This weekend, liturgical (Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant) churches will celebrate All Saints Day. Mainline Protestant churches do not think about “saints” in the same way that Roman Catholics regard those canonized, but even conservative and fundamentalist churches have to wrestle with the idea of “saints” because the term is mentioned in scripture. Saints are a thing, of one sort or another.
One thing all saints have in common, regardless of the denominational or theological understanding(s) of the term, is that saints are those who belong to Christ and seek to follow him. Thus, the designation is for those who fit that description whether they are alive or have died. That’s how the church arrived at the designations of “the church militant” and “the church triumphant”. These terms refer to those who are still fighting for the cause of Christ on earth, and those who now rest from their labors in heaven. “’Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Yes’, says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.’ ” (Revelation 14:1)
And so, we thank God for all those who have contributed to the cause of Christ, whether in major or minor ways. Our local (United Methodist) church has a policy that mentions “gratitude for the innumerable ways that the life of this congregation has been forever changed because of these departed saints…” That’s how it works. A person adds something to the cause of Christ, which in turn may make differences that make still other differences for good. Things are literally changed forever.
And guess what? Some of those past saints were Republicans, and some were Democrats. Some of them were staunch conservatives, others considered themselves moderate, and some were proudly liberal. They faced challenges and made sure the church kept going. They taught and prayed, they did good things and sometimes made mistakes. They did what God called them to do, and at other times failed in doing so. But they were the church of their day, and God used them. And while “saints” is a uniquely Christian word, we must broaden it to others of different faith traditions, if we take the Bible seriously.
There’s a seemingly boring list of Jesus’ ancestors at the outset of Matthew’s gospel. A closer examination of those persons’ lives (the ones about whom we know) reveals a mixed bag. A prostitute, some notable leaders, and many who were just ordinary folk. And God used them all to bring Jesus to us. Who can God use? The answers sometimes surprise us.
When the election of 2020 is over, I hope that much of the rancor, divisiveness, name calling and hatred of the other side might be replaced with a genuine belief that even if others are very different from us, God can use them. After all, it’s not because any of us deserve it that we are numbered among the saints.