In the revised calendar for most of the Anglican Communion the four Sundays before Advent are called Sundays before Advent. The reason for this is that the season of Advent can be very short, and thus gives extra time to reflect upon some of the main themes of Advent, the reign of Christ on earth and heaven and the kingdom. In short November is commonly known as Kingdom time, commencing with All Saints and All Souls, and concluding with the celebration of Christ the King.
The commemoration of All Saints and All Souls at the beginning of November reminds us that the Kingdom consists of not only the visible but also the invisible. Traditionally we speak of the Church consisting of the militant, expectant and triumphant. Never are we more conscious of this than at each celebration of the Eucharist.
See now thy children, making intercession
Through him our Saviour, Son of God incarnate,
For all thy people, living and departed,
Pleading before thee.
Christians professed their belief in “the communion of saints” every Sunday.The Caroline Divine, Mark Frank preached on this day that by honouring the saints we “set a high value and esteem upon them” and seek out “their company, and take pleasure to be in it.” We also are following the example of “the primitive Church [which] … recited the names of the most famous saints and martyrs, and gave God thanks for their good examples, even at the altar itself.” By keeping this day and other saints days “we might learn never to make a separation from this communion, never to break off from ‘the doctrine once delivered to the saints,’ nor leave one single virtue unpractised which we find in any of them.”
So on All Saints' Day we recall in thanksgiving all those who have been faithful to Christ in so many ways and under so many conditions, and whose names are known only by God and the angels. Indeed in our everyday life we see glimpses of this kind of saintliness by those who quietly pray and do God's will whatever the cost.
The following day, All Souls' Day, we remember the dead with a reminder that to reign in glory with Christ as the saints do, we have to be purged of all that separates us from Perfection. In the early Church it was taught that all souls went to purgatory to be purified or purged of all sins (much different concept from that taught by the Western Church from c.1200). It is a day when we pray for the departed.
November ends with proclaiming Christ as King of all the cosmos. He is King and Lord of all. Indeed His rule is like a canopy covering the entire creation. Unlike the kingdoms of this world His kingdom is not fleeting; "it will never be destroyed, nor will it ever pass to another people." (Dan.2:44) One of the Advent messages is that Christ will return and proclaim this world as His. By virtue of our Baptism we are made subjects of Christ's kingdom, and inheritors of it. However to gain our inheritance we must acknowledge Christ as our king, and live by His rules. We soon discover that Our Lord's teaching on His kingdom was very different from the kingdoms of this world as He informed Pilate. Christ told Pilate that as a King He could not threaten him because His kingdom was not of this world, which promotes selfishness, greed, gluttony, jealousy, pride and exploitation.
How different Christ's kingdom is, was illustrated in the Sermon on the Mount. It is about possessing the virtues of humility, meekness, purity, gentleness, mercy, perseverance, persecution, and seeking with all our hearts the establishment of peace, justice and truth in His world. Above all His kingdom is about love, forgiveness and service, and not about judging.
Have we ever noticed when reading the gospels how much of our Lord's teaching is devoted to the Kingdom? For instance the well-known parables of the sower, the mustard seed and the leaven, and the goats and sheep in St. Matthew's gospel are all about aspects of God's kingdom. From the last of these we discover what is expected of us in service in the kingdom: to feed the hungry, to refresh the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to visit the prisoners, and to comfort the bereaved.
As Christians we belong to the Kingdom through our brotherhood in Christ, which in turn means that we are members of a community. Thus the ideal of Christian living is communal. We all have various gifts and talents given to us by God to be shared and enjoyed with others. Within God's kingdom, we learn that there is nothing that is exclusively mine; everything is a gift from God. So our lives must be spent in our giving and sharing, and our willingness to receive from others. Just as God gave and gives all, so must we. There is no room for burying or hiding our talents in God's kingdom.
Furthermore we must never forget that Christ rules His kingdom, and as any ruler does, expects obedience. That means that at the beginning of each day we commend ourselves into God's care and guidance to do what He wants us to do that day. We do not pray in the morning that God will bless what we shall undertake for the day, but rather "here I am Lord, I come to do Your will". Members of God's kingdom should live in such a way that they are always open to the Living Spirit working within them, and therefore we can never pre-empt anything. By living this way we know that God will bless our day.
Therefore our King expects us to be faithful subjects. Faithfulness will invariably lead to carrying our cross, and there are no "buts" in faithfulness. It is a total surrender to His will and to bowing to his love and going wherever that takes us. To the would-be-disciple who wanted to bury his father first, Our Lord told him, to "let the dead bury the dead". Once we have put our hand to the plough we must keep it there. If we are trying to be a true "heir", we shall find all kinds of situations that will test this faithfulness. For examples, our television viewing challenges the time for meditation and prayer; the cashier's mistake in our favour challenges our honesty; a day's outing on Sundays challenges our duty to attend the Eucharist; our listening to smutty joke challenges our purity; our over-eating at the dining table challenges our temperance; and our listening to gossip challenges our love for our neighbour. How we respond to these challenges will reflect the extent of our faithfulness to our Lord. We must never doubt Christ when He said, "Who is not with Me, is against Me".
If we do seek His kingdom with all our hearts, then we have Christ's assurance we shall never lack for anything. Persevere unto the end is the message of the saints.