All Saints’ Day: Wednesday, November 1st, 2023
REVELATION 7:9-17; PSALM 34:1-10, 22; 1 JOHN 3:1-3; MATTHEW 5:1-12
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people,
and respect the dignity of every human being?
In a moment, because All Saints is a Baptismal Feast—and a Sunday when we often have baptisms—we will say together, in the place of the creed, the Baptismal Covenant. This covenant has two parts to it; it has the Baptismal Creed, which is the Apostles’ Creed in a responsory form. This is a summary of Christian Doctrine, and an expression of what kind of God it is that we believe in, what God it is we trust: and that’s the God who creates; the God who in Christ redeems us; and the God who in the Holy Spirit fills the Church with the sort of love that makes saints. This God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the one we believe in, the one we trust with our lives.
The Baptismal Covenant also has six other questions, and these express the shape of life that grows out of our trust in the God described in the creed. And so we say together a number of things about gathering and sharing; how we will repent when we follow the wrong path; that we will proclaim the good news; how we will love our neighbour, treating everyone with an inalienable dignity; and how we will care for God’s creation.
And we say this today as a way to recall who we are: we are the baptized, baptized into Christ’s death and life. That we, as the baptized, look to Christ as the one in whom we now live—seeing our lives now not so much according to the various sorts of worldly success, but according to the death and life of Christ.
By the grace of the Holy Spirit, our lives become Christoform, shaped like Jesus’s own life, and as our lives are shaped according to Christ’s own life, we are sanctified—and we grow into the dignity of Jesus’s sort of sainthood.
Today I would like to follow one particular thread, the thread of dignity, a thread that is woven into this Baptismal Covenant. I’d like to explore what dignity means not according to the life of the world, but according to the Baptismal Covenant and according to our life in Christ. What I will suggest is that we are given, by God and as the baptised, two dignities—two dignities that are inalienable, two dignities that do not diminish, decline or decrease no matter where we are in this life.
The first dignity is the dignity that comes with being made in the image and likeness of God. This comes from Genesis where God says “‘let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness …’ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them.” Because we are made in God’s image, God’s image is baked into us all—it is not something that can be taken away, even when that image is obscured and hard to see.
There are many, many times when we live lives that make us look far from godly. But even as the image is obscured by all the unholy detritus that our lives collect, even as this image is obscured as we are covered in the debris of sin, none of this can change that we are all, each and every one of us, indelibly made in the image of God—even when it is hard to see it.
This is the sort of imagination that lies behind the Baptismal Covenant when we say that we will respect the dignity of every human person. This is the dignity of being made in the image of God; and if we have a dignity that comes through being made in the image of God, it means that this dignity is an inalienable dignity, it’s a dignity that cannot be diminished; it’s a dignity that will not decline or decrease, because this dignity is part of the way each and every one of us are made in God’s image.
So—mental illness doesn’t diminish your inalienable dignity. Your dignity does not decline with addiction. Your dignity doesn’t decrease or increase according to the size of your bank account. Your dignity doesn’t depend on being healthy and well. Neither does sin, that lifeless thing that fastens itself to our lives like a leech, even sin doesn’t alter or lessen the inalienable dignity that comes with being made in God’s image.
It might be that you are challenged to see God’s image in all your neighbours; you may have a hard time seeing God’s image in all your fellow parishioners (I dare say?); many of us have real difficulty seeing God’s image in ourselves. But this is the claim, this is the teaching, of the Covenant: every human being—not just the wealthy and the healthy—having been made in the image of God, has dignity. And so we seek to respect that dignity.
So that’s the first dignity: we are made in the image of God, each one of us, and that leads us to respect that dignity in all others. The second dignity comes with baptism. In baptism we are invited, by God’s grace and according to the power of the Holy Spirit that descends upon us, into Christ. And so in Christ we live out, now, his life; and in Christ, we live out also his death. This is the second dignity: that our lives are now hid within the life of Christ, the one who is crucified and resurrected.
This second dignity, that of life in Christ, does not diminish either; it does not diminish in suffering, or in pain, or in our dependence on others; we may even grow into Christ’s dignity as our lives look more and more like his, as our lives increase in joy, but also as our lives bear the shape of the cross. That’s to say, in the infinite variation of human life, it’s not only joy that brings us baptismal dignity; suffering and pain can do so too.
This is, in some ways, a hard teaching: that in baptism we have a double dignity, that of being made in God’s image, and the dignity of being made like Christ, in both his dying and his rising. But it’s only hard because we imagine dignity according to other measures: we measure dignity in terms of independence, we measure dignity in terms of control over our lives and over our bodies. But this witness to the dignity of every human being on account of being made in the image of God, and the baptismal witness to the dignity of being made increasingly like Christ—in his life and his death—gives us a different notion of what dignity is.
It’s a dignity that cannot be taken away from you; it’s a dignity that grows in both joy and in suffering, pain, loss, and in dependence on others.
It’s a hard teaching but it is most certainly Good News: there is nothing in this world, no power, no principality, no authority, no person, no condition, no situation, no status, that can take away the dignity given you in the way you were made by God in his very own image; the Good News is that according to your baptism there is no suffering, no pain, no loss, that could ever diminish the dignity you have Christ; indeed, your suffering, pain, and loss—according to the grace of God—brings you closer to the one in whose life and death you have been baptized: our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ, the crucified one, the resurrected one.