All Saints Sunday
Quick, name a saint!
My first thought was Drew Brees. (I watched part of the Purdue football game yesterday, and the New Orleans Saints' quarterback was on the sideline). Then I thought of Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland (because who doesn't love St. Patrick's Day?). Then I thought of my mom, who would be my candidate for sainthood for raising three rambunctious children, each born one year after the other, and for the unconditional love she showed her kids, grandkids, great-grandkids and great-great grandkids.
Do you believe in Jesus, and are you following Him in faith, the best you can? I have good news: by the Biblical definition, you are a saint! The apostle Paul begins many of his letters to the churches like he began his letter to the Romans:
"Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ...to all that are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." (Romans 1:1, 1:7 NIV) Saints are not especially holy people who have days named after them. Saints are the beloved of God who live faithfully for Him. Saints do not always have saintly behavior. God sees us as saints through the lens of the holiness and righteousness of Jesus Christ. An imperfect church is made up of saints. Even the cantankerous ones.
The Church of Jesus Christ is made up of all those whose faith is in Him. This Church has two expressions: one glorified and one still in the messy battle of life. The glorified Church is the Church Triumphant. This Church is made up of the people who were faithful in life, have died, and have received the triumph of their faith in eternity.
The Church here on earth, still in the messy battle, is the Church Militant. That's us! Still striving against evil. Still loving God and loving our neighbor with the love of Jesus. Still making Jesus real in a dark and broken world.
And here's the thing: there is only one Church. We are them and they are us. We are connected to those who are glorified, and the triumphant are connected to us who are militant. The picture in the book of Hebrews is one of the throng in a stadium, cheering on the runners in a race.
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith." (Hebrews 12:1-2 NIV) The Church Triumphant forms a great cloud of witnesses, cheering on the Church Militant as we run our leg of the race.
We are called to remember the faithful who have gone before us, because we stand on their shoulders. November 1 is All Saints Day, which is set aside to remember those who have completed their leg of the race. Today is All Saints Sunday, and in our worship services, we will call out the names of five from our fellowship who have gone on to glory in the past year. We will remember them with the lighting of a candle, the tolling of a bell, and a moment of silence. And we will give thanks for their faithfulness, because it is the foundation for our own. There would be no leg of the race to run if others had not run their leg before us.
So if your journey in life includes parents or grandparents or a teacher or a pastor or a dear friend who passed on faith to you and who now reside in heaven, give thanks for them. I love the words of a glorious, old, All Saints Day hymn, written by William W. How in 1864. I'll leave you with them:
For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.
Thou wast their rock, their fortress, and their might;
Thou Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;
Thou in the darkness drear, their one true light.
O may Thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
And win with them the victor's crown of gold.
O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
From earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost: