When the Saints go Marching In


When the saints go marching in, in the words of the old jazz and spiritual classic, do you want to be in that number?

For most of us, I suspect the answer is a definite maybe. Unfortunately, the problem with the traditional saints is that they seem to have little in common with us. They stir the natural resentment we first experienced in elementary school in the presence of the impossibly good. They remind us of the teacher’s pet who always had his or her hand up before anybody else had a chance to answer the question. And that raises the eternal question:  If we go to heaven, will we have anyone like ourselves to talk to?

The Saints as Marvel Comic Book Heroes

If you dust off your copy of Butler’s Lives of the Saints (published 1756), or read alternative commentaries on the Internet, you will find that saintly figures led lives that outdid the deeds of any Marvel comic book hero.

Consider Saint Denis of Paris, born sometime in the third century AD, who grew up to be a bishop and was very good at converting pagans to Christianity, so good that the pagans took umbrage and beheaded him. Saint Denis then picked up his head and walked away for several miles, preaching all the while. Some pastors just don’t know when to end a sermon.

Saint Joseph of Cupertino (not the one in Silicon Valley) was born in 1603 and grew up to be known as the Flying Friar. He would go into trances and levitate. In the fullness of time, he became the patron saint of pilots – which makes a certain sense, although it was the last thing his parents expected. 

Saint Simeon Stylites, born about 390, also got closer to heaven in this life, only he perched on a platform atop a pillar for 37 years. Crowds would gather below to hear his wisdom (this was before Internet chatrooms). Boys from a local village would climb a ladder to supply him with flatbread and goat’s milk. Indeed, eating little or nothing was something of a trend with early saints. If Weight Watchers ever wants a patron saint, it can take its pick.

Some of these tales were no doubt embellished by the vivid popular imagination of the time but the fact that common people told tall stories of the saints was surely reflective of a core truth: That these saints fervently loved the Lord and lived uncommonly pious and good lives.  Regular People As Saints

After the Reformation, the new church accepted the saints of the old church as being grandfathered in. But do Episcopalians have their own saints? Yes, they do. Vida Dutton Scudder, born 1861, feast day Oct. 10, is one of these saints. Featured in our parish’s October Good News magazine, she was an educator and activist supporting workers and women.

In short, she was recognizably like many who struggle in the modern world. Examples like hers give us hope. For as Pastor Linda has explained, Episcopalians take a broader view of saints – they are the everyday people who believe in Jesus, they are your neighbors next to you in the pews.

So on All Saints Day, we can contemplate marching in to heaven in that number without the aid of any pillar habitation or ecstatic levitation. And if the Lord so deems it, you can speak to me and I’ll speak to you when we get there.