Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, … [Hebrews 12:1 NIV]
This Sunday we commemorate All Saints Day. It’s a day for us to pull out the old family photograph album and remember where we came from. On this day we will remember the saints in our lives, especially those in our church family, who we lost this past year. The ones who have shaped us, who have made us who we are. They may not have been well-known in the public sphere, they may not have a building or a street named after them, but they hold a special place in our hearts.
It’s a day when we stop to bring to mind and realize that this didn’t start with us. We are linked with history and the past, and we realize and are reminded of the reality. The author Maya Angelou said that “We’ve all been paid for.” Every time we come into the church we have a sense of our forebears sitting on their perch staring at us: Abraham, Sarah, Ruth, Jacob, Stephen, Mary. And also the saints of this church who are gone, who for what they paid for in the past is why we are able to be here today. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, as the book of Hebrews says. We are just a part of the divine story that started long before we got here and will continue long after we are gone. A bigger story that is richer and broader than our own little, personal part in the story.
So, what is a saint? Read these words of author Barbara Brown Taylor as she describes a saint. “What makes a saint? Extravagance. Excessive love, flagrant mercy, radical affection, exorbitant charity, immoderate faith, intemperate hope, inordinate love. None of which is an achievement, a badge to be earned or a trophy to be sought; all are secondary by-products of the one thing that truly makes a saint, which is the love of God, which is membership in the body of Christ, which is what all of us, living and dead, remembered and forgotten, great souls and small, have in common."
Think about the saints in your life. Most likely they are ordinary people with an extraordinary willingness to take belief and turn it into action, and an extraordinary willingness to make some promises that stretch out over the years to us, to persevere, to persist, to give their word and keep their word. Yes, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses of those who have gone before us. And on this Sunday, we will rejoice and say a word of thanks for those saints in our lives and in the life of the church.
We invite you to join us this Sunday to celebrate All Saints Sunday. At all three services we will remember those in our church family who we lost this year. Each person will be named and a candle will be lit in their honor. Then you will have an opportunity to light a candle in remembrance of someone significant in your life who you may have lost just recently or years ago.