[i Jn. 3:1-3; Mt. 5:1-12]
Grace to you and peace, beloved saints of God. Amen.
Quick ecumenical question: Why do Lutherans celebrate the Reformation each year on 31st October, the day before All Saints’ or All Hallows’ Eve?
Because every year, once a year, on All Saints’ Day, the Duke would open up the church and exhibit his priceless collection of relics, holy artefacts, parts and possessions of the saints. People travelled from far to see these and pray for support and hope in dangerous times. If Martin Luther wanted to reach an audience, that was the day to do it. So, the evening before -so the story goes- he posted his opinions on the church door for all those pilgrims, those holy tourists, to see and read. And that’s why Lutherans and others celebrate the Reformation on the day before All Saints’ Day.
That brings us to the next ecumenical question, because it’s relevant to all different church denominations: Who are the saints?
We sing, “For all the saints who from their labours rest...”
What does it mean to be a saint, to be holy: an official sanctification process and declaration, to be near divine, to be without sin? Does one have to be perfect to be considered holy or saintly? Must one be pure, infallible, untouchable? Must your name appear on the calendar? Or does it mean one is a type of superhero, with a cape and a mask and a logo on the chest?
What human being would attain that level of perfection?
We’re all at the same time sinner and saint: as humans we are capable of the greatest atrocities, but also the most loyal friendship and unconditional love. Humans are many things, perfection isn’t one of them.
Holiness will not get us into heaven, justification, righteousness, will and that comes from God, by grace alone. To be holy, to be saintly, means to live fully of grace and by grace and to pass it on, to graciously share God’s grace with our neighbour.
So, we arrive at another ecumenical question, because unfortunately it’s something most churches struggle with: Who is my neighbour?
To put it in another way, who are the souls of All Souls’?
Good people? Family, friends, neighbours? People who believe different things or don’t believe at all? The ambitious colleague? The homeless sleeping on the streets? The drug addict or the partner who cheated on us? The serial killer or serial rapist? The murderous dictator?
Who are the souls of All Souls’? Who is my neighbour? And can they be holy too cam they be saints too?
It’s impossible to deny someone’s soul or to take it away from them, because that’s how humans -however inhumane they might act– are created. To acknowledge someone’s humanity means accepting their soulfulness, their being filled with soul.
To acknowledge someone’s humanity means accepting their soul, and that their soul, their humanity can be just and be justified by God’s grace.
And ‘just’ or ‘righteous’ isn’t a moral classification, it’s not an honorary title, it’s not about pure, perfect people. In the Jewish tradition, the tsadiq can be holy, pious, just, but also sincere, honest, even innocent, without guile, without deceit. As such, one does not become justified or one doesn’t not justify oneself, it’s not something to strive for, because one is declared justified. God looks after his people, his saints, his just, even when they don’t realise it.
To be holy means to have confidence in God’s grace, to be holy means that God’s care is surrounding us, even when it’s perhaps unwanted, or subconscious, but always present. Always present also is the great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, testifying in their sainthood about God’s love and care, as we should testify ourselves.
“I make worms turn into butterflies.
Wake up and turn this world around,
He said I never left your side.
When you were lost I followed right behind,
Was your foundation.
Now go sing it like a hummingbird
The greatest anthem ever heard.
Now sing together.
We are the heroes of our time.
But we’re dancing with the demons in our minds.”
(Måns Zelmerlöw, Eurovision 2015)
Who are the saints? Who were those people who were able in death to mobilise so many people to 16th c. Germany, so that Luther seized the moment?
People on the calendar? People whose remnants or artefacts pilgrims go and visit in various places in the world? The righteous whose lives are an example to is all? Modern-day heroes, perhaps, examples we’ve seen during these dangerous times?
Heroes without a cape, or a mask, or superhuman powers. And yet, a hero called to show God’s grace in the world, called to live out their saintliness, while at the same time acknowledging their human frailty.