Sunday, November 3, 2013
Today is All Saints’ Sunday, Friday was All Saints’ Day and Saturday was All Souls’ Day. During this triduum we remember the famous and the not so famous. On All Saints’ Day we remember the stars of the team and on All Souls’ Day we remember the rest of the team and in case we missed either day we get a make up on All Saints’ Sunday. This idea of the saints must be pretty important if the Church is giving us three cracks at it, which begs the question, ” Why all this fuss about the saints?”
It has been said that we pray our theology and we do. I came across a blessing for All Saints’ Day that is both a beautiful blessing as well as a concise explanation of “Why all this fuss about the saints.” It begins, “May Almighty God, to whose glory we celebrate this festival of all the Saints, be now and evermore your guide and companion on the way.” The saints are an occasion for celebration.
Recently Fr. BE and Miss Beth went to Florida where their daughter was being inducted into a sports hall of fame for her accomplishments as a long distance runner. Now a married woman and mother of 5, she set records then that stand today. Fr. BE said that as they read off her accomplishments, he was amazed at all that she had done and he was one very proud papa. When you honor the kids, that honor also goes to the parents.
So not just on All Saints’ and All Souls’ but on all of the Holy Days it is an occasion to honor God for what He has done in the lives of these men and women. Those Masses are like having a hall-of-fame meetings to honor the kids and when we do we honor our heavenly Father. By the way the attendance at holy days has been very sparse. I want to challenge you to look more closely at your priorities.
The second part of the blessing says, “May God, who has bound us together in the company of the elect, in this age and in the age to come, attend to the prayers of his faithful servants on your behalf, as he hears your prayers for them.” To be honest I was a bit surprised by this part of the blessing. Why? Because Article XXII of the 39 Articles, which is a founding document of the Anglican Church at the time of the Reformation calls invoking the prayers of the saints ” a fond thing, vainly invented and grounded in no warranty of Scripture…”
In that day the Puritans and the Catholics were battling for the heart and mind of the Anglican Church and it appears that when it comes to this particular Article the Puritans won. Still other scholars argue that this Article is not a whole sale rejection of the idea of the saints in glory praying for us but rather a rejection of how it was being abused in the Roman Church in that day.
I believe the latter to be the case because the notion of the saints in glory praying for us is precisely warranted in Scripture. Listen to these words from the Book of Revelation. “…and I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets. And another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense (note the word MUCH, get used to it folks), much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand.”
One of the largest churches in the world is in Korea. I have not kept up with it but at one time the pastor was Pastor Cho. Pastor Cho was a dynamic preacher and one of the things that made him so affective is that while he is preaching the undercroft of the church is filled with parishioners praying for him. I have been told that some of them would pray and fast throughout the weekend. But while he is preaching they were interceding for him below.
I told Beth about this and she has utilized that idea for a long time. When I am going to have a particularly difficult meeting or facing some difficult decision, she asks me for the exact time that I will be doing it and she prays for me during that time. She calls them Pastor Cho prayers.
I think that is adorable of her but of course you and I both know that her prayers for me are entirely unnecessary. After all I am ordained. I have a direct relationship with God through Christ, so why would I want or need the prayers of a cute blond Social Worker?
I hope that you are angry with me right now for my hubris and I would suggest to you that is exactly what we are displaying when we reject the intercession of the saints. It not only honors and blesses me that Beth would sacrifice the time to pray for me but I also know that God honors those prayers because I have seen them work again and again over the years.
Like any truth this idea of the intercession of the saints can be abused so we need to clarify a few things. First we do not use the saints as mediators. By that I mean that we do not believe that we have to go through them to get to God. But that does not mean that we do not need their prayers.
Let me use an analogy. Many times parishioners will call or text me and ask for my prayers. They know that in Christ they have direct access to God but it is a comfort to also have the prayers of their priest. Why? Because that is what we do as the Body of Christ. Those who call me do not pray to me, they simply ask for my prayers. That is how we relate to the saints in glory. We do not pray TO them we pray WITH them. Someone once asked me once if the saints in glory know what is going on down here. I reminded them that at the Transfiguration Moses and Elijah were discussing with Jesus his impending death. They knew about it before the disciples did.
It is also important for us not to use the intercession of the saints like a rabbit’s foot or a charm. That is a misuse of the Body of Christ. In Italy Beth and I saw a huge relic of a saint that the Medici family kept in their bedroom. I asked the tour guide why they kept it in their bedroom and she said it was for good luck. A dead saint would do no more for good luck than having ME sleep in your bedroom, which would be as ineffective as it is creepy.
One author said that the intercession if the saints can, “…. readily degenerate into the notion that getting what you want from God is a matter of knowing what channels to go through, what strings to pull. One ends up thinking of heaven as a place like the seat of a corrupt government where favors are traded and deals are made by influence peddlers.” But we don’t have to make it all that smarmy or that complicated. Here is how I think of it. My father was a godly man who every morning got up early to read the Scriptures and pray for his family. I do not believe that now he is in the nearer presence of God that he has stopped praying for us nor have I stopped praying for him. To do so would be to confess that death conquers love, which I do not confess.
The third part of the blessing is, “May God, who has given you, in the lives of the saints, partners of holy living and victorious dying, strengthen your faith and devotion, and enable you to bear witness to the truth against all adversity.”
If you are engaged in an individual sport or competition how do you improve? First you practice, practice, practice. But if you really want to take it to the next level, then you find someone who is better than you and you practice with them. That is what the lives of the saints do for us. They don’t substitute for us in the practice of our faith, but they make us better at it. How? As just mentioned, through their prayers, but also through their examples. When I was being threatened with being defrocked by the Episcopal Bishop I though about St Athanasius who was essentially defrocked 5 times by heretic Bishops. The thought of him going through all of that made having it only happen once to me (so far) a piece of cake. When I am having a bad day I think of the saint who fell off her mule into the water and cried out “God if this is how you treat your friends no wonder you have so few of them.” Yes saints have bad days too! When I want to lash out in revenge I think of Steven who forgave those who were about to stone him. I’m sure you have your list. I hope that you do. Hebrews tells us that the saints are given to us to inspire and encourage us, so that surrounded by their love and witness we are able to run with endurance the race that is set before us.
Thanksgiving will soon be here. It is a time to gather with our families and break bread together and to thank God for how He has so richly blessed us. Some in the family we are very close to, some we hardly know, and some we have to work at to love. We’ve all got the weird uncle or the obnoxiously loud aunt but we are family and it is the variety and even the strangeness that makes it all work.
That is the way it is with the saints we remember today. Even the famous ones had their issues, but so do we. It is said that every saint has a past and every sinner has a future. It is by God’s grace that we are family and they gather with us to break this sacred bread and along with us to glorify God. This is what we confess each week in the Creed when we declare the we believe in the Communion of the Saints. We are the richer for it, thanks be to God.
“May Almighty God, to whose glory we celebrate this festival of all the Saints, be now and evermore your guide and companion on the way.”
“May God, who has bound us together in the company of the elect, in this age and in the age to come, attend to the prayers of his faithful servants on your behalf, as he hears your prayers for them.”
“May God, who has given you, in the lives of the saints, partners of holy living and victorious dying, strengthen your faith and devotion, and enable you to bear witness to the truth against all adversity”
“And may the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be upon you and remain with you always. Amen.”