Celebrating Saints



Candles at the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem:  I lit one in memory of my paternal Grandmother and another in memory of my maternal Grandfather when I was there in 2007



This week we are coming to a 3 day period of prayer, a triduum of holy days.  October 31st marks Halloween or All Hallow's Eve.  All Saints' Day falls on November 1st each year (in Western Christianity.  For our Eastern brothers and sisters All Saints falls on the first Sunday after Pentecost).  And November 2nd commemorates All Souls' Day.  These 3 days are set aside as a time of prayer for the saints who have gone before.  Sometime in the 8th century, the Church designated November 1st as a a feast day for All Saints'.  November 2nd was established as All Souls' Day, a day to honor those who would soon be saints.  As is typical in Christianity, these dates were near pagan festivals.  The church repurposed them.  The autumnal dates mimic the barrenness of the earth during this season, pointing to the close of summer.  The harvest had come.  The umber hues and solemness of the surroundings acted as sign posts of death.  And so, each year at this time, we have the opportunity to reflect on death, on life beyond death, on those who have gone before, and on those who have showed us the faith.

"All Saints' Day is a time to remember Christians of every time and place, honoring those who lived faithfully and shared their faith with us.  Many churches read the names of their members who died in the past year." (http://www.umc.org/site/apps/nlnet/content3.aspx?c=lwL4KnN1LtH&b=4746355&ct=3166373)

This year, one of the lectionary texts set aside for All Saints' is from the Apocrypha.  That means you may or may not have it in your Bible.  The Apocrypha is a collection of intertestamental books that falls between the Old and New Testament.  It is known more to our Catholic brothers and sisters.  Apocrypha is a transliteration of the Greek Word:  ἀπόκρυφα, which literally translates to mean "those hidden away."  The Wisdom of Solomon falls under that category of what are sometimes called the deuterocanonical texts.  I think it is fitting that the Book of Wisdom is under the umbrella of texts that are hidden away.  Wisdom is something that we seek and wander after, and yet wisdom is something that typically comes from living mindfully and learning along the way.  

Hear now these words of encouragement and hope, from someone who wrote in the name of King Solomon:



But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them.  In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be an affliction, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace.  For though in the sight of humanity they were punished, their hope is full of immortality.  Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good, because God tested them and found them worthy of God's self; like gold in the furnace God tried them, and like a sacrificial burnt offering God accepted them.  In the time of their visitation they will shine forth, and will run like sparks through the stubble.  They will govern nations and rule over peoples and the Lord will reign over them forever.  Those who trust in God will understand truth, and the faithful will abide with God in love, because grace and mercy are upon God's elect, and God watches over God's holy ones.

Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9


For those of us who are left to mourn, death is a difficult thing, even when our heads tell us they are at peace.  Even when our minds know that they have been received in to the arms of love, into God's mercy and grace, our hearts ache with grieving.  Today's text from the Book of Wisdom (the Wisdom of Solomon) was written as an encouragement to the persecuted church by a Jew from Alexander.  Most likely it was written between 37 to 41 CE, during the reign of Gaius Caligula.  This era was a time of heavy persecution, and these words were meant to be a light at the end of the tunnel, a beacon of hope that the best is yet to come.  This line of thought was somewhat counter cultural for some of his fellow Jews.  This notion of the hope of immortality was not the norm for most Jews.  Many believed that when you died you would exist in some indeterminate state.  Here the writer is claiming the hope of eternal life.

"The souls of the righteous":  In this particular text "righteous" has the connotation of the ones who have been delivered.  This book has an exodus motif and draws parallels to the people of Israel who were delivered from the hands of the Egyptians.  We, as Christians, are keenly aware of our need for deliverance, our need for divine grace.  Because of God's unfathomable love for us we have been rescued.  God initiates reconciling us back to God, ourselves, one another, and all of creation.  For us, this deliverance comes through the life, teaching, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus.  Through Jesus we are saved, literally we are healed, made whole.  God was already at work before the incarnation, before God in Christ came to earth.  God was already a God of grace and love.  People were already responding to the God who wants to be in relationship with all persons.  God is already choosing us, all we have to do is receive.  We are all elected, we are all holy ones of God if we only have eyes to see and ears to hear.  Being made in God's image we can share in immortality.  Our lives can be lived out in sacrificial love for one another, and that can serve as our burnt offering to God.  We love because God first loved us!  

Sometimes we look on those who have died with pity.  I am compelled by Professor Dumbledore's words to Harry Potter:  

“Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and, above all, those who live without love.

Dumbledore


Each year around this time I am persuaded that the saints among us are the ones who have taught us how to love, who have pointed us to God who is love.  Each year around this time I find myself reflecting on those saints who were influential in my life.  Two people repeatedly come to mind -- my Grandma (my Dad's mom) and my Papa (my Mom's dad).  

My grandma, was a woman of God who had a heart for the downtrodden.  She taught me about loving my neighbor.  She lived out what it meant to care for the "least of these."  She delivered food for Meals on Wheel and give to any in need.  I can still picture her on her hands and knees clandestinely tending to the landscaping at the church.  She sought no accolade for her service to others; she did it because of her love for God, for God's people (all persons), and for God's creation.

My Papa was a man of God, who practiced radical hospitality, welcoming any and all in to eat in their home.  By the world's standards he would have been considered poor.  He and Granny (who is currently still living at the age of 97 years old) did not have a lot of money but they sure had a lot of love.  We would sit on the porch sipping baby Cokes and eating Moonpies as he sang hymns, like In the Garden and Because He Lives.

Who have been the saints in your life?  Who has showed you the unconditional love of God?  I invite you this week to take some time for prayer and meditation.  Contemplate those who have gone before.  Light a candle and say a prayer of thanksgiving for each one that you name in your heart.    Rejoice in the great cloud of witnesses of those who have helped you to see the heart of God and celebrate the saints who are still among us.

Let us pray:  Gracious and loving God, we are not alone.  We are surrounded by people who have shown us Your love -- in our past, our present and will continue to, in our future.  Open our eyes to see Your lovingkindness in those around us.  And may our very lives point others to Your love.  May we one day be saints for others.  In the name of the one who taught us how to love, Jesus, we pray.  Amen.  

    

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