A broader definition of sainthood

Sunday, November 1, 2009

"Keep a good grip on it." That's one of my favorite lines from the 1966 film "A Man for All Seasons." Here's the prelude to that climactic phrase:Sir Thomas More: Why have I been summoned to this court?

Lord High Judge: To answer to a charge of high treason.

Master Secretary: For which the penalty is not imprisonment.

Sir Thomas More: Death. Death comes to us all; yes, even for kings he comes.

Lord High Judge: The death of kings is not in question, Sir Thomas.

Sir Thomas More: Nor is mine, I trust, until I've been proven guilty.

Duke of York: Your life is in your own hands, Thomas, as it always was.

Sir Thomas More: Is that true, my lord? Then I'll keep a good grip on it.

Sir Thomas More is recognized today as a saint by the largest Christian denomination on earth. The one-time English chancellor was beheaded for his decision to withhold public support for King Henry VIII's decision to divorce Queen Katherine and marry his mistress, Anne Boleyn.

Today is All Saints Sunday. The tradition that I represent has a somewhat broader definition of "saint." More is a saint, yes, but so am I -- and so is anyone who sincerely trusts in Christ for salvation. No ecclesial sanction is necessary, in other words, to fit the definition.

In my congregation this morning, we will remember 19 departed "saints" who have died in the past 12 months. This practice will be duplicated in many churches this Sabbath day throughout the world.

The news these days is sated with stories about health care. Health care is nothing more and nothing less than the ongoing effort to keep a good grip on life. None of us knows what is going to happen with the various reform proposals swirling through Washington.

Saint or not, what we can all accept, regardless of political viewpoint, is that one day our grip on life will weaken, our hands with go slack and we'll let go of the mortal coil. By faith, we trust that a new imperishable life is attained as we fall back from life and pass the barrier of death. We do not beckon death, but we need not fear it because we have hope.

The name Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald is largely relegated to the dustbin of history. She is remembered as the troubled wife of celebrated writer F. Scott Fitzgerald. Zelda died in a North Carolina sanitarium in 1948. The saddest thing about Zelda is this quote attributed to her: "I don't need anything except hope, which I can't find by looking backward or forward, so I suppose the thing to do is shut my eyes."

Hope does push us forward, with apologies to the late Mrs. Fitzgerald. Hope is indispensable. We simply can't live without it. Oh, we can breathe without hope; we can make a heart monitor move without it. But real life is more than a breath and a beating heart; it is trusting that something better is coming over the next hill, across the next horizon. Hope is why we can face death on All Saints Day. We are persuaded that something better will be delivered by the one who made us that promise.

So in the meantime -- and if you are reading this, you are in the meantime between birth and death -- my advice is to keep a good grip on it. On life. And may the God of grace, who raised Jesus from the dead, guard your hearts and minds in Christ.

Jeff Long is pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau. Married with two daughters, he is of Scots and Swedish descent, loves movies and is a lifelong fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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