Saints are persons who make it easier for others to believe in God. —Nathan Söderblom
This quote arrived in my inbox on October 31, the eve of All Saints’ Day, from Synthesis Today, a subscription service that sends a quote from great spiritual and theological thinkers each day—they pertain to the lectionary readings for each upcoming Sunday. Söderblom’s words have rested in my heart and mind for the last couple of days.
When I was young—about nine years old, I read about the saints, from a Roman Catholic perspective, though I’m basically from a Lutheran background. Their stories fascinated me; I found them romantic and heroic. Of course, I wanted to be one—giving one’s self to Jesus Christ, to God, meant being elite, virtuous, superhuman. I also understood this to be unattainable by ordinary mortals like me.
My perspective on saints has changed much since then, especially once I became an Episcopalian about ten years ago and did a little more learning through experience and reading. Many Episcopal churches celebrated Sunday, November 3, rather than Friday as All Saints’ Day, which is a Principal Feast Day for us. It takes precedence over any other observance, and expresses “the intercommunion of the living and the dead in the Body of Christ,” as the Episcopal Diocese of Newark’s website so well defines the celebration. In many services, intercessors recognize loved ones and church members who have died in years past. This litany, often read aloud, serves as a reminder of the Episcopal tradition that saints are those who share a life in Christ—all faithful Christians, as Luke writes in Acts 9 for example.
Söderblom’s words, though simple at first glance, carry much weight as I conside the names of my loved ones who have died, regardless of whether my Grandpa John or Grandma Gert intentionally acted in ways designed to bring me closer to God. Their love and encouragement and the examples they set in their day-to-day lives certainly kept the way open. I imagine that others, hearing the names of loved ones, either aloud or within the spaces of your heart, might be thinking of the ways in which those people made it easier to believe in God.
On this day, and in the days to come, let us be together, the community of saints, followers of Christ, gathered around altars and tables in the sight of the great cloud of witnesses who have held the way open for all of us.
This appeared in slightly different form in November 3 issue of The Trumpet, the weekly publication of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Austin, TX
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