Dear Grace Church Family and Friends,
This whole week is “sandwiched” between All Saints Day celebrations: All Saints Day on Monday, to All Saints Sunday this coming Sunday. (Yes, this next Sunday is, technically, the start of next week, but I think the imagery still works if we think of this as an overflowing sandwich.) Since All Saints is usually confined to one or two days in most years, it’s rather splendid to get an (short) All Saints season this year. Considering how important the saints in our lives have been, it’s great to have a little more time to honor them. Here is a reflection on those saints who have saved us. As Virginia Bishop Porter Taylor tells us, we should all aspire “to be one too.”
Saints: “I mean to be one too”
Who are the people who saved your life? When you think of the turns your life has taken – the times when you could have gone one way or another – who helped you find your way?
Let me ask this in another way. When you think of situations that you don’t think you can handle, when you need to ask for help, what faces come to your mind? Or when you think about men and women you admire, who comes to mind? Whoever these people are, they are your saints.
Too often we are too smart for our own good. We think of saints as kind of mythic figures who lived a long time ago and lived legendary lives. We think saints are people in stained glass windows. We think they are saints because of miraculous deeds in their lives that make them so different from us.
Let us remember that our common calling is to be saints. Sainthood is not about stigmatas, or visions, or levitating, or making the sun stand still, or miraculous healings. It’s about being so connected to the love of God in Jesus Christ that this love radiates out from you in your life “like shook foil,” as the poet Gerard Manly Hopkins says.
Saints are God lovers. St. Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is the human being fully alive,” and that’s who saints are: men and women fully alive because they are connected to the source of life. The great Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel said: “Eternity is not perpetual future but perpetual presence. God has planted in us the seed of eternal life. The world to come is not only a hereafter but also a herenow.” (typo intended!)
There are two states of being: non-life and eternal life. Every experience – every act – every moment fits into one of these two states. Non-life is the life we live apart from God and God’s will for us. Non-life is false life – the life of distraction – the life of anxiety – the life of sin. When we are immersed in non-life, we forget who we are and as a result, we feel alone – we hunger for communion. The non-life is the life apart from grace – a life in a world where nothing comes easily or freely but we must earn everything we receive and prove moment after moment that we have some worth.
In that non-life place, we feel cut off from all the living – we feel unconnected. In that non-life place, we’ll do anything to jolt us into feeling something: music, films, videos, shopping, alcohol, anything. That’s where so much of our society lives.
However, there is another place; a place called eternal life. That’s where we are connected to the source and, therefore, to one another, creation, and all that has come before us. As the saints tell us, “All the way to heaven is heaven and all the way to hell is hell.” The saints are a roadway to heaven for us.
Once when I was a young priest, I was greeting people after Church. A young boy yanked on my alb and said in a loud voice: “Why do we pray for the dead?” I couldn’t remember anything from seminary, so I said the first thing I thought of: “Because they are not dead – they are alive.”
And they are. We celebrate All Saints’ Day because the dead aren’t dead. They live in us and beckon us to live for the glory of God by being fully alive. They comfort us when we are downcast – or in despair. They intercede for us – and beckon us to be fully alive.
The truth is all love is eternal. The people who love you and have gone onto greater glory still love you, and that love makes them saints for you. The miracles we celebrate are not about levitating or stigmata’s or visions. The miracle is that love never dies – we remember the saints in our life and are remembered to them.
However, we don’t simply remember the saints; we let them inspire us to offer our lives for God. We honor them by living our lives for God’s glory and by making a difference where we are.
As the hymn reminds us:
They lived not only in ages past;
there are hundreds of thousands still.
The world is bright with the joyous saints
who love to do Jesus’ will.
You can meet them in school, or in lanes or at sea,
in church, or in trains or in shops or at tea,
for the saints of God are just folk like me,
and I mean to be one too.