Faith Works 11-1-14
For all the saints
Saints are sanctified persons, those with a touch of the sacred about them. "Sanctus," saint, the selected or "set apart" ones.
The Christian tradition identifies both a specific and a general set of saints. There are those whose heroic virtues or their witness unto death (the word "martyr" originally meant literally "witness) made them examples the Church Universal should remember, and honor.
So you have Saint Paul, Saint Francis, Saint Clare or Saint Teresa. The saints. They have days in the church calendar, and standard images by which they are recognized. These saints are set-apart teaching tools, selected stories for the ongoing narrative of the faith.
Then there are the saints that go marching in: the honored dead. The dead who die in the Lord, and who go to enter in with the saints of heaven. That category is open to all our fellow believers who pass from this life into the next, from the Church Militant to the Church Triumphant, who are now set apart from flesh and sorrow to heaven and joy everlasting. Many would affirm that all the faithful departed are, in their own sense, saints of the church.
My congregation isn't terribly liturgical, but we do always try to mark the Sunday closest to All Saints' Day, Nov. 1, with a time of remembrance of all our number who have died since the last All Saints' commemoration. This year, we have twenty to honor by name and chime. It's a sad moment and solemn, with the light of eternity shining a stark light on our momentary concerns in our own lives as we hear those names of people and lives we knew. There's a heaviness of loss, and a chance to shift our load, to reflect on changes in the community and transitions in our families before we all swing into the holiday season and the beginning of Advent just after Thanksgiving.
Nov. 2 is considered, in some calendars, All Souls' Day, "Day of the Dead" in Hispanic cultures, and everyone is definitely included there. It's a time in the American Southwest and south of the US border for entire families to go the cemetery and tend the graves, commune with their own beloved dead. Of the faith or not, all who have passed on deserve their families' respect and their memorials require tending.
Yet there is a third sense of saints and saintliness to consider, and that's the way the Apostle Paul talked about the holy ones, the set apart community, the sanctified. He called the people of the gathered community "you who are called to be saints," even as he called himself "less than the least of all the saints."
In other words, for many of you reading this column, Paul meant YOU. You are a saint.
Maybe he meant a saint in the making, a soul on the road to sanctification, but that's what he called us when we've come together as the Body of Christ: saints.
Our brothers and sisters in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints build the qualification into their community's name, but the import is the same. What is offered to us is what was offered to Saint Jerome and Saint Scholastica; what God wants to do within and through us is really no different than God's intentions with Saint Catherine of Siena or Saint Martin of Tours. Grace and peace, light and life, offered up to sinners to make of us saints.
Perhaps All Saints' Day is not of importance in your life, though the holy ones, the "hallows" of this day today are usually more remembered by commemorations of the evening before, the All Hallows Eve of Hallowe'en.
What the day of All Saints can be, for any of us, is a reminder of our common lot in the sight of God, the gifts given and given freely, in every age, as we look back to honored examples, and we look ahead to our ultimate destiny. It's a clearing of accounts from the borderlands of life and death as the seasons around us shift from fall to winter.
At any rate, remember at least to set your clocks back one hour tonight, or you might get a surprise when you arrive at church tomorrow!
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him who your favorite saint is at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.