On All Saints we might turn our attention to the great cloud of witnesses or to the newest of saints (Blessed John Henry Newman, if you are Roman Catholic) or to the anonymous saints known only to God. But several things have been on my mind lately that push me in another direction.
All Saints is one of those days in which our minds turn to the Church, to those who in every age have endured persecution, want, conflict, and even leisure to be Christ's own in a world (increasingly) at odds with orthodox Christianity. It has never been easy to be the Church. We need to discard the idea that it has ever been easy or without cost to be Christ's own and to live under Him as His baptized people. It may seem to us that at one point or another it might have been less difficult (and perhaps it was) but it has never been easy. Saints are tested in the crucible of crisis and despair in every epoch of Christian history. It has always been the temptation then to cry out about the unfairness of it all or to lament the uncertain future of a Church tried and tested from within or without. Our age is no different. We are so quick to insist that Christianity has never faced what we face. We are always ready to remind folks that this is the post-Christian era or to characterize our world as dechurched. In some ways, there may be no danger in these labels but in other ways these labels have a crippling effect upon us. We find ourselves more tempted to conform or compromise with the world around us and we justify it all by insisting that in survival mode different choices must be made.
We are ready to sell of building after building to whomever is interested because we are sure that we have no need of such real estate in the hunker down mode of decline. Never mind the generations who scrimped and saved and sacrificed to place a building where there was no Christian presence before. We are so sure that the Church will grow smaller that we consolidate and downsize for our leaner future. We are so sure that the ministry is so unattractive to our age that the only way we can fill the empty pulpits is to jettison the residential educational model, switch to online training more practical than theological, and accept men who in another age might have been deemed less than stellar candidates for the Holy Office. We are too willing to presume that regular attendance will be less and less often and that participation will be more and more passive (without responsibility) and so we make it easier and easier to become a member and stay a member. As we approach All Saints, we ought to pause to repent of our decision to make due, lower our expectations, and scrape by on both sides of the pulpit.
The saints are examples of God's work when those inside and outside the Church were ready to give up and give in. They shine like stars reflecting not their ingenuity or creativity or their great wisdom but God's grace, sufficient for every situation and more than enough for every need. They put us to shame with the way we have allowed grace to become cheap, the gospel to become sentiment, and the Christian life conditioned upon that which was comfortable. On this day as we remember the mighty, the ordinary, and the anonymous saints of old, we should meet them in repentance for refusing to have hope in the face of challenge and for too quickly surrendering truth for popularity. On this All Saints we ought to confess that too much we have trusted in our own abilities and too seldom trusted that God will keep His Word, sustain His Church, and provide all that we need to fulfill His calling. And then we should rejoice because the stories of the saints and martyrs are heroic even as they are testaments to God's reliability and faithfulness. If the Church withers, it will not be because God has failed us but because we have given up on Him. So as you remember the saints and give thanks to God for them, it is also your calling as Christian people to follow them in faith and confidence as well as in suffering and perseverance. It has never been easy to be Christian, but this is the time in which we find ourselves, the place to which God has called us, and we dare not surrender our hope that God will keep His promise if we will just keep the faith. The lesson of this day is that we are not God, we are the Church by His gracious and blessing. So be the Church. Shine with the brightness of His Light, reflect His faithfulness to those not yet of the Kingdom and to our children learning what it means to confess Him. Be the Church, people. Be the Church.