Today we celebrate All Saints Day. We ride in the car to our new church, a people we’re still working our way into and around. We’re new to them, them to us.
Last week my husband worshiped with our former church in San Francisco. Only months ago they were ours. We walked there, down city streets, with a boy in a stroller and a baby strapped to my chest.
This week we drive the miles to the center of our new town, where the college students walk from laundromat to sports bar, the lights of the outdoor TV screen flashing pre-game ritual. We worship in the Women’s Federation building: priests in Anglican robes and us in folding chairs. The juxtaposition feels right.
What I love about the liturgy is the ancient connection. The robes of our leaders, the candles, the cross carried down the aisle high above our heads and past our line of vision. As it passes we turn our bodies toward it. There’s something about the practice of worshipping with more than my song, more than my quiet prayers. Here we lift our hands in worship but also toward those we bless. Here I cross myself when I hear the names of the Trinity, a reminder of the shield God makes for me, from head to heart and across my chest. Christ in me and I in Him.
All Saints Day is for remembering all the saints who have ever called upon the Lord. Not just the fancy, important ones. Not just those who wrote brave words or performed the miraculous, but the unremembered elderly woman who raised three boys, suffered much, and prayed in her home for the high school kids who walked past her door each day. For the child who died too young. For the Southern Baptist pastor we called “Brother” who spoke Jesus from his pulpit while I drew in pencil on my church bulletin.
This morning I hear the words: “Recalling the faithfulness of God in past generations gives us courage and conviction for the generations to come.” That’s what our pastor Cliff says as he speaks about Jacob and his frailty, how somehow, God used him for miraculous things.
“The point of the saints,” Cliff says, “is not to look at their lives and think we need to try harder. That’s anti-gospel. It’s their frailty, how God used them in spite of their weakness…When we celebrate the saints, we celebrate a covenant God who keeps his promises for all people. It’s all grace.”
It’s all grace as we kneel to pray, my bare knees on hard floor, and thank God for the saints who’ve already gone. Those who shaped us, by their lives, their ministries, their words on paper and those we never noticed, who lived just as brightly.
We speak their names. I whisper “Brother Shad,” that man who took my hand to my nose, spread his hand across my back and tilt me, seven-years-old, into the water. That saint who spoke of Jesus with tears in his eyes, who sat in front of me in the car in Chile as we drove past a village, his palm on the window toward the people he loved, his blessing.
“Shad Rue,” I say again, thankful, imagining him among that great cloud of witnesses, a mass of people, all roar as we appear.
We gather the boys from the nursery. In the car August wants his favorite song, one he only learned yesterday running errands with his dad. It’s an old hymn with reworked music. The guitar begins and that little boy’s head bobs to the beat (“I like loud guitars!”). When the chorus comes, he sings out what we remember, about our frailty, about a covenant God, about grace:
His love can never fail
His love can never fail
My soul is satisfied to know to His love can never fail