At this time of the year, we celebrate “All Saints’ Day.”
For many people the word “saint” could barely be understood, simply because the word isn’t used that regularly anymore. When it is used, it refers to something of the religious sphere. Churches still bear names like St. Andrew’s, or St. Luke’s. But what does it refer to?
It does indeed refer to “holy ones”, people that are set apart by God to be sanctified.
Frank Logue asks, “How do you define a person that is a saint? Would you know a real-life saint if you met one?”
Try this definition: “A saint is a dead sinner, revised and edited.” This comes from the early 20th-century satirist Ambrose Bierce in his 1906 work, The Cynic’s Word Book, where he defined saints as revised and edited sinners presumably because if we knew the truth of the saint’s life, we would find a truth more complicated and less holy than the legend.
Indeed, as human beings, we would never be able to be identified as saints on our own. From a divine perspective, things get turned around.
The miracle of it all is that a Christian is not made a saint by their actions.
Perhaps this is why the snarky definition offered by Ambrose Bierce proves oddly accurate and soundly scriptural. Bierce defined a saint as “A dead sinner, revised and edited.” We find the same in scripture and our own lives. All of us are sinners. Not one of us is pure.
What makes someone a saint is not that they are holy, but that God is holy. Everyone of us in baptism is buried with Christ in his death to rise with him in the resurrection. We are all called to be dead to sin and alive to God.
We don’t do any actions to earn or deserve God’s grace and love, which have already been given to us freely. Instead, we love our neighbours as ourselves in response to that love from God, expecting nothing in return as God has given us everything.
Many other dead sinners need to know that God loves them just as they are but wishes to work on revising and editing.
We don’t define saints. God does. God, three-in-one, Father, Son and Holy Spirit wishes that all would gather around God’s heavenly throne in that saintly chorus, singing “Holy, holy, holy”, even you and me.
(The Rev) Heinrich Grosskopf
Dayspring Presbyterian Church, Edmonton