All Hallow’s Eve traditionally was to All Saints’ Day (November 1st) what Christmas Eve is to Christmas Day. There isn’t time to go into the history of the Church holiday called “All Saints’ Day” but do an Internet search sometime if you didn’t realize Hallowe’en was originally a Christian festival. Luther nailed his famous 95 Theses on the church door on October 31st knowing there would be crowds of worshipers coming through those doors the next day.
But back to this month’s topic. Warning: the rest of this blog may be very unsettling.
I am a cradle Lutheran from a conservative branch. I sang “A Mighty Fortress” in the womb. I grew up believing that Catholics were not “really” Christian and the Orthodox were Greeks who had festivals with very different food than my family’s 1960s American diet. I grew up thinking these groups were not accurate in their beliefs because they prayed to Mary and the saints, among other things.
Then the Holy Spirit led me into a series of conversations and a Bible study with the local Greek Orthodox priest. I began reading a lot of eye-opening materials related to Church history and the Traditional teachings of the Church (see 2 Thess 2:15).
Among other things, I came to see that my theology was at best incomplete in some key areas. If I truly believed in “the holy catholic (universal) Church and the communion of saints,” which I had confessed in the Apostles’ Creed since childhood, then that meant there is only a thin veil between the Church Militant (of which I am still a member) and the Church Triumphant (which I will join at my death). Those “dead saints” were still alive in Christ!
I had no problem asking friends to pray for me here in the Church Militant but I began to see that I could also ask friends in the Church Triumphant to pray for me. (A critical point: I was not to ask them to save me nor worship them in any way.) It was a way of putting my mouth theology (confessing the Creed) into a functional theology, i.e. acting on what I said I believed.
This thought stopped me in my tracks. My Protestant heart nearly pounded out of my chest! I expected to be struck by lightning. Luther had been! Yet, working through centuries of Church history and teaching showed me I was still on solid ground. As with all theology, including the battle cry of the Reformation, “saved by faith alone,” the possibility for abuse with this concept is very real. Yet, that didn’t let me off the hook.
So “how has [my] journey with God been formed by the saints (living or dead)”? By expanding my view of God’s Kingdom and its interconnectedness, I now have more friends to call on when I need prayer partners. Some of them are in the pictures framed on walls and some of them are in pictures called icons.
Almighty God, you have knit together your elect
in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord:
grant us grace so to follow your blessed saints
in all virtuous and godly living
that we may come to those inexpressible joys
that you have prepared for those who truly love you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen. (Collect for All Saints’ Day)
How has your view of Saints changed over the years?
How has your view of the interconnectedness of Christianity broadened?
Valerie Hess is an author, instructor in the Spring Arbor University’s Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation and Leadership (MSFL) program, retreat speaker, musician, mother and pastor’s wife. She does a weekly blog at www.valeriehess.com and has written numerous articles, mostly on the themes of spiritual formation through the spiritual disciplines and church music. She has written three books: Habits of a Child’s Heart: Raising Your Kids with the Spiritual Disciplines (co-authored with Dr. Marti Watson Garlett), Spiritual Disciplines Devotional: A Year of Readings and The Life of the Body: Physical Well-Being and Spiritual Formation" (co-authored with Lane M. Arnold). Her husband is an Associate Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Boulder, CO. She has two daughters.