All Saints Day is one of my favorite feast days in the Church. Not only do we get to process and sing the Litany of Saints and sing some of my favorite hymns; we also have an opportunity to name and celebrate the saints in our lives today. Every once in a while we receive news that Rome has decided to canonize someone as a saint. This, from my understanding, is a massive process that takes time as events, actions, miracles and other notable moments from the candidates’ life are recorded and analyzed. Over time we get to hear some of these great acts and the significant moments that contribute towards the candidates canonization. We may wonder and reflect with admiration on the kind of person these people must have been in their lives.
The truth of the matter is that saints are ordinary people who do extraordinary things every day in the world. We are surrounded by saints every day. We meet them in coffee shops, the library, around the kitchen table, in school rooms and back allies. Saints are present in our everyday lives and are very much alive. Saints are people who are alive living in our world with us, not just reserved to stained glass windows or people of great notoriety. They are regular ordinary people like you.
The point of the Gospel we read today is that saints are alive. As we reflect on the Gospel today we hear how Jesus visits the home of Mary and Martha. They are distraught because their friend and brother Lazarus has died. So they call for Jesus. They called for him while Lazarus was still alive, but for some reason Jesus didn’t turn up right away. By the time Jesus arrives, Lazarus is dead. The two women are beside themselves by the time he shows up. If only Jesus had come sooner - Lazarus would still be alive, Mary claims.
The story of Lazarus is a story about resurrection and life because Jesus commanded Lazarus to come out of the tomb! It is therefore fitting that we hear again of how Lazarus is raised to life on All Saints Day. All Saints day is about the living and living life to the fullest. We are invited to embrace life in new and marvelous ways every day. Sometimes, though, this does mean that we have to let go of some stuff. We need to be able to let go of the stuff that holds us back from being more fully alive in God. We need to let that stuff fall away and die in order to make way for new life, a fuller, more wholesome life in God’s embrace. That is where the saints of our lives today help us in this process. Saints are those people, which we all have in our lives, who nudge, coerce and gently point us into becoming the best people we can be in this world. They somehow have a knack of bringing out the best in ourselves. But in order for them to do this they are often very difficult people to live with and get along with. It is usually after the fact, sometime later, that we are able to reflect back and recognize the work and influence they have been to us in shaping who we are today.
So what do these people look like? Who are they and how will we recognize and appreciate them more fully? It is once again time to refresh our memories of the characteristics of a saint. This is a short list, a list I believe to be the some of the characteristics of a saint. So as incomplete as this may be, here are the characteristics of a saint:
1) Saints are people who let the light in. In the same way a stained glass window allows the light to cast its brilliant colors in the church, saints make way for our light and our color to shine. They are the people who help us offer the best of ourselves.
2) Saints are people who become the hands and feet that Jesus uses. Saints are not afraid to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. They jump into life fully with both feet. They do not know what the words “challenge” or “impossible” mean. Rather they embrace challenge and the impossible as “Opportunities.” They constantly look for opportunities to bring Jesus into the muck of life. They live the incarnation of the Word made Flesh because they believe with every fiber of their being that Jesus came into this world, our world for us. He was born in a stable, and the very muck of what life has to offer. Because of this they know that the very places in the world we would rather forget or have someone else take care of, is where Jesus is to be found. And they want to be there with Jesus and don’t want to miss out on an encounter with the Holy.
3) Third and almost the most important characteristic, show up! One of the greatest lessons I learned over anything I learned in seminary or as a warden in a cathedral - yes I was one of those too - was taught to me by Bishop Jim Cruikshank, Blessed Memory. He said, “All you need to do, all you really need to do is show up.” In other words what Bishop Jim was saying is that most of the time, people aren’t looking for you to fix their problems. They just need you to show up. You don’t have to do anything. You don’t have to say anything. Often it is best you don’t. Just show up, be present and people will notice.
This is perhaps one of the hardest things to do. All too often we want to help. We want to get right in there and fix the problem, take the pain away or whatever else it is we think that is needed. We are a church, I know, that likes to fix things and this definitely has its place. But sometimes we don’t know what it is that needs fixing until we take the time to wait, reflect, be present, show up and above all - listen.
4) Listen is the fourth and most important characteristic of a saint. We need to listen to our bodies. We need to listen to one another. Another life lesson given to me by my former Head Server at St. Thomas’s Linden in South Africa, Keith Tamblin. Keith had these words for me before I and the family immigrated to Canada. He said, “Robin, God gave you two of these (pointing to his ears) and one of these (pointing to his mouth). That means we need to listen twice as much as we talk.”
Listening too is hard, but this is the single most important characteristic of a saint. Because when we listen to others, listen with our bodies with an open heart and mind we will begin to hear the voice of God. Surely, above all else, this is the business of the Church. To listen to the voice of God.
As I continue to reflect on these characteristics, I believe that what lies at the heart of any characteristic of a saint is that they are people who look for and discover the resurrection stories in our lives and world. Yes there may be any number of reasons why we don’t want to do this work. There may be any number of reasons why we believe someone else would be better. As worthy we may or may not be, we are called to be Saints of God in this world. So to all the doubts, questions and uncertainty we may feel, I am reminded of one of George Herbert’s poems, “The Collar” as noted in David Hoyle’s book, “The Pattern of Our Calling”. The last stanza of the poem reads: “But as I raved and grew more fierce and wild at every word. Methought I heard one calling, Child! And I replied, My Lord." (Pg 256).