Scripture for All Saints Sunday: Isaiah 25.6-9; Ps 24:1–6; Revelation 21:1–6a; John 11:32–44 (part of the raising of Lazarus by Jesus)
All Saints’ Day is an occasion to commemorate and celebrate the lives of those who have demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to the Christian faith. Yet it begs a question: what makes a saint? More broadly, what is extraordinary?
Jesus raised Lazarus, which was extraordinary, yet if we look around our world, there are all sorts of ‘ordinary’ miracles, starting with the miracle of life itself.
There was a young girl, Thérèse of Lisieux, who became a twentieth century saint, made famous through her writing for her ‘little way’ to God. Some find her way to be trivial and sentimental: for example, does God really need to be bothered when one nun splashes another in the laundry room? Yet her ‘little way’ of taking everything in her ordinary life to God was to prepare her for the greatest trial of her life: tuberculosis. The disease killed her, but not before she had bent herself to pray for others and make her life an act of love. She took what was ordinary, brought it to God, and she was then prepared to take all of life to God. She was in this respect exemplary, with God’s grace transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary.
In looking for extraordinary saints and extraordinary miracles in our own lives, we may risk overlooking ordinary miracles. There’s a song called ‘Ordinary Miracle,’ composed for the film of the story of Charlotte’s Web – a story in which an ordinary spider devotes her life to saving a pig – and ultimately dies. (Incidentally, it’s not just the gift of her life for the pig that brings a lump to my throat, it’s when Charlotte’s baby spiders appear: a kind of resurrection – new life – an ordinary thing which spiders do all the time!) Nevertheless, the song makes the point that much of what makes the world work is really quite miraculous, and yet we regard it all as ordinary.
There are three days in this celebration of sainthood and life: All Hallows’ Eve; All Saints Day; and All Souls Day.
Halloween helps us to face the darkness in our lives, especially the biggest darkness, death, by making fun of it, and by symbolically refusing to let the dark conquer the light. All Saints Day celebrates saintliness, the extraordinary quality of exceptional commitment to God’s will, following Christ. All Souls Day celebrates the gift of life, and the gifts of the lives who have gone before us.
So All Saints Day is a chance to celebrate “ordinary saintliness” – except – that’s an oxymoron – to celebrate forms of saintliness that we undervalue or dismiss as ordinary. And saintliness found in ordinary people – like us.
This might lead us to conclude that we might risk spending our time looking for extraordinary saints, while missing the opportunity to be ‘ordinary’ ones ourselves.