Sometimes it’s really cool being Baptist. (Other times, not, I know, but let’s stay focused here.) If I was Roman Catholic, the process for me or anyone else I know to become a saint is long, ponderous, and not for the faint of heart. Plus, you have to be dead. Baptists, on the other hand, along with some other churches in the Protestant tradition, believe that every follower of Jesus is a saint, for the simple reason that the New Testament writings refer to all members of the Church as saints. This has nothing to do with how holy or “saintly” we are — it has to do with our identity as sibling to Jesus, once we have chosen to Way and Lordship of Jesus.
Knowing this, it might be time for us to revive and re-imagine All Saints Day, which is today (Nov. 1st). In church history, this was a time to remember the saints who had gone before us and who were now with Jesus, and to celebrate the fact of the church triumphant, spanning history and standing outside of time and not threatened by the temporal dangers of this life. (BTW, that’s why Oct. 31st was noted as All Hallows Eve — it was the last night for the powers of evil to take their best shot at the church. But All Hallows Eve wasn’t meant to be taken too seriously, i.e. it was not an equal battle between good and evil.)
Today could be a time for us to remember all those God has used to shape our faith journey — those who have already died, those who are still with us, those who wrote books or songs that have influenced us. None of us take this journey on our own, and we have deep need of one another. If as a follower of Jesus we are brothers and sisters to Him, adopted by the Father, then we are also brothers and sisters to one another. We are the Church.
I grew up singing an old hymn that celebrated this reality. Here’s a recording, and here are the lyrics:
For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
who thee by faith before the world confessed,
thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;
thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;
thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
For the apostles’ glorious company,
who bearing forth the cross o’er land and sea,
shook all the mighty world, we sing to Thee:
For the Evangelists, by whose blest word,
like fourfold streams, the garden of the Lord,
is fair and fruitful, be thy Name adored.
For Martyrs, who with rapture kindled eye,
saw the bright crown descending from the sky,
and seeing, grasped it, thee we glorify.
O may thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold,
fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
and win, with them the victor’s crown of gold.
O blest communion, fellowship divine!
we feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
all are one in thee, for all are thine.
And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
and hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.
The golden evening brightens in the west;
soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
the saints triumphant rise in bright array;
the King of glory passes on his way.
From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
and singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost: