Saints, more than anyone else, are their true selves, the selves God has called them to be. And we are connected to them. By the Rev. Brad Mullis
I love All Saints Day. Sometimes I wonder why it’s one of my favorite days. I love the hymns and the readings. I love that this is a day that we Anglicans have in some way claimed as our own. Above all I love that it makes me feel connected. I’m connected in big and little ways, in practical and mystical ways, to something much, much bigger than myself. I belong to the Communion of Saints. The collect for All Saints reminds us that we are knit together in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of Christ our Lord.
The All Saints readings for this year give us pictures of what the Communion of Saints looks like. John’s Revelation takes us around the heavenly throne where white-robed martyrs among a multitude greater than anyone can count are praising the God who will shelter them and wipe every tear from their eyes. The Epistle, 1 John, calls us children of God, and marvels over the love the father has given us. And Matthew’s beatitudes, most scholars tell us, describe what saints look like. They are folks who are blessed, but blessed when they know they need what God has to give them. When they mourn, they will be comforted. When they are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, their reward in heaven will be great.
These can be intimidating pictures of sainthood, I suppose. But if you think about it, these passages focus much more on God’s gifts than on the virtue of the “saints.” Sainthood, theirs and ours, is God’s doing. It’s a gift, a call through baptism into the life of faith and hope and service among other saints in the confidence that God is somehow transforming us and the world. It’s not something that we work our way to or earn. We all know that sainthood is messy business.
And I expect that the apostles and martyrs didn’t start out in stained glass. Saints, more than anyone else, are their true selves, the selves God has called them to be. And we are connected to them.
The truth is that we are already saints. It is also true that God gives us the freedom to forsake this gift, to fail to live up to it, to choose not to exercise the capacity for sainthood that belongs to all of us. Karl Barth says it’s like being a prisoner who has received a pardon. You’re a free person and your freedom is real, but until you get up and walk through the door of your cell, you’re a prisoner of your own failure to act. Or, if you don’t like that one, how about Barbara Brown Taylor’s analogy: it is like knowing there is a check for a million dollars in the next room with your name on it. The money is yours, you’re a millionaire, but until you claim it and cash it you’re as poor as if it never existed. One common expression puts it a third way: use it or lose it, the saying goes, and that’s the way it is with sainthood too. Once we have been baptized we are saints. Our vocation, our calling from then on, is to act like saints and exercise our sainthood, practice it, so that we do not lose our God-given capacity to be saints.
You are loved; act like it. You are redeemed; act like it. You are a saint; act like it. Become what you already are and you will be blessed, because blessedness – which means happiness, joy, fullness of life – is just what happens when you are who you were created to be, living the life you were created to live. Incidentally, that is what the kingdom of God is all about.
Remember that you are a saint, part of a great communion, and you are connected. Now live that way. —Brad Mullis
This article was originally featured in the November 2014 edition of Trinity Topics. Read this and other editions here.