Monday, November 5, 2012

The Saints of God

All Saints is one of my favorite feasts of the church year, but it’s also a time that can make me a little weepy, remembering that great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us—what in the old days were sometimes called “the saints triumphant.” I like to think of the Table where we break the bread and share the cup as just one end of a long table that extends through time and into eternity. At our parish celebrations this past weekend, we named all who have died in the past year since last All Saints Day to remind ourselves that they are still with us in some mystical way, and that we are with them, and that through the love of Christ nothing can separate us from them. All Saints Day is like a big family reunion with all those whom we love but see no longer; an opportunity to be mindful of all of those people whom we still carry in our hearts, that great cloud of witnesses who have left their mark on us. 

We 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. This great children’s hymn reminds us that the saints lived not only in ages past, but that we can meet them even today in shops or at tea or at Starbucks or the gym. They are doctors and nurses and teachers and business people and all of those volunteers helping out in New Jersey and New York City. The words of this wonderful hymn and the tune that goes with it were written in the 1920s by an English mother who was, at the time, in her twenties. She wrote it (and a whole bunch of other hymns) to teach her children the faith. I love that! I often find that this is how people’s faith deepens: when we pass it on to the next generation. Whether or not we write hymns or teach church school, all of us are called to tell the story - to share the good news.

Now my Lutheran colleague would rightly remind us of what Luther said: that we are always both simultaneously saints and sinners. True enough. But sadly, and far too often, I worry that we can get bogged down on the sinner part. The broken, wounded parts of ourselves and of others are so painfully obvious. And sometimes we speak, and act from those places of deep pain. If we are not careful, we can start to see the world only through that set of lenses.  

But All Saints gives us a chance to open our eyes to the shiny wonderful parts of ourselves and others, even in the midst of real brokenness and dysfunction. We are created in God's own image, and like stained glass we sometimes allow the light of Christ to reflect in our daily lives. Sometimes we really do sparkle: patient and brave and true. It makes one want to sing!

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