This past Sunday was All Saints Sunday, so several of us joined Dad for the worship service at my home church where Mother’s name was read and her photo shown along with others from that congregation who were being remembered. It was a very nice service, and it included Holy Communion and a sense of being surrounded by the “great cloud of witnesses” described in the Epistle to the Hebrews. In some ways it was more difficult than I expected, but I was glad to be there. It was my first time to be on the receiving side of an All Saints Sunday or Memorial Service, and I realized why so many families over the years have told me how much those services help with the grief process.
Of course it caused me to reflect on my gratitude for my Mother, whose death this past July still feels unexpected. The service also caused me to reflect upon this whole idea of “saints.” As you probably know, in the Protestant tradition we don’t recognize any particular saints, but rather we believe that all persons in Christ are part of the community of the “saints of God.” We believe in what many Protestants have called “the priesthood of all believers” – the sense that all of us have direct access to God. Those of us called to be pastors/priests/clergy are not any closer to God in the sense of being a mediator or barrier, but rather we are companions who help others find their own way to God. So the “saints” recognized by our Catholic friends are not different from any of the rest of us, except by their own degree of faithfulness. All of us can, in fact, follow their example and be faithful members of the “saints of God” in the Christian community.
I especially like what Carlyle Marney, my preaching professor in seminary, said about that concept of the “priesthood of all believers.” He said that does not mean I am competent to be my own priest, and you are not competent to be your own priest. Rather, he said, it means that the Christian community provides us with “a priest at every elbow” to show us examples of faith and to guide us on our faith journey. All of us are saints, priests, and models of faith to encourage one another.
And yet … surely there are special persons in each of our lives whose “sainthood” or “witness” is especially meaningful to us. Every one of us can name a few persons who have been faith guides for us. All Saints Sunday reminds us to give thanks for those who play a special role of “sainthood” for us.
The real challenge, and perhaps the real meaning of All Saints Sunday, is that each of us is called to be that special person for someone else. By our own faithful witness, each one of us can provide an example and a model for someone else. All who claim the name of Christ are saints-in-the-making. If the reign of God is to become real in our time, then we need all the saints to be faithful.