Siôn B. E. Rhys Evans
6 min readNov 1, 2020
At St Thomas’s Church, Salisbury

Sermon on All Saints’ Day, Sunday 1 November 2020

for the Church of the Holy Trinity and St Tudno’s Church, in the Ministry Area of Llandudno

The Ministry Area is following a teaching lectionary, with passages drawn from the Gospel according to St Matthew, during the Sundays of September, October and November. The readings, and the order of service as used at Holy Trinity, can be found here.

Listen to the Gospel of Christ according to Saint Matthew. Glory be to you, O Lord.

At that time: Jesus said, ‘A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” He answered, “I will not”; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went
to the second and said the same; and he answered, “I go, sir”; but
he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way
of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax-collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.’

This is the Gospel of the Lord.

Praise to you, O Christ.

The son answered, “I will not go and work in the vineyard,” but later he changed his mind and went.

I’m a big fan of a good medieval Doom painting.

I like to think that there used to be one on the east wall of St Tudno’s — perhaps it’s hiding there still, under the whitewash and behind the Commandment boards.

Doom paintings were, once upon a time, a common site in churches across the country. One of the best surviving examples in the UK is at St Thomas’s Church in Salisbury. There it is, magnificent above the chancel arch — painted over during the reign of Elizabeth I, uncovered in reign of Victoria, and restored only last year.

Dooms are depictions of the Last Judgement — of Christ’s return in glory to judge the quick and the dead — there, in Salisbury, he sits on a throne of rainbows, surrounded (as at his Crucifixion) by the sun and moon, his still wounded hands the icons of the salvation he promised and wrought for us. Around him, angels and the gates of heaven are welcoming the saved; the jaws of fiery hell are swallowing the damned.

One of the traditional dynamics of these pictures is the contrast between the ordered peace of heaven and the disordered turmoil of hell. Look at that neat, still line of apostles at Jesus’s feet, and compare it to perplexed tumult of the chained gang heading into the devouring mouth of the beast.

In this altarpiece by Fra Angelico now in the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin, the contrast is starker yet. Look at the carefully tidy, robed tiers of the saints in peaceable gold and blue, and look at the squashed, teeming, naked bodies in the dark, red, messy rooms of hell.

Good, ordered, respectable, peaceable heaven.

Guilty, chaotic, shameful, disordered hell.

The son answered, “I will not go and work in the vineyard,” but later he changed his mind and went.

In our passage from Matthew’s Gospel this week, Jesus is speaking to those who think that peaceable, respectable righteousness is theirs. He’s speaking to religious leaders, those whose life and teaching should be a light to others. But he has seen the way they rejected the witness of John the Baptist; he understands the way they keep trying to trick and trap him; above all, he knows that they have hardened their hearts against the way of true righteousness that leads to the heart of God.

They have hardened their hearts; but others, whose lives speak of chaos and shame and disorder, have opened their hearts to the message of Jesus and John. “The tax-collectors and the prostitutes believed,” but not you, Jesus tells the religious leaders. “Truly I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of heaven ahead of you.” Amid the perplexed tumult of life, in dark, red, messy rooms, Jesus’s message has been heard and heeded more seriously than in hushed, marbled halls.

The son answered, “I will not go and work in the vineyard,” but later he changed his mind and went.

Jesus knows something else about the religious leaders. He knows that they have hardened their hearts against him because they want to keep the peace. They don’t want Jesus’s prophetic, challenging, dangerous words about justice, forgiveness and a world transformed to be heard. They are the custodians of good, ordered, respectable, peaceable society, and radical good news threatens the chaos of breakdown and change. Jesus knows (indeed, they know) that their good society is not built on God’s foundations, even though they cover it with a recitation of holy words. And yet the established order must be maintained.

As we, today, think about those who lead our society, and the decisions they must make, we hear Jesus reminding us that law and order and good governance need to be built on the solid rock, on the example of the good shepherd, under the shade of the mustard tree, laced and leavened with forgiveness and mercy. Otherwise peace is fake and orderedness is a coat of paint over injustice.

The son answered, “I will not go and work in the vineyard,” but later he changed his mind and went.

The story Jesus tells the religious leaders is a story about a son who changes his mind, who changes his ways. It’s a reminder to all of us that the Christian life is not always, perhaps is not even primarily, one of ordered paths and straight ways and quiet, peaceable minds. The Christian life is an invitation to self-examination, to questioning, to listening, to being disturbed and challenged, to repentance, to changing direction and turning around.

The son answered, “I will not go and work in the vineyard,” but later he changed his mind and went.

There they sit, the saints, in tidy, ordered line; no panic, no anxiety for them when the trumpet sounds. I wonder if that’s quite right. We honour saints because they show us, they teach us that the salvation and redemption that Christ offers to us can be worked out, can be neared, through a life lived in communion with God. That doesn’t, however, mean a perfect life, a tidy life, on straight paths and quiet lanes. We honour saints and not angels on All Saints’ Day because, like us, they have had to work their salvation and redemption out amid the mess and brokenness, the joys and sorrows, of a life well-lived.

I wonder, perhaps, whether those Doom paintings were actually so popular during the Middle Ages, not because they taught our forebears to fear hell and to the adore the pure, but because in front of their eyes, and above that altar-table where Christ body was broken and re-membered Sunday by Sunday, they saw a depiction of all of human life — its pleasures and its mess, the peace we yearn for and the pity and the hope we know along the way.

Wherever you are this Sunday, may the saints in heaven pray for you, and may you know that our wounded, living God walks with you and holds you close. Amen.



Siôn B. E. Rhys Evans

Priest, Diocesan Secretary | Offeiriad, Ysgrifennydd Esgobaethol | Duc in altum