurrection “can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise.” He makes a further point referencing Moses calling out “Lord, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Jesus notes that by saying this Moses himself points to the resurrection for God is “not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” Jesus is telling the Sadducees and anyone who is listening that the resurrection is real and that it will happen. In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus will say: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26)
The first reading highlights the witness of the mother with seven sons just prior to the Maccabean rebellion in Israel. At this point in Israelite history, Antiochus Epiphanes was the ruler. He was Greek. As part of his rule, he had a policy of forced Hellenization on the Israelites. This meant that the conquered peoples had to adapt the Greek culture including worship of their gods. A number of the Greek practices violated their covenant with God. In this account, the seven brothers refuse to adapt these practices rather putting God’s law ahead of the Greeks. As a result, each one is executed before their mother. In the passage for today’s liturgy, we hear two of the sons confidently speak of the hope their faith provides. The first says: “You accursed fiend, you are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever. It is for his laws that we are dying.” The third son echoes the same conviction saying: “It was from Heaven that I received these [hands]; for the sake of his laws I disdain them; from him I hope to receive them again.” Then the fourth son: “It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him; but for you, there will be no resurrection to life.” Each one endured suffering and death confident that the Lord would raise them up again. They are witnesses of hope, hope in a future resurrection and life.
Saint Paul in his blessing of the Thessalonians notes the “everlasting encouragement and good hope” that comes through Jesus Christ and God our Father. He does so that they, and we, may receive that encouragement in our hearts [whole being] and strengthen us “in every good deed and word.” The encouragement that comes from God bolsters our hope so that we might be confident of deliverance and victory. He prays again that God may orient us toward love and be filled with courage.
We live in a time where hope is challenged. So many forces about us and in our society seek to rob us of hope. We especially see the effects in our youth who are searching for an anchor in life. Saint Paul encourages us to live the life of love in hope. The seven sons in Maccabees witness to hope, rooted in their faith in future resurrection. Jesus not only teaches us about resurrection; He witnesses to resurrection as he is raised three days after his death. Receiving the Word of God, we are filled with hope that someday we and all the faithful departed who have gone before us will rise from the dead and share in the fulness of life.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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