This past Sunday was not only Halloween it was a liturgical holiday known as Reformation Day; meanwhile, this coming Sunday is All Saints Sunday. In our toxically partisan culture, I think it’s helpful to stop and recall that election day falls between these two feast days of the Church year, for a proper understanding of both helps us to keep our politics in proper perspective.
For example, Protestants observe Reformation Day to remember Martin Luther’s recovery of the New Testament doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Reformation Day, in other words, reminds us it’s not our political positions or tribal affiliations that make us righteous. Indeed we are all equally unrighteous— even those neighbors with that sign in their yards— apart from the work of Christ on our behalf.
All Saints, on the other hand, derives from the ancient Church’s practice of remembering the martyrs and, later, took on the more general meaning of remembering all those baptized who’ve died in the Lord. To Reformation Day, All Saints adds the corollary reminders that because it’s a message, the Gospel requires witnesses. We live in an unfortunate time when many Christians, in the name of their politics, bear witness in such a manner as to invalidate the message. Secondly, All Saints reminds us that none of us is getting out of life alive and what ultimately matters is not how we vote on Election Day but that, through water and the word, we have been elected by God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
My friend and mentor, Fleming Rutledge, points out in her book, Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ, that starting with All Saints the assigned scripture readings on the liturgical calendar all take a turn to the End. Immediately after All Saints, the lectionary points us to Jesus’s predictions of the destruction of the temple, of the whole world, and of his second coming. Taken together, All Saints and Advent remind us that the Kingdom must come to us from heaven, in Christ. The Kingdom is not something we can build ourselves on earth. Or, as Jesus puts, “The poor you will always have with you.”
Therefore, there is a finitude to our earthly endeavors and political commitments, a finitude that should chasten and humble us but also free us to love and serve our neighbor with gentleness and winsomeness.
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