- The Washington Times - Monday, November 6, 2000

Excerpts from a sermon given yesterday by the Rev. Gary G. Pinder at Lewinsville Presbyterian Church in McLean, Va.

Over in Great Britain on Oct. 31, people speak of "All Hallows Eve." In our nation, kids go out for trick-or-treat. Even adults are dressing up spooky and grotesque to celebrate the dead.

We in the church have All Saints Day, and there is nothing spooky about it. Christians have kept this day for centuries. We tend to think of the day vertically. Saints are up there, and we are down here. How strange might this thinking be? People we love die, and quite bluntly we bury them deep down. Yet if we are at all religious, we think of them as "up."

This makes good sense when we believe Jesus Christ, our Lord, has risen. The One the world put down, God raised up in triumph. The nail-cut, beat-up, joked-about, slapped-around Jesus now "sits at the right hand of God."

So it is no wonder that we believe those who died in the faith are lifted up. But the early church, my friends, had a view that was much more horizontal. Death also pointed to the future. They lived a drama in which scene after scene led finally to a great and good happy ending. God's purpose fulfilled a new heaven and new earth. Death, mourning, crying and pain would be no more, and people would live together in love.

Most of you know the Dixieland classic, "When the Saints Go Marching In." Down in New Orleans, it is played at funerals, a song of "sweet mercy" and "joyous reunion" with God. No wonder the saints are on parade.

The biblical witness, and the faith given us through Jesus Christ, proclaims that all will end in a new future, beyond racism and sexism, beyond political posturing, exploitative economic and military power, and beyond "We're No. 1" national pride. A world where all things are made new. The saints are already there. So you see, it's not only up, but in the future.

Saints are not what we see in stained-glass windows. In the late medieval world, the cult of the saints had turned into hero worship. People prayed to and through the spotless virtue of the saints. The 16th-century reformers discovered that "saints" in the Bible are all persons in the church, called and chosen by Jesus Christ.

They are the baritone who sings off key, the elder who falls asleep each Sunday, and the adolescent who fantasizes about the cute girl a few pews ahead of him. These people are the saints, all sinners claimed by Jesus Christ. When we sing the grand hymn, "For All the Saints," you may giggle a little, for we understand who the saints are.

How can we call ordinary people like you and me saints? The answer: God's loving grace. If we set up God's heaven based on our moralities or religious understanding, deciding who is "in" or who is "up," remember Jesus' words. The prostitutes and racketeers are crowding into the kingdom of God before us. But don't we have a place in heaven by our [Christian] faith? No, and Jesus remembered Abraham, Isaac and that slick crook Jacob as being saints in heaven before us… .

It's not virtue, and not even faith in Jesus. No, but the unmerited, freely given grace of God. The grace of a God who cast Christ Jesus' own innocence like a white baptismal robe over us. The saints are good, broken people, waiting for us gleefully in the resurrection of the dead. Where are the saints? Up or in the future? The Bible does not answer us except in imagery.

There, we have a picture of a gathering around Jesus at a table that is bigger than time. The cheers are full-throated and the wine is blood red. We are headed to that great party. There we will see Sigmund Freud chatting with John Calvin, St. Francis buttering bread with a bird on his shoulder, Martin Luther banging his beer mug as Martin Luther King Jr. spins out a dream. Of course, we can add everyone we have known, their sins now transformed. All Saints Day is a celebration.

Next week: a sermon by the Rev. Henry Y. White at Brown Memorial AME Church in the District of Columbia.

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