In Celebration of All Saints Day

 
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The Christian church year is rife with days set aside to commemorate the saints, but All Saints Day, celebrated on the first of November, heaps them together. On this day, the church remembers all the saints who have gone before us. It celebrates the fact that there is one Church united, those in heaven who await our appearance, and those of us on earth who look forward to that glad reunion.  

What comes to mind when you hear the mention of a saint? I grew up in the Roman Catholic Church. In my youth, if you would have asked me what or who a saint is, the first thing that would have come to my mind was a very holy person, someone whose holiness had been noticed by the church, someone worthy of a statue in the sanctuary. I would have thought of someone who set a great example, accomplished some great spiritual feat, did some amazingly good deed, or went to the ends of the earth to convert some great number of people. What about you? What comes to mind when you hear that word saint?

Protestants have a strange relationship with the saints. We have churches named after saints, but most of them are named after people from the Bible. In Scripture readings and sermons, we often commemorate saints and minor festivals dot the landscape of the liturgical year. Sometimes we put the title “Saint” before someone’s name, almost always someone from history and from way-back history at that. For even many Protestants, the term saint can be nebulous or simply inaccurate.

So what is a saint? Who is a saint? Your answer reveals a lot, and God’s answer reveals even more. Think about it for a moment. If a friend asked you, how would you define this very Christian word? It might be harder than one might expect given the number of times it appears in the Scriptures and in our regular speech.

Imagine a friend told you about someone at their job or school and said, “She’s a saint.” What would you think about that person? We’d assume she was extremely nice, right? We’d think she was easy to get along with, went above and beyond in her work, looked out for others, and stuff like that. We would equate the term with  lawful actions or good behavior. I think it’s fair to say that’s how we use the term pretty commonly both in the church and outside of it.

On this day, the church remembers all the saints who have gone before us.
— Wade Johnston

Are you a saint? Would you object if someone said you were, maybe blush, maybe put up an argument in humility? Deep down, as much as it might stroke your ego to have someone call you a saint, you would assume if they only knew the real you, they would never use such a term.  It is a fortunate thing our thoughts don’t scroll across our heads, and that our secrets remain secret. It’s how we keep up appearances. But are you a saint? I’m not asking about appearances, either. Are you a saint?


God’s answer is clear. You don’t need to look any farther than your Baptism. In Christ, you are a saint. How can this be? It can be because a saint isn’t a Law title, a title about what you do. Instead,  it is a grace title, a gospel title, a title about what God has done for you. . God has declared you a saint. By grace, through faith, He has declared you innocent in His sight, holy. Your righteousness isn’t your own, not in origin, but it is yours as a gift. You are as much a saint as any other, even the famous ones from the Bible. Their Jesus is your Jesus and so sainthood knows no levels in Christ.


That’s not how we often think of saints. That’s not how we imagine holiness works. Perhaps God’s holiness imputed to us even seems too easy, not enough. But it’s more than enough because it’s more than we can do or earn and it’s from God and only from Him. His imputed righteousness grants rest for those weary from working, peace for those frantic with false piety, hope for those despairing of their own ability to measure up or flip the script of their life. In Christ, by grace, through faith, we all can rejoice to be saints of God, canonized in His wounds.

St. Peter denied Christ. Christ found Him, restored Him, sainted Him. He did the same with Moses the murderer, Paul the persecutor, Martha the worrier, Mary Magdalene the demon-possessed, and every other baptized—sainted—Christian.

The first of November is All Saints Day. Celebrate it as a saint. Give thanks for all the sinners declared saints before you. Rejoice that the same Word that bespoke them saints is still speaking, still canonizing sinners in Christ who rose for our justification and whose righteousness is our robe, the source of our sainthood. Take heart, too, that because this title isn’t from you but is a gift, it is as sure and certain as its Giver, the One to whom all the saints of every age point and in whom they live and move and have their being. Try it on for size and wear it well, for it won’t ever wear out. It’s as eternal as the One who gave it to you.

Dr. Wade Johnston has degrees from Martin Luther College, Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Central Michigan University, and Erasmus University Rotterdam. He serves as assistant professor of theology at Wisconsin Lutheran College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and served for ten years in parish ministry in Saginaw, Michigan.




 

 

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