for ALL the saints

Bible a biblical reflection, based on Isaiah 25.6-9, Revelation 21.1-6a, and John 11.32-44, for All Saints’ Day, November 1, 2015

“Lord,” the African American spiritual entreats, “I want to be a Christian in my heart.” This, for me, means loving unconditionally all people always and in all ways: in thought and feeling, in intention and action. And that means, Lord, it’s hard to be a Christian! But, whatever one’s faith or not, we humans, living in a world of other humans, inevitably, at times, rub hard shoulders and exchange sharp elbows with those who think and feel and act differently. Thus, truth is, it’s hard to be a person.

Still, for me, as a follower of Jesus, I believe I am called to be a Christian in my heart, loving all always. This I know for the Bible tells me so…

Isaiah’s lofty prophecy of an everlasting, ever-joyous mountaintop smorgasbord without death or tears seems, at first glance, to be a vision only for the downtrodden. For the overfed need no banquet and the cheerful no comforting. Yet who, even with a full belly, does not know the inner emptiness of dreams denied or expectations shattered? Who, even under sunlit skies, cannot recall shadowy, stormy days; knowing that they again will come? Truly, then, this is a vision for all of us. A vision of salvation. From the Latin, salvus. Wholeness. The healing that can come via the honest admission of the brokenness and sorrow in which all of us, in whatever ways, share.

Revelation offers another stunning vision of salvation that is all-encompassing, involving heaven, earth, and sea, gathering all, the mourning, crying, and dying, into life made new in a city whose gates are open to all people.

Jesus, in raising Lazarus, calling forth new life from death, gives us a foretaste of the fulfillment of these visions for all.

Through the lenses of these Bible passages, I see anew what All Saints’ Day is…

All Saints, Albrecht Durer, 1511

Since the 10th century, western Christendom has set aside the first day of November to honor all – past, present, and in time to come – who claim Jesus as Lord. However, in our era of ever increasing crying and mourning, fighting and dying for the sake of partisan, divisive and exclusive ideologies and theologies (enough…too many of which, I think, bear the Christian banner), I long for an inclusive, all-embracing Christianity.

I see All Saints’ Day, indeed, Christianity to be for all who follow Jesus’ way.[1] All who seek to be and to do love with and for all. All who dare confess their brokenness, their inability always to love all. All who, in that brokenness, cry for salvation; not freedom from self, but freedom to be self fully, faithfully as God intended from the dawn of creation. Freedom to live, not in the absence of death, but in its very midst. For, I believe, only when we can and will claim our wholeness – our feasting and hungering, our laughing and crying, our living and dying (that each of us does every day) – can we know salvation and share it with others, even those whose shoulders are hard and elbows sharp.

Illustration: All Saints, Albrecht Dürer, 1511

[1] A reference to Acts 9.2, “the way” being the designation for the earliest followers of Jesus before they became known as Christians (see Acts 11.26); a designation that inferred more a way of life, a way of being than an intellectual assent or adherence to an ideological or theological set of beliefs.

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2 thoughts on “for ALL the saints

  1. All Saints Day!! When I was in Catholic high school, we always had All Saints Day off from school. We were supposed to spend part of the day praying for all of the Saints in our lives, and we were required to write a paper about it. I always prayed for my Mom, my grandparents and my aunts and most years I was asked to read my paper aloud in class.

    A year or so ago, I remember thinking that all of the Saints I used to pray for were gone. But based on what you’ve written here, the Saints are all who follow Jesus. That adds many more folks to the list for me! I found myself last year being really sad on All Saints Day, mostly because I miss my aunts and my (pre-dementia) Mom so much! But you’ve given me hope.today, and I thank you Paul!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m happy, Loretta, to be an agent of hope for you. Yes, I believe that saints, in a Christian sense, are all who follow Jesus. (I write, “in a Christian sense,” for I believe that other traditions, whether faith-oriented or not, that is to say, philosophical schools of thought, can and do use the term “saint” and ascribe their own definitions.) Now, from a Christian point of view, I think that historically many have a sense that saints are those delineated by the church as possessing especial graces of discipleship or commitment or sacrifice for the sake of Jesus and the gospel, indeed, some having been martyred. However, as I see it, from a biblical perspective, “saint” is the title of a/any Christian. My namesake, the Apostle Paul, was fond a making this point. Two examples: “To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints…” (Romans 1.7a) and “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are called to be saints…” (1 Corinthians 1.7).

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