Unfinished business: Remembering the saints

Published 8:00 am Sunday, November 13, 2022

By Charles Qualls

With Hope

Last week, I spoke with a young woman who lost her husband early in life. Her resilience and strength have proven remarkable. Still, on key occasions like birthdays and anniversaries, she finds herself reflecting on him more than ever. 

That’s understandable. It’s what we tend to do. She thinks about all that could have been. She recalibrates her life to her reality now, acknowledging all that did not get to be. She has unfinished business with him. 

In worship this week, we observed All Saints Day. We do this each year on the first Sunday in November. Emblematic of the loved ones all of us have lost in times past, we called the names of those who have gone on from our membership in the last year. 

Occasionally we call names of the rich, but not always. Occasionally we call names of the famous, but not always. Likelier, we call the names of ordinary people like you and me. People we are different for having been around.

We tend to think of so many who we’ve lost as “Saints.” But Saints just might be those who have especially lived out the Golden Rule right in front of us. That might truly be our best indicator of who we call saints. 

People who have tried, to mixed success, living life well. People who Jesus loves, which includes all of us. These are people who weren’t perfect. But who got one shot, just like the rest of us, to live out this lifetime on earth. On balance, they stood out as getting it far more right than they did wrong. 

As Nadia Bolz-Weber reminds, for most of us “Saints” aren’t a special category of people who happen to be the opposite of sinners. In our tradition, saints are just regular sinners who happen to be forgiven. That’s all of us who seek grace, by the way.

Our scripture in Luke 6: 20-31 gives us a series of blessings and woes. They encourage us toward healthier behaviors or standards. They discourage us from less healthy ways. When Jesus was talking here, he had gathered a group who had come to hear him speak as they had heard already he could. 

They had heard that Jesus had some power. They had heard that Jesus had some wisdom. He imparted to them in a series of Blessings and Woes his perspective. He taught them what they would need to know to live this side of Heaven.

When I think of Jesus’ teaching, all of the effort and years Jesus put into discipling the people who showed up to listen to him, that’s one of the main things he seemed to be doing. He was teaching all of Creation how to coexist. 

So these blessings and woes remind me of how much unfinished business I have with people of all kinds who are now gone. People who have been in my life, and have touched me for good and for harm. People who were easy to love. People who inspired with generosity. People who were complicated and who disappointed me. 

Rarely if ever rich, and rarely if ever famous, they were just our people. They were ordinary people who oftentimes were doing the best they knew how, within the limitations we all have. So in our service we were reminded of ordinary people. Of course, in this way ordinary isn’t a bad thing at all.

Recently, a woman wrote about the passing of her father with whom she had a complicated relationship. One sentence in particular, about her father’s failings stood out. In speaking about their reconciliation at the end of his life, she said “[His] shortcomings that seemed so glaring when I was young suddenly faded because I could see how the story worked out.”

On All Saints Sunday, we are reminded that life never requires our loved ones to be perfect. Which is a good thing, because it probably didn’t work out that way. 

The blessings and woes also remind me that the grief or loss experience isn’t all one thing or another. Something else happens, though, as I reflect on Jesus’ teachings here and reflect on those who have passed. This observance has caused me to reflect on the fragile, precious gift of life. 

Eventually, I realize I also have unfinished business with many who are still alive. It is with those loved ones that I get to continue writing the story that will one day be of their Sainthood, and perhaps mine, too.

Dr. Charles Qualls is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.