Having run out of Naked Gun movies to reference in my titles, I thought I’d let the Rev. Dr. Thomas J. Talley, late Professor of Liturgics at the General Theological Seminary, bring this week long exploration of sainthood full circle. The Rev. Dr. Talley has the distinct honor of being the only person, other than Luke the Evangelist and the Apostle Paul, to be quoted in the Criteria or Principles for Revision of the Episcopal Church Calendar. He first makes an appearance in the 2006 edition of Lesser Feasts and Fasts as the guiding principles were changed during the 2006 General Convention in preparation for 2009’s Holy Women, Holy Men. His quote falls under the heading “Memorability” in 2006 and 2009 and is included in the SCLM’s proposal for A Great Cloud of Witnesses under the heading “Range of Inclusion.” With what I can only assume is a nod to the old Ecclesiasticus lesson of the BCP Lectionary, the SCLM writes:
“In order to celebrate the whole history of salvation, it is important also to include those ‘whose memory may have faded in the shifting fashions of public concern, but whose witness is deemed important to the life of the Church’ (Thomas Talley)” (HWHM).
I couldn’t agree more. For a Church that up until 1979 included only those Saints whose names could be found in the New Testament, The Episcopal Church has worked hard over the last three-and-a-half decades to find appropriate ways to remember those whose lives, witness, and ministry have altered the course of Christianity. We still only give the title “saint” to a very small handful of Biblical souls (not even the great Francis is called a Saint on our calendar), but, by and large, we have done a decent job of lifting up godly women and men who offer examples of kingdom living in a myriad of different contexts.
For me, however, the goal of All Saints’ Day isn’t to remember those who have been given space on the Calendar, but instead to lift up those “whose memory may have faded” or “who died as though they never existed” and most especially, those who this very day are working to bring the Kingdom of God to earth as it is in heaven. All Saints’ Day is a day to celebrate all the saints, which is why, despite the somewhat hokey lyrics and childlike melody, it is the third verse of Lesbia Scott’s hymn, “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God” that, in my opinion, does the heaviest theological lifting on All Saints’ Day.
They lived not only in ages past;
there are hundreds of thousands still.
The world is bright with the joyous saints
who love to do Jesus’ will.
You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea,
In church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea;
For the saints of God are just folk like me,
and I mean to be one too.