Our church isn’t liturgical. I don’t think I knew that word until I was an adult. I thought the ‘church calendar’ was Christmas and Easter, including Good Friday, of course.
To me, Saints were either in the bible or more recent dead people who’d been in church their whole lives. Living saints? A few old folks may have been described in that way. Sinners? Oh yes, we were all sinners- with the tag line ‘saved by grace’.
Our denomination is a combination of Wesleyan and Armenian in practice and theology meaning we can get a little loosey-goosey with how our church services are conducted. Some will have everyone stand when scripture is read and others won’t. Some sit, stand, sit, stand as if it were a Catholic mass but most are more intentional about just sitting there.
Oh, and we clap our hands on fast songs. Yes, yes, we do. There may even be a few timbrels shaking too.
But we don’t follow a calendar that has words like Maundy and we don’t refer to Mary as our mother.
I was an adult before I saw Advent candles in one of our church or had an Ash Wednesday service. New expressions of worship were being brought to our nontraditional Sunday worship.
One of my favorite reads of this year was Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People. Nadia Bolz-Weber, the author, is a pastor in the Lutheran church. She is an unusual mix of foul-mouthed visual edginess and liturgical orthodoxy.
In her book, she talks about celebrating All Saints Day in House for All Sinners and Saints, the church she pastors. She prefaces by saying Americans “tend to forget our ancestors” except the church where we proclaim the dead are still part of us.
The Bible provides a record of those who’ve gone on before us, who’ve charted the way. The book of Hebrews refers to our “great cloud of witnesses”, those saints who have lead the way and support us still. (Hebrews 12:1)
Our church doesn’t affix the title Saint to the names of the disciples or anyone. We might refer to the Apostle Paul but not Saint Paul or Matthew or Christopher (who I’ve heard is one of the saints in the Catholic church).
The only qualifications we’ve held for someone to hold this title is that they are old and a long-time church goer. There is no ceremony and no official title.
The past dozen years I’ve found myself in the company of people who have been labeled addict. Some have criminal records, others have done worse crimes but have never been found out. These are the men we ask to read scripture in our Sunday worship. Men who were thieves move up and down the aisles collecting the offering from others who have robbed.
We sit with them at lunch and hug them when needed, or just because it’s Tuesday.
These men are confusing my picture of saints.
Bolz-Weber says, “I want racist to stay in the “racist” box. When they start sneaking into the “saint” box, it makes me nervous. But that’s how it works……I am faced with the sticky ambiguities around saints who were bad and sinners who were good.”
“…it has been my experience that what makes us the saints of God is not our ability to be saintly but rather God’s ability to work through sinner.”
I see these men work for their sobriety, for their recovery. But we don’t have to work for grace. Praise God for his mercy and grace that allows his love to flow through a sinner like me and make this sinner a saint for more than one day.