For all the saints

Published 9:54 pm Tuesday, November 5, 2019

By Charles Qualls

This Sunday in many of our churches, we observed All Saints Sunday. Like some congregations, we take a look back at those we have lost from our fellowship during the past year. Representatives from all the families come down the aisle as their loved one’s name is called and place a rose that will be displayed in an arrangement on the altar. The list is always far too long.

When a family, a community or a church loses even one of its saints, the group changes forever. We have been blessed with a number of new members in the last few years. We have several individuals and prospects getting to know our church even now. We pray they will choose to identify with us.

But, we can’t ever replace those we lose. We can add new friends, family and church members who enrich and even strengthen us. Still, the saints who blessed us are now fondly remembered.

A friend once told a story that I have shared a few times in funerals and memorial services. He was a tiny child during the Korean Conflict. His across-the-street neighbor was deployed for what was to be a few years hitch. The soldier and his young wife moved out of the house they were renting. As they did, they asked my friend’s parents if they wished to hold onto and use their new electric washing machine for the time.

The neighbors assured them of their intent to return to the neighborhood should he make it home from war. Off they went, with his young bride moving home to live with her family during his military service. Such an innovation as this washing machine quickly became handy in the house, compared with the more manual machine they owned. My friend’s family used it to launder their clothes on a regular basis.

A short few years later, the neighbor had completed his time in the service. The young couple were moving back nearby. Soon, they came to pick up their washing machine. My friend, still a young boy, cried as they drove off. “Mama, how could they do that?” he wailed. “Do what?” his mother asked. “How could they come take away our washing machine?”

He says he never forgot what his mother said in reply. “Honey, the washing machine was never truly ours. It was a gift just to get to enjoy and watch over it while our neighbors were away. When you have been given a gift, the only proper response is to say ‘Thanks!’”

Sure as I get started naming them, obviously space will not allow me to complete the list. Just recently, our community has lost some who stood tall among us. Joe Misseri welcomed us in with his own special hospitality and good food. Bill Scarboro worked not only as a skilled engineer for the mill, but also filled vital gaps in service to our city. Big Frank Jester, Peggy Blythe, Ed Hotchkiss and Asa Johnson. They made us better and more complete in their own unique ways.

Your list, and our church’s list, would have far more than I can name here. Why do we seem to wait for a funeral, a memorial service or an All Saints Sunday to give thanks for the gifts that are never truly ours? Why do we wait until a time when we have lost to appreciate those who shape our world and who provide such nurturing presence?

Oh, someone would debate the term “saints” on a theological or ideological basis. I choose to err on the side of grace and go ahead anyway. We have saints walking among us. We assume we’ll speak to them one more time on the phone, we’ll run into them a million more times at the restaurant. We figure we’ll get to thank them someday for who they are.

Maybe today is the day I should tell a specific someone how much I appreciate them as a gift. Maybe today is the day I should give my mother an extra phone call. Maybe today is the day I should hug someone special who is never truly mine. I need to be thankful for all the saints.

THE REV. DR. CHARLES QUALLS is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 562-5135.