As we are celebrating All Saints, try and recall and give thanks for the persons in whom, over the years, you have seen and experienced the reality of God’s love and God’s Kingdom. And then, continue to be a saint to others because God’s Spirit lives in you.
Bishop’s Article: Saints. If only I could see…
I’ve noted with interest the popularity of television programs of late, which feature a particular person who is able, for a variety of reasons, to see what others cannot see. This usually involves seeing persons who have died but are somehow still “around” – and who pop up unannounced and definitely uninvited! Sometimes they appear as the “seer” last remembers them – other times they appear in disguise and look like ordinary people in the community. And this ability to “see” – either situations that others can’t, or persons who are not visible to others – always seems to be a bit of a mixed blessing. Sometimes the seer is tormented with knowledge that they are not able to act on – perhaps that would enable them to prevent a tragedy in another’s life. Conversely, sometimes their special “sight” enables them to do great and wonderful things that would otherwise have been impossible.
In the 11th chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews the author catalogues the great women and men of faith whose stories appear in the Old Testament. The author describes these as ones who “died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them.” (Heb. 11:13) And as a result of this vision of God’s loving purposes, others were able to experience in them the “fruit” of a life lived in faithfulness to God. These are people we would call “saints” – because we saw and experienced in them the love, grace, wisdom and power of God. After describing them in chapter 11, the author begins chapter 12 with these words, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses …” These are the ones who have gone before us and through their lives witnessed to us about the eternal love of God and the reality of God’s Kingdom established through Jesus Christ. The author continues by exhorting us, as a result of this “great cloud”, to “run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith …” (Heb. 12:1, 2a)
Can you think of people like that who have been part of your life at some time or another? You likely wouldn’t hesitate to call them “saints” because you were able to see and experience the grace of God in their lives. You are a different and more whole person today because of the impact that they had on your life. (You might want to take a moment and thank God for those “saints.”)
Jesus taught all of his followers to be saints. In Matthew’s Gospel he says, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” This is not just about “holy people” doing “good things.” It’s about people whose lives were experienced by others in such a way that those “others” gave thanks to God for them! Those “others” experienced them as witnesses – saints – through whom they experienced the grace of God.
Again, can you think of people who are, or have been, part of your life for whom you would easily give thanks to God? These are your “saints.” And even if you have been separated from them by time, distance, even death – they are part of that “great cloud of witnesses” that the Letter to the Hebrews refers to.
If you can identify these persons in your life, do you think they are aware that they are a saint to you? I’m going to suggest – probably not. They may be aware that you had love and appreciation for them, or even that they helped you out in profound ways. But since it was you who saw their light (not them) – they probably were not aware of what you saw in them.
Now – if you have persons like that in your life, is it possible that you have been a witness, a light, a “saint” for others? I want to suggest that it is not only possible – but strongly probable if not certainly the case. We are seldom aware of the “light” of God’s love and truth in ourselves that others see. For one thing, whatever it was that we did or said seemed to us to be simply a natural part of ourselves – not anything extraordinary. And it’s clear from Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels, that those who see this light in others give glory to the Father in heaven – not to the person they see it in.
We are celebrating All Saints as we near the end of the Church Year. And while there clearly are some exemplary saints whom we wish to recognize and use as examples and encouragement for us, try and recall and give thanks for the persons in whom, over the years, you have seen and experienced the reality of God’s love and God’s Kingdom. And then, because there are no “mirrors” in which saints can see themselves, accept the overwhelming likelihood that you have been and continue to be a saint to others because God’s Spirit lives in you. Trust the saint-building that God is doing in you. Give thanks to God for being one who can see the saint in others – and who, as well, is seen by others as one of God’s saints!