The Feast of All Saints is here again. The great songs will be sung. We'll celebrate that wild, mysterious reality of the communion of Saints and talk about saints, little "s" and big "s." Many of us will sing "I Sing a Song of the Saints of God." Unfortunately there is something of the English comedy group Monty Python when I consider the Saints. Justin Martyr, Joan of Arc, the great larger than life Saints of yore, meeting up with today's timid sounding saints scurrying between the shops, and along in the lanes heading for tea. There's almost a wistful quality to the hymn, "Yep, Saints, they just don't make 'em like they used to."
The Feast of All Saints comes to us from Ireland, the most wild and far flung places of what was once called Christendom. Deeply informed by the Celtic ground which nurtured them, the Irish Christians wove into the Church year the celebration of All Saints as the Christian articulation of the Celtic fall festival of Samhain (pronounced soween if you are from the West and shamawn if your are from the East of Ireland)
Samhain was celebrated in the fall after the harvest and at the dying of the year. It was a time adjudged when the veil between corporeal and spiritual reality was the thinnest and conversation between the two spheres was most possible. What for the pre-Christian Celts a time of deep learning and celebration of the presence of God in their community through the lives of their Saints. Saints were themselves a doorway through which the divine light could shine and All Saints was a Day set apart to see God's light shining through the whole communion, to celebrate the unity of divine love and power that connects this life and the next. It is also a wonderful day to celebrate how all the saints, small "s" can learn from the Saints, big "S."
But the Saints, capitol "S", didn't get that way by leading everyday lives. They got that "S" because they chose, and sometimes were chosen, to live lives pursuing the more than human life of living encounters with the Divine Mystery. Sometimes they ran panting after God and sometimes they were dragged kicking and screaming into the Kingdom of God. They are all living examples of what a Saint can look like. Sometimes we are lucky and even have the record of their struggle to live into that capital "S."
But for most of us "that was then, this is now." People aren't like that anymore and besides that we are not ignorant folk who believe in all that miraculous brou-ha-ha. There's not a little bit of pride for many of us as we proclaim that as Christians we are "just folks." Nothing special here. But if this is so, then what's the point. The Church is reduced to just something else to do. I don't think Augustine or Margaret or any of the other Saints were just looking for something to do. And while neither were they looking to become Saints, they did.
As essential message of the incarnation is that we encounter God now, here in our bodies, in lived relationships and lives dedicated to pursuing and doing the things that Jesus did, loved, was concerned with and acted upon. When we do our lives begin to change, sometimes drastically. Faith does not grow by waiting for the "big pie in the sky in the sweet by and by." Faith and living of the Saints of God in the here and now needs God's people telling their stories in light of Jesus' story. What is it that happens to us when we start to talk the talk and walk the walk? We find that the "ineffable joys" are for today.
In the beginning of my adult, intentional seeking of God "the Christian thing" all seemed a tenuous mystery that could evaporate if pushed too hard in any direction. It was only hearing others tell their stories of God truly and clearly acting in their lives that gave me the courage to dare hope that it could be true for me as well. Now with some years of hearing and telling the story, of praying with and being prayed for, under my belt can I detect the patterns that can be discerned in how and what God looks and acts like in the lives of people who are S/saints in the making.
As a child I loved the show "The Price is Right". I loved the way Bob Barker announced the big prizes that lay behind Door #1, Door #2 and Door #3. On a good day they were all connected and added up to material peace, plenty and contentment. Door #1 was the matching bikes, Door #2 was the matching wardrobes and luggage and Door #3 was the plane tickets to an exotic destination. It all worked together. One Door was good, but together they were awesome.
God things do come in threes. There is an interwoven pattern between God's Self, God's Story and God's Saints.
Sometimes in my life of moving towards God and God's drawing towards me I feel a deep and Holy laughter accompanying me as I feel and see the intricate and seamless design of God's love unfolding in my life. There seems to be a voice that is always saying, "But wait, there's more and behind Door #2 there's...!" And whatever it is fits beautifully with what it is that God desires me to move towards, to receive, to learn, to give.
The interconnected aspects of God's Self expression of love in the actions of creation, redemption and sanctification always seem to be present when God is being manifested in the here and now. Entry at one aspect inevitably brings with it an experience of the other two. Seeking a deeper spirituality, a deeper holiness, or sanctification, in our journey toward God's will always bring us into an encounter with the barriers of alienation that stand between us and union with the Divine. Moving toward the Light of God always throws our shadows on the walls that surround us. Walls that may seem our very life support, safety, if they stand between us and God, can also be our prisons. And Jesus never leaves us without very clear "handwriting on the wall" so-to-speak, of what it is that has to go. Redemption, liberation, release always accompanies the authentic journey towards sanctification. When we are liberated from something we are liberated towards something as well. And herein lies the unimaginable goodness of God in making our lives new, of new being, of new creation. Before in our box of our sin, our alienation, our separation from God, whatever it was, surrounded by the only walls we had known, we don't know how to imagine ourselves into another life different than that defined by our previous walls. I have heard countless stories of shock and delight at God's creativity, generosity, joyousness, and the peace that passes all our understanding and meaning and shape to that which was formerly meaningless.
It has been said that people enter Jesus story through one of three ways, Jesus' Ministry, the Passion and Pentecost. Even as an entry into sanctification brings one around to liberation and creation so too an entry into Jesus story at the point of Pentecost, that sometimes giddy, optimistic and incredibly joyful and hopeful place will ultimately be grounded and tempered by living into Jesus ministry and Jesus Passion.
Conversely those entering at the point of the Passion will ultimately be lifted up into joy and gifted by the Pentecost Spirit to enter into to engage that which Jesus engaged, to value as Jesus valued, to enter Jesus Ministry with all of the compassion power they received in the experience of the Cross.
Those entering at Jesus Ministry, compelled by His unstinting ethic of love, and what that love will ultimately demand. These will have their gifts tested and faith built as they learn their limits and the unlimitedness of God. And, what happens when we abandon our smaller visions, learning to let Go and let God as God's Reign unfolds before us.
Lastly the stories and presence of those who have gone before, the Cloud of Witnesses holds special Saints who are rooting for each of us particularly. We can find special friendships amongst the Communion of Saints. People whose lives and journeys contain many of our own struggles, whose growth in the Spirit tends in similar directions as our own. Christian sisters and brothers who have journeyed through Jesus story, journeyed through discovery and communion with God's Self, will lovingly accompany us we seek to do the same.
There is deep unity that holds all things together in heaven and on earth. The Communion of Saints and All Saints Day celebrates this. As we baptize today let us do so knowing that the children and adults being received into the household of faith need us to tell The Story and our story, to pray with and pray for these saints in the making, to be able to tell the stories and share the struggles of those who have gone before, to lean into their teaching and support in order that we can grow into our own calls to incarnate the Word.
However we enter the Story, the Self, the Communion with the Saints, one thing is for sure, there will always be more behind Door #1, Door #2 and Door #3.