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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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The communion of saints

We celebrate the living and the dead

My mother prays the Apostles’ Creed. My father says it as an affirmation. My mind wanders.

The first two-thirds of the creed is all history, no heart. Creation, birth, death, resurrection, ascension and judgment are packed into 12 succinct lines. The ministry of Christ lives in the last third of the creed, the part that concerns being church. We get the Spirit, who activates us to be the enduring body of Christ. We get the holy catholic church, the forgiveness of sin, the communion of saints and the promises of resurrection for our made-in-God’s-image bodies and of eternal life.

I recently attended a worship service at which the congregation sat to either side of the altar. When the pastor held the cup aloft during the words of institution, the entire congregation was reflected in its polished surface.

I love the Lutheran understanding of “saints.” They aren’t stained-glass heroes, but those who worship at our side, reflected in the chalice, and who are the mystical sinews and bone and flesh and blood in Christ’s continuing presence among us.

This All Saints’ Sunday, I celebrate eternal life for my Grandma Phyllys, who died this spring. But I also celebrate those living souls who encouraged my faith this year.

When the congregation affirms “the communion of saints,” my mind wanders to Ernest, a Roman Catholic from South Africa, whom I met at this summer’s Parliament of the World’s Religions in Barcelona, Spain. Eight time zones away on this All Saints’ Sunday, he will taste the body and the blood of our Lord as a member of the body of Christ that transcends congregations, denominations and nations.

My mind wanders to Sora, a Muslim from Singapore. Sora whispered translations of Arabic prayers for me during a Mevlevi (mystical Islamic dance) presentation.

My mind wanders to Piara, a Sikh who cleaned my shoes while I enjoyed a blessed meal provided by the Sikh community. “The dust on your shoes represents your journey to us and the opportunity you’ve given us to serve you,” Piara told me. He values the dust on my shoes, while I struggle to remember that my family, friends, colleagues and the driver who cut me off this morning are God’s children.

My mind wanders to Iñaki, who blends Buddhism and Christianity, and who asked me to imagine my hatred to be contained in a handful of dirt. He instructed me to put the dirt beneath a tree in Barcelona and leave it—and my hate—behind. Three months later, my fist is again stained with the residue of disappointment and prideful indignation. I pray for Iñaki’s wisdom to shake off the soil that separates me from my neighbor and from God.

On All Saints’ Sunday, I will give thanks for these souls: Phyllys, my ancestor in faith; Ernest, my Christian brother; Sora who taught me devotion; Piara who taught me hospitality; and Iñaki who taught me to let go my resentment.


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