All Saints Day was officially on Wednesday but many of our churches honored and remembered the saints today, as happened at the church that I attended this morning. At this service the pastor lovingly asked the youngest members during Children's Time, what are saints? I realized in this moment that my seminary education has created a rift between me and most people in the pews. Perhaps this is something I should be more aware of more often. And yet, this moment surprised me.
We are limited by our understanding of saints. Somehow our Catholic brothers and sisters -- whom our founding mothers and fathers rebelled against by seeking religious freedom in the New World -- have defined the word saint for us. Saints are martyrs. They are worshipped. The Pope chooses a few a year that get to be canonized and added to this prestigious list of holy people.
But, we forget that saints are really just holy people. The term is used most often by the Apostle Paul to refer to all Christian believers. It's one of his favorite phrases in the Epistle to the Romans. He begins his letter, "To all God's beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (1:7, NRSV). And then my favorite part of this letter reminds the followers to "contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers" (12:13, NRSV). It harkens back to that Old Testament stuff about hospitality. Be generous with hosptiality, as you are always welcoming saints. Your people. The people that God loves. I missed this connection in worship today. I wished that we were reminded that we are all the saints of God. God extends this generous hospitality to us, so it would be nice to be reminded with a few words in worship.
Something as simple as Blessed are all the saints of God. Perhaps we could even be so brave as to name saints in our midst. Maybe we would name the homeless men and women that gather in the Arts District. Maybe we would name the saints that labor at church bazaars. Maybe we would name Ted Haggard. Maybe we would name those that have died -- those that we miss. And maybe we would remember the tradition of the saints that lingers with us from those that have touched our lives yesterday, today and tomorrow.
For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
Who in the world their steadfast faith confessed,
Your name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.