All Saints and All Souls day are coming up November 1 and November 2, respectively. Historically, in the Catholic tradition, All Saints Day has been a celebration of the communion of saints, those people who were believed to have made it to heaven. All Souls was a day to pray for all souls–particularly those who may be lingering in purgatory.
Today, many Protestant liturgical traditions use the days interchangeably. Some churches use one of the days to remember those in a congregation who have died in the last year. Others choose to have a day of remembrance for all who have gone on to Glory ahead of us. Often a day of remembrance happens on the Sunday closest to those dates (November 3 this year).
The word ‘saint” is often associated with extraordinary people.
Their faith is unshakable
Their love for humanity is undeniable.
Their service to others is unmatchable.
Their trust in God is unwavering.
And the chances of us ever measuring up to that standard is pretty unlikely.
But the truth is that we are all Saints. The Book of Ephesians tells us we have an inheritance. We are children of God. And as children of God, we are already saints, because divine life flows within us and through us. The degree of our “saintliness” has to do with our willingness to respond to God’s grace. (see Gratitude on the Move)
When we speak of the communion of Saints, we aren’t merely talking about those who have been officially canonized by the Catholic church or the great Christian pioneers and martyrs. Our communion of saints is a much more familiar crowd–friends, parents, grandparents, those who have gone before us, the ones on whose shoulders we stand, the ones whose lives and witness have brought us to this day.
If we know anything about the history of our faith, we know that we are here today because our ancestors in the faith raised their voices, prayed and taught the faith. They were willing to go to jail, to be thrown to the lions and be burned at the stake. We are who we are today because of their faith, devotion and bravery. Thanks be to God!
But…we are also here today, we are who we are, in the condition in which we find ourselves, because we also had biological and spiritual ancestors who sat on their hands, cared only for themselves and thought little about the impact of their actions on future generations.
We are the descendants of slave-owners and Jim Crow supporters. We are related to people who held little regard for this earth and didn’t know or didn’t care about any ozone layer. We come from those who embraced greed and gain over love and service. Our faith family tree is filled with saints, sinners and skeletons.
One of these All Saints/All Souls Days our names will be read.
We are the potential saints for future generations. We are the shoulders on which others will stand. Will we be the ancestors who sat on their hands or ancestors who raised their hands? Sometimes we forget that we aren’t just living our busy lives; we are also laying a foundation, molding a future, and establishing a legacy.From “Saints and Sinners” by Mary W. Anderson in The Christian Century (October 18, 2003)
We are laying a foundation, molding a future and establishing a legacy. How’s that going? What kind of ancestors will we be?
Will we be preservationists or evangelists? Will we leave a legacy of justice or a bequest of selfishness? Will our descendants inherit a spirit of judgment and exclusion, or one of acceptance and hospitality? Will we be the branches of the faith family tree that our descendants lift up in admiration or look down on in shame? What kind of saints will we be?
Rev. Anne Russ is an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), currently based in New York City. Doubting Believer is an online, inclusive and progressive Christian community. Follow us on Facebook and get emails to keep up with all that is happening.