My most recent article for the Bennington Banner. Here’s the Banner link: https://www.benningtonbanner.com/stories/speaking-of-religion-remembering-the-saints,555319?
The costumes are put away again for the year. Bowls of candy sit on dining room tables all over, slowly depleting piece by piece until they’re finally forgotten and a thousand parents of a thousand children quietly dump the dregs of Halloween into the trash can until next October. Today, as I write this, my doorbell isn’t ringing, and I expect no stomping of footsteps on my front porch. Halloween is as over as October, and now we turn our eyes towards the holidays that mark the year’s end. Decorations are out in the stores (have been for a month, actually), but soon the overhead music will remind us that bells are silver, winter is a wonderland, and we should all please come home in time for some Yuletide cheer.
But that’s coming shortly. In this little pause between Halloween and the Holiday Season, November first marks the reason for Halloween in the first place. Halloween, or Hallowe’en, All Hallows Eve, is the day that precedes All Saints Day, a day when we celebrate the saints of the church.
Now, I’m a good Protestant, so, while I mark the Apostles and the martyrs as giants in the faith, when we speak of them you’ll hear me speak of the Apostle Peter, and the Apostle Paul, rather than St. Peter and St. Paul. Not because I don’t believe they are worthy, and not because I don’t believe they are saints. Rather, it’s because their status as saints does far less to set them apart for who they were than their status as Apostle.
Because we’re all saints.
That’s what we believe: that we are all saints of the church, invited into God’s love, and saved by God’s grace. We are the Body, and we are surrounded by the cloud of witnesses, those saints who have come before us. As the great Wesley hymn observes:
O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
We are all part of the blest communion, we are all one in God, because we all belong to God. We are God’s creations. More than that, we are God’s children. So today, on All Saints Day, we remember the saints who have come before us, who have run their race to its completion, who shine in glory, and who at last rest from their labors.
In God we’re all one. It’s a beautiful thought.
And it’s one that has sustained me this week.
I am from Pittsburgh. I was a child and a young man there. I am a Steelers fan. I am a Penguins fan. I even love the Pirates (though my baseball allegiance belongs to Boston). Despite the fact that I have not lived in the city in many years, in my heart I’m just another kid from the `Burgh.
This week my heart was broken as her streets were torn apart by yet another display of unreasoning, stupid hatred. My heart was broken for a city I love that is now a city in pain. For a community I’ve known that is now a community in fear. I wish I had words to make sense of the hate, and the pain, and the horror. Or to give comfort in the grief the city feels. But I do not. I don’t have comfort to ease the pain. I don’t have the words to make sense of a hatred I don’t, myself, understand.
But I’ll tell you what I do have.
I have hope.
I have hope in the resilience of the human spirit. I have hope in the way we come together in love when others would see us torn apart.
But most of all I have hope in the everlasting promise God made to Abraham: the promise that God is our God, and that we are God’s people.
I have hope in God’s everlasting covenant of love made with all of God’s children.
And so as I celebrate the saints who have come before us, I will speak the names of the Apostles. I will speak the names of the giants of the faith. I will speak the names of those I love who have left this mortal world. I will speak the names of those who are my brothers and sisters who continue this work God has laid out before us even today.
And as I celebrate the saints, I will also speak the names of those eleven women and men from Squirrel Hill, our sisters and brothers in God’s covenant, saints who have run their race to its completion.
May their memory be a blessing.