Parish Magazine Article - November 2021

 

November can be a strange time of year with Autumn coming towards its end and the weather turning colder as winter rushes towards us.  It is rather an appropriate time to reflect on our own mortality and those who have gone before us in faith.  In the church calendar it is punctuated by a period of celebrations and more sombre occasions.  It begins however with All Saints Day and this great festival of the church is a time to remember the ordinary men and women of faith who have gone before us and who have set an example for us.

I have always been wary of focussing on saints because by making them special we inadvertently create a category of ‘super Christian’. If we go back to the New Testament we discover that a saint is actually quite different.

“To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:..”

1 Corinthians 1:2

 

For Paul writing his letters to the early church every one of us who is a disciple and follower of Jesus is a saint. We are not called to be superheroes; we are simply called to servants of the Kingdom. This is what a saint is, a man or woman of God called as a disciple of Jesus to be a messenger of good news in the world. In the scriptures the term ‘Christian’ is a derogatory term used to describe the followers of Jesus, where the writers of the New Testament refer to themselves as followers of ‘the way’ or saints. Now you may not see yourself as a ‘saint’ but in God’s eyes that is what you are.

 

The other issue is that over the centuries the idea of saints standing before God and offering prayers on our behalf has permeated our thinking and whilst I believe in the communion of saints I don’t think that praying to a named saint is going to help a great deal to improve my prayers! I know some find this idea helpful but it isn’t what the bible teaches us about prayer. Instead we are taught that it is the Holy Spirit who intercedes for us when we cannot find the words and that thanks to Jesus we don’t need any other mediators between God and us.

 

As someone commented to me recently the Communion of Saints is much more like a family praying down through the ages, each generation connected by prayer to the next handing on the baton of faith.  It isn’t difficult to believe this when you sit quietly in some of our ancient churches knowing there has been Christian worship in the place down through the centuries. Our churches can be what the Celtic Christians might have termed thin places where heaven and earth touch. It is a truly mind blowing thought that we are part of an endless family of faith interconnected through Jesus across the centuries.

 

The liturgical ‘saints’ are however still worth celebrating because they help to remind us that God takes ordinary men and women like you and I and enables us to attempt extraordinary things for Jesus. Their stories are worth telling to encourage us to see not just what is possible but also what has been done by the great cloud of witnesses that have gone before us in faith. According to the writer of Hebrews they now stand in heaven to cheer us on like the crowd at a great sporting event.

 

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,..”

Hebrews 12:1

 

AD Derek