Speaking Ill of the Saints

As we prepare to celebrate All Saints’ Sunday this weekend, I wonder if you are feeling the complicated pull I am about the saints who surround you, both living and deceased. I am so grateful for those who have walked in faith with me, from my earliest days until now, for the ways they have helped me grow into the person God means me to be.

And ALSO, I am more aware of the ways in which those saints are sinners too, and have done me harm as they have walked with me, in ways I am still recovering from and integrating into who I am.

I am especially thinking of Marrett, my deceased second husband, as I always do near All Saints (which coincides each year with Deer Opener in Minnesota), and the ways his sinfulness and saintliness cannot be separated from each other, anymore than my own can. It has been the hardest part of grief for me, to hold together the ways in which my relationship with him changed me for better and for worse.

It seems appropriate then that All Saints follows so closely on the heels of Reformation Day in my Lutheran tradition, for one of the hallmarks of Lutheranism is paradox. “Simul iustis et peccatur” Luther said, which is just Latin for Saint and Sinner at the same time.

Those two realities are equally true, even though they seem opposite, and our traditional All Saints’ celebrations don’t make much space for the sinner parts of our memories. Neither do our funeral rituals, or the way we generally sanctify those who have died and only talk publicly about their good qualities. “You should never speak ill of the dead”, right?! 

Wrong. Not that we speak ill of the saints who have surrounded and supported us, but we simply speak honestly, reminding ourselves that no one of us is wholly a saint. Just as no one of us is wholly a sinner. We are all both, and God through Jesus makes space for that, even if the church does not.

This year, my little Shelter Church, will try to make space as well, creating an altar for the saints and lighting candles as is traditional. But we are also big fans at Shelter Church of offerings made to God on post-its notes, so we will invite each other as we remember those saints we hold in communion with us, to also remember the ways they hurt and harmed us. This too is an offering acceptable to God.

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