Naming the Saints

by Rev. Scott Summerville

On this day we call All Saints Sunday, and on this day we recall the gifts of loved ones now gone; we speak their names in silence or read them aloud. We recall with gratefulness the inexpressible gift of life, the inexpressible gift of each life – each unique and unrepeatable life, the inexpressible gift of those lives that have touched our lives in special ways.

For some of you the list we read today contains names of those whose passing is recent – the grieving goes on or has just begun. Other are named who are gone from us a long time, but their faces to us are as clear as our own face in the mirror this morning. Some are remembered with a gentle sigh. Some we remember with searing pain.

Some of the saints we name today were inspiring people who lived remarkable lives. Others have a special place in our lives, but not because of any unusual or outstanding qualities or accomplishments; some of them in fact may have been difficult people to known or to live with.

These are not the names of “saints” in the formal Roman Catholic sense, that is, people with multiple certified miracles to their credit. They are saints in the biblical sense of the word. In the early church the saints – the term in the original Greek text that we translate as “saints” is hagios – the hagios were the ordinary people who came together in homes, originally to share their food and share the communion wine and share life and love and hope. Sometimes they argued, often they made mistakes; they held different opinions; none of them was perfect, but they were saints anyway.

When we name the saints today, we are not holding anybody up on a pedestal – there are no perfect people on our list – each one lived and struggled and achieved and failed: what they have in common is that they were and are loved and are remembered.

We name the Saints today, the imperfect saints, and recognize that we too are imperfect saints. We also speak this day of the communion of saints.

Yesterday Mary Ellen I were contacted by a woman we knew from a church we once served. I asked the perfunctory question, “So how are you?” I got quite an answer. She explained that she is okay, but that in the spring of this year she suffered heart failure and required an extraordinary operation which required extensive follow-up and a very complicated process of recovery after surgery.

She is a single woman with no family in the area; because of that, at first the hospital was reluctant to do the surgery; they felt she did not have sufficient care giving support for her after-care. When she told them that the members of her church would be her support, they were skeptical, but in the end the members of the congregation satisfied the hospital that they would in fact offer her this extraordinary care. The operation was done, the procedure was successful, and the caregivers were there for her. She said simply, “Without my church, I would be dead.”

We name the Saints today – we also celebrate the communion of saints, we are celebrating that way in which the spirit and compassion of Christ knits together the lives of ordinary people into a community of mutual care and into a community of compassion and justice in the world.

The woman who said, “Without my church, I would be dead,” made another interesting comment. She reflected on how difficult it was to convince the hospital that her church community would step up to the level of care giving she required; she said, “Isn’t it a funny thing that people find it hard to believe that Christians will actually live the way they say they will?”

In the United Methodist Book of Discipline there is a section on what it means to belong to the communion of saints as a member of Christ’s Church. This is part of what it says:
Each member is called upon to be a witness for Christ in the world, a light and leaven in society, and a reconciler in a culture of conflict. Each member is to identify with the agony and suffering of the world and to radiate and exemplify the Christ of hope.

That is a lot to ask of ordinary human beings: In the brief time given to each of us; nothing less is asked of us than: in the present time to identify with the agony and suffering of the world and to radiate and exemplify the Christ of hope. It is not only a lot to ask, but it is asked of us now! Now is the time to be the body of Christ for each other and for the world.

If we were immortal beings, there would be no rush – we would have forever be a light and leaven in society, that is, to do something about injustice and inequality.

If we were immortal beings, there would be no urgency; we would have forever to be reconcilers and a culture of conflict. We would have forever to mend the wounds in the fabric of our families, to overcome hurt and division in the communities we are part of.

If we were immortal beings, we could identify with the agony and suffering of the world in another century or two or three.

So, my fellow saints, my fellow sinners, in the time given to us, in the time before our names are read on All Saints Sunday: use your lives for some important purpose – stop allowing your fears to confine your life and to define your life; live and love and give and serve and so bless the time, the precious time that is given to you.

Shalom.

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