I will exalt you, O LORD,
for you lifted me out of the depths
and did not let my enemies gloat over me.
O LORD my God, I called to you for help
and you healed me.
O LORD, you brought me up from the grave;
you spared me from going down into the pit.
Sing to the LORD, you saints of his;
praise his holy name.
For his anger lasts only a moment,
but his favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may remain for a night,
but rejoicing comes in the morning.
When I felt secure, I said,
“I will never be shaken.”
O LORD, when you favored me,
you made my mountain stand firm;
but when you hid your face,
I was dismayed.
To you, O LORD, I called;
to the Lord I cried for mercy:
“What gain is there in my destruction,
in my going down into the pit?
Will the dust praise you?
Will it proclaim your faithfulness?
Hear, O LORD, and be merciful to me;
O LORD, be my help.”
You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing to you and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever.
On All Saints Day we remember our loved ones who have gone to heaven ahead of us- they are the saints of God. When we realize that we are the living saints of God, our Christian identity becomes secured and we are filled with renewed confidence that we will be reunited in heaven and that we can continue our work here on earth.
One of the great questions we may wonder about on All Saints Day is if we will ever be able to see our loved one again. My father died before my children were even born. As they pass milestones in life I can’t talk to him about their progress. My faith teaches me that one day I will see my father again, but I cannot escape missing him and wishing he was here.
Sometimes it is difficult to deal with feelings of missing a loved one. A little girl returned from a birthday party with a helium balloon. She wanted to give her grandfather some words of love so she let the balloon go with a note. Two months later she received a letter from the person that found it. It told her that her grandfather did receive her letter, but that material objects cannot stay in heaven. It had floated down with a lot of love and memories.
One of the ways we remember our loved ones who have passed is through the memories, but another is through the things we learned and picked up from being near. Our smiles, our words of kindness, our love and gentleness, our humor, our courage and commitment….these are the ways our loved ones are remembered because we carry them along. They are still with us because we continue their good characteristics.
Several years ago a group of Americans in Nicaragua attended the funeral of a friend who had been killed. At one point in the service, someone called out a name to which everyone responded, “Presente.” Then another name was called and again the response, “Presente.” This continued. The American minister heard the name, “Oscar Romero,” and realized that this was a list of those who had passed away. This was the roll call of the saints as we did today. The people were answering the way little children responded to the attendance list. Those people were not gone, they were in many ways still present. Their valor, dignity, and life carried on in those people who knew them.
They were carrying on in memory of those saints. They realized that they were saints as well. Realizing sainthood changes the way you perceive life and death. Did your grandmother ever tell you, “Sinner or saint, make a choice!” We may not see ourselves as saints, but in fact, we are. The Apostle Paul would begin his letters addressing the saints of the city. His letters were addressed with phrases like, “To the Saints of Rome” or “To the Saints of Philippi.” Saints referred to the people who were living at that time. Saints were the living disciples who were followers of the way of Jesus Christ.
As Christians were persecuted and martyred, they became saints. Saints were those who were killed as a result of their faith. When Constantine legalized Christianity in 313, the church canonized saints dedicated chapels to them. For almost the next one thousand years people would bring prayers to these saints so that the saints could present those prayers to God.
During the Reformation theologians like Martin Luther proclaimed that God could hear our prayers directly. Once again the term saints was nuanced into those loved ones who had gone ahead to heaven. It was not reserved only for those that the church honored with sainthood. We pray directly to God and give thanksgiving for the saints we have known. The bright impact they had upon our lives helps us look forward to seeing them again.
A son asked his mother about the happiest hour of her life. She recalled a moment during the Civil War when she had watched her mother recognize and greet her father who was walking toward them far in the distance. They thought he had been killed during the war, so they did not expect to see him again. Yet as he walked closer his image became clearer. He was alive! It was as if heaven had come down to earth. When we realize that we will be reunited with our saints again we are filled with the joy of God, too.
Catching a Glimpse of Heaven by E.M. Bounds discusses the fact that we have a uniqueness that is preserved even after death. He writes that our identity, our soul, is not lost at death or dissipated into a great infinite sea as some world religions state. When Moses and Elijah appear on the mountaintop with Jesus and are recognized by the disciples we are to learn the lesson that we will recognize each other, somehow, in the next life. I love thinking that we keep that one part of ourselves that God created so that we can continue to relate to God and others in heaven. Life goes on! I am glad that Scripture includes the idea that we are made whole at death. We are made complete and the earthly body and all of its finite problems, passes away, but the essence of who- our soul- remains. That is what the disciples learned when they experienced the risen Christ. Jesus pointed them toward a home in heaven, a place where they would recognize him and each other. We are far more connected to the saints than we realize. We are the saints on earth moving toward the saints in heaven. That identity gives such hope to life- and a connection to God and better living on earth. We need to embrace our “sainthood” and live more joyful lives!
The book Victory Over the Darkness by Neil T. Anderson includes support for this idea: “Many Christians refer to themselves as sinners saved by grace. But are you really a sinner? Is that your scriptural identity? Not at all. God doesn’t call you a sinner; He calls you a saint “a holy one.” If you think of yourself as a sinner, guess what you will do: you’ll live like a sinner; you’ll sin. Why not identify yourself for who you really are: a saint who occasionally sins. Remember: What you do doesn’t determine who you are; who you are determines what you do.”
Our connection to God is direct and not mediated by those who have gone ahead of us. Rather, as saints of God we share relationships with those on earth and in heaven. Those relationships help us relate to God’s love. We are assured that we will see our loved ones again walking toward us ready for a warm embrace.
As we remember and honor those saints of our lives today, consider yourself a saint of God. God’s affirmation that we can be holy is affirmed throughout the New Testament. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, God calls us the light of the world and the salt of the earth. As you continue to read, you will read that we are called followers of the Way, joint heirs, sons and daughters of God, fellow citizens, soldiers of God, brothers and sisters, a holy nation, people with names written in the book of life. May your All Saints Day include thanksgiving to God for those saints above, and a reminder that we share sainthood as children of God. Amen.