Today, All Saints Day, is a special day set apart by the church each year. This practice goes back to the earliest centuries of Christianity. A day to remember, to honor and give thanks for the lives of the faithful who have gone on before us in glory to be with God. It truly is a glorious and difficult day, a day where we mourn and we celebrate, a day where we weep and we laugh, a where we embrace all of the beauty of this life and to remind ourselves of the truth of our gospel, that we are never for without hope for we are people of the resurrection.
All Saints Day is also a day to reaffirm our faith, here and now, in the midst of the time that we live in. It is a day where we recognize that we often look to the faith of others, those who are part of that great cloud of witnesses. We their faithfulness, their love and their witness gives us strength to live faithfully, to live lovingly here and how. As writer Shane Claiborne put it:
Since its earliest centuries, the church set aside a day to remember the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us in faith. However hard it might seem to follow the way of Jesus in our own time and place, this day we remember that we may be crazy, but we are not alone.
It feels crazy sometimes to live in the way of Jesus in this day and age. Sometimes we look out at our world and all we see is heartache, violence, apathy, and rage. Sometimes it feels like the universe is a cold, dark and lonely place. This week was no different as just over a week ago our world was rocked with the news of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue. A shooting, another shooting at a house of prayer. People whose lives were lost because they wanted to pray.
Someone in my Facebook world posted in response to this shooting, “maybe love isn’t enough to overcome such overwhelming hate.” Part of me wanted to go there with my friend, but I remembered, “however hard it might seem to follow the way of Jesus in our own time and place, All Saints Day we remember that we may be crazy, but we are not alone.”
Sometimes it seems crazy to try to live in the way of Jesus in these crazy times, in any time really. It seems crazy to look out at the world in all of it’s glory and agony and still hold onto this belief that in the end love will always win.
It’s not always easy because this road is tough, but there are those who have traveled it before us, who have blazed the trail for our generation and generations to come: the saints of the church, the great cloud of witnesses, all of those who have gone on in faith before us. These are folks who lived real lives in the real world, these were ordinary, everyday kind of people; beautiful broken people, who tried and failed. They were ordinary people who were seekers and doubters, people just like you and me who tried to live a life of humble sacrificial love. These were people who sometimes got it right and sometimes they didn’t, but through it all they trusted in a love and power bigger and greater than us alone.
That word saint that we use in the church can be a bit tricky for some. Most of us probably think of our Catholic friends and their belief around the saints. But our Catholic friends have a different understanding of Saint than we do in the United Methodist Church. When you hear the word saint, what picture do you conjure in your mind? Is it someone who is perfect? Someone who was pure and holy in a way that we could never be? I think more often than not we picture heroes and heroines of the faith who we idolize but feel as though we could never emulate.
This sentiment is captured in a quote from a wonderful and faithful Catholic woman named Dorothy Day. She was the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement and worked tirelessly with the poor and homeless in our country. She said once, “don’t make me a saint because I don’t want to be dismissed that easily.”
When we talk about the saints of the church on All Saints Sunday, we aren’t talking about people who are different or beyond any of us. We are talking about ordinary, everyday kind of people. People who lived this life in the way of Jesus, striving to follow his great commandment to love God with all we have and all we are, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. People who heard that commandment and applied it to their life, to their family, to their community. And sometimes when we live in this way and love in this way, we love with a love that is greater than our own, we tap into the flow of God’s unconditional, overflowing love for us and for our world.
Who are the saints in your life, people who loved with a love greater than their own, unlikely ordinary people who refused to give up on hope, humble people who gave of themselves for others, strong quiet types who did the right thing because it was the right thing?
When I think about All Saints Day I often remember my great-grandmother Dolores Campos. She lived a long and full life, dying at the age of 100. She was an immigrant from Mexico and lived a tough life suffering persecution and racism. She was a quiet, humble and faithful woman. When I lived in El Paso as a boy I used to go over to her house every other week and mow her grass. Looking back on it I feel so blessed to have had that time with her over those years.
She had one of those old push mowers, no gas or electricity to power her mower. She used to have me edge her grass with these sheers, which were basically a pair of scissors. It was tough work. Of course I would often complain to her about how hard it was to do the work with her mower and her garden sheers. She would tell me, “Robert, mi nieto, this is good for you, it makes you strong.” She would give me a 5 dollar bill and she would cook me breakfast. The best breakfast you could ever imagine, pancakes, eggs and chorizo, beans, hash browns. A breakfast made with love. We would sit and talk. That was the best part of the whole morning. My great-grandmother had a tremendous faith and because of her faith, she would talk with me about Jesus, about the power of prayer, about how no matter what happened to her she knew God was with her. She would say things to me like, “Robert, nieto, you must always trust in his love, always.”
There is a power in our memories. There is a power in that faithful act of remembering a loved one, for remembering their life. It grounds us in our lives, it grounds us in the moment, it grounds us in love, it grounds us in the Holy Spirit. When we remember we are inspired by that relationship, by that love which lives on in and through us, guiding us to this day.
On this All Saints Day, we give thanks for all those from our community who died this past year. We give thanks for their lives, their beautiful love which we carry with us, which lives on in and through this beloved community, and for their lives which in God’s undying love, will never end.