Wednesday, November 1

A Great Cloud of Witnesses

Today is All Saints Day. Having been raised a generic protestant, I never really thought much about the day. We didn't have saints when I was a kid, so celebrating all of them made as little sense as celebrating none. It's only been lately that I have, to borrow a phrase from my friend Joel, "discovered my inner Anglican."

I'm not entirely sure what the official Church stance is on saints. Since I wasn't confirmed as an Anglican, I didn't learn such things, and since I tend to credit what I personally believe over the official decree of any given organized body, I haven't bothered to research it much. That said, I found some fascinating history on the internet today.

The Anglican Church has only ever canonized one saint: Charles I, King of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1625-1649. He was apparently rather unpopular as an advocate of the Divine Right of Kings, a doctrine he used to justify setting taxes without the consent of Parliament. He was also on the throne for the first two of three conflicts making up the English Civil War. He was eventually overthrown and executed for high treason.

In general, not the sort of man I would think to look up to. However, let me offer some more history. What about these people?
  • One man took his family away from their home, no sure destination in mind. They moved to a country where they knew no one and lived as nomads for 60 years.
  • Another was raised in wealth and privilege but gave all that up when he committed a murder and ran away to hide in the desert.
  • A prostitute housed enemies of the state, then helped them escape undetected by the authorities.
  • A king found himself in love with a married woman. He seduced her and, when he found out she was pregnant, killed her husband to cover it up.
You may already have recognized these examples as Abraham, Moses, Rahab, and David. All lauded as heroes of the faith. These are just a few of the people Paul mentions in Hebrews 11. He recounts their continued faith in promises they never saw fulfilled in their lifetimes.

So much of what I learned in church as a child was about being good. While we certainly shouldn't instruct kids to do evil, this sort of teaching just seems out of proportion to me. God didn't come to earth for us to worry if we're being good enough. In fact, exactly the opposite is true. He came to make sure we never again had to worry about being good enough, because He was good enough in our place. He freed us from the fear that our past, our mistakes, our deliberate sinful choices would keep us far from Him.

Paul further exhorts his readers, "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).

So many people who have gone before us are cheering us on as it is now our turn to run the race of life and faith. And they aren't all flannelgraph pictures like I saw in Sunday school. Lovely peaceful images who look like they'd never done a hard day's work in their lives. No, these were real people who knew how difficult life can be. They committed mistakes, they made bad choices. But they were forgiven. They are now held up as examples of what true faith is.

Today is a chance to honor all the saints. And to recognize that we are all the saints. Sainthood is not something handed down from on high upon the deserving few, but on the UNdeserving many. It is just as available to each person, regardless of our own merit, or lack thereof. We are all worthy of the honor of sainthood, simply because God loves us. In the words of Pigpen: Sort of makes you want to treat me [and yourself] with more respect, doesn't it?

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