Faith: An ongoing journey: The life of faith
In my tradition - the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) - the last Sunday in October is celebrated as Reformation Sunday, and the first Sunday in November is celebrated as All Saint’s Sunday.
These are tied together, at least in my thoughts right now, by Paul’s claim in Romans: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by (God’s) grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus”. (Rom. 3:23-24, NRSV)
This particular passage, part of the appointed readings for Reformation Sunday, reminds us of one of the central arguments of the Reformation: Our “justification” is a gift. (Here “justification” means “to be put in a right relationship with.”)
In other words, our relationship with God is made right not by what we do, but by what God has done through Christ. This created considerable dispute in the 16th century; however, today the distinction has been substantially reduced with the ratification of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification between the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation in 1999 (it has since been signed onto by Methodist, Anglican and Reformed churches). A quick internet search will find this agreement from either the Vatican or the Lutheran World Federation.
The passage from Romans also, from a Lutheran perspective, ties into All Saint’s Sunday: All have sinned … all are justified. The Reformation’s Latin phrase is "simul iustus et peccator," emphasizing that we are all simultaneously saint and sinner.
Ecumenical dialogue may have eased the dispute over justification, but the understanding of “saint” still has fairly major variations; I will not attempt to explain other’s traditions regarding “saints.”
In my tradition, this understanding of “all are saints” is traditionally used on All Saints Sunday by remembering those connected with the congregation who have died in the past year and have taken their places in the “great cloud of witnesses.” (Heb. 12:1)
My congregation had several influential people die in the past year. So, in addition to that promise that holds fast at funerals - that death is not the end for Christ has defeated death - the remembrances of All Saint’s Sunday this year remind me of community, and how we are all the product of the many communities that have formed us: family, congregation, school, town, etc.
As we move into a month that is filled with references to Thanksgiving, may we find time to give thanks for the people and communities that have formed us.
But, as important as our formative communities are, who we are is not totally defined by these communities; we add ourselves.
First Lutheran Church, along with many other Lutheran churches, celebrates the Rite of Confirmation (aka Affirmation of Baptism) on Reformation Sunday. Personally, I love the charge that is part of this service: “Do you intend to continue with the covenant God made with you in holy baptism: to live among God’s faithful people, to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper, to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth? Response: I do, and I ask God to help and guide me.” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), 236)
This ought to be asked over and over to all of us as we continue the lifelong journey of following those witnesses whom we remember and celebrate, while, at the same time, continue to discern God’s unique, ongoing call for our justified life.