An All Saints’ Day Reflection
Yesterday it was my pure joy to hang all of these saints’ names on the walls of our church. I felt as I was being washed by the church, as if I was literally bathing in the names and the prayers of all those holy men and holy women who have gone before me.
But one thing struck me, it stuck in my mind. I noticed how particularly foreign some of these names sounded. And as I was hanging up a number of famous saints, I knew that they weren’t from any place I had ever been. St. Athanasius was from Egypt, St. Thomas died in India, Oscar Romero was South American. All of these saints were different, they were foreign.
And of course, on Sunday, St. Alban’s was blessed by the presence of Geoffrey Tamutamu, a fellow Anglican from the Diocese of Southern Malawi. I met Geoffrey last week at Camp Allen, and what struck me was how different he was. He spoke differently, he thought differently, and yes, he looked different. In many ways, he is just about as different from me as you can get.
I’ve had many experiences with Christians like Geoffrey Tamutamu. I spent a month in the Dominican Republic at the Episcopal seminary there. And at my seminary in Virginia we had students from Jamaica, Kenya, Tanzania, Swaziland, Burma, and Hong Kong. The music and the languages, the food and the culture from all these places blended into a wonderful medley on the seminary campus.
From outside the church, this would all look like foolery. It would be folly to celebrate men and women who lived long ago and weren’t like us at all. It would be folly to form partnerships with those who don’t look or think or talk like us. It would be a downright waste of time to go to school and pray with those who don’t speak our same language, or aren’t from the same part of the world.
But what the world counts as foolery, God calls his Church.
There is this fabulous image in St. John’s Revelation. In it, he looks up to heaven and sees “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” You see, God’s vision of what the church is called to be is much larger, it’s much grander than anything we can imagine.
From this, we need to learn that our differences are from God. We are not called to be the church in Southern Malawi or the church in the first century, we are called to be church here in Waco, Texas. And when we visit with and pray with the saints of God who are not like us, who don’t think or talk or look like us, it strengthens us. All of our differences, our different tongues and languages and appearances, all of these are like God’s palette, and God blends us and mixes us and paints us onto this beautiful canvas he calls the Church.
But more than that, All Saints’ Day demands something of us. It demands our vulnerability. When we truly engage with all the saints of God, with the whole church from all over the world, we are bound to become uncomfortable. We are most assuredly going to met somebody we disagree with, we are definitely going to find that we vote differently, that we eat different foods, that we speak different languages, that we have different ideas. But this is for our glory – that God calls us together, not demanding that we become the same, but demanding that we become the Church. And as we stand before the throne and before the Lamb, God doesn’t despair that we are so vastly different, God delights in the beauty that so many kinds of people are called together by Jesus Christ.