Today’s Word from Reverend David Bieniek…
Yesterday in the church year we celebrated All Saints Day. This is a time in the church year when we pause to remember those who have died in our families and our church communities, and to give thanks for the gifts they have been to us and to our lives. This year, in the midst of the pandemic, it has become even more poignant since we have lost so many more people in our country and worldwide.
All Saints has an interesting history. It started off as a Celtic celebration called Samhain which gave rise to our holiday Halloween. The early pre-Christian culture believed this was the night when the veil between this world and the next was thin, allowing the dead to return to visit. As Christianity spread, they took this idea and celebrated All Saints and All Souls Days which are both times when we recall the dead and celebrate our memories of them and their lives. In the Mexican tradition, this time is Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) when families gather to remember and celebrate ancestors. One of the traditions is to go to the graveyard with a picnic to dine with those who have died and yet remain with us.
But what is a saint? In the Protestant tradition, saints have a broader meaning than they might have in the Catholic or Orthodox realms. There are two explanations that I have used over the years to identify the saints in my life. One idea seems to have multiple origin stories including Nelson Mandela – “A saint is a sinner that keeps on trying.” The idea is that all of us are sinners; we all do things that fall short of the mark of living the perfect life and loving in the perfect way. But a saint is one who keeps on trying to do better. In that sense, I believe we are all saints as we strive to be better persons and love more fully.
The second image of a saint comes via a small child, always the best wisdom. A pastor once asked the children of his church gathered at his feet for the Children’s Sermon, “What is a saint?” A small child looked around in wonder at the stained-glass windows and said, “A saint is a person the light shines through.” This child had always been told the windows depicted saints and in this child’s eyes, that meant the Light shone through them. And what glorious light it is!
Whether the light is actual light, as through a stained-glass window, or a metaphorical light that represents the goodness and love we seek in this world; saints are those individuals who are examples of a worthy, holy, and whole life lived in this world to advance the Dominion of God and to care for and love people and creation.
Who is it that has shown light to you in your life and has passed on out of this world? Who do you claim as your personal “saints,” regardless of how the world might have seen them? Who comes to mind when you hope to see someone again when you get to Heaven?
As we remember those who have passed on from this life into the next, may we keep in mind those we have loved and have passed on to the next life. May we give thanks for the gifts they were to us. And may we always glory in the wonderous light they shine in our lives.
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…
In Christian love,