November 1, 2016

Ordinary People, Saints, and Living Holy Lives

Today we claim the song as ours, belting it out full throttle, especially today as we celebrate All Saints Day.

“I sing a song of the saints of God, patient and brave and true, who toiled and fought and lived and died for the Lord they loved and knew. And one was a doctor and one was a queen, and one was a shepherdess on the green: they were all of them saints of God—and I mean, God helping, to be one too.”

(If you’re primed to sing the rest, go ahead and turn to page 293 in the 1982 Hymnal of the Episcopal Church).

You may find yourself in this first verse (if you happen to be a doctor or a shepherdess, or, like me, married to a man whose last name is queen). Or you see yourself in the second or third verses. That’s one of the beauties of the song; it invites us to realize that the Saints of the church—those capital S saints who we honor today for their witness and devotion to our risen Christ—weren’t superheroes or rock stars but mostly ordinary people who rose above themselves to express extraordinary faith.

Children get this in a way that we adults often forget. They see goodness in unexpected places. They find opportunities to be kind when we’re too busy adult-ing. They express unadulterated joy: In the box a present is wrapped in. In a dime-store bouncy ball. In fireflies and campfire stories. In games of tag and a night of candy-collecting.

In fact, the 1940 Hymnal recognized the connection of these lyrics to children. This song was not in the main part of the songbook but rather in a special section called “Hymns for Children.”

On Sunday, we heard the gospel reading from Luke about Zacchaeus. You know, the tax collector who wanted to see Jesus but couldn’t catch a glimpse because he was short and the crowd was large.

If that still doesn’t ring a bell, think of the song from your childhood:

"Zacchaeus was a wee little man,
and a wee little man was he.
He climbed up in a sycamore tree
For the Lord he wanted to see.

And when the Savior passed that way
He looked up and said, 'Zacchaeus,
You come down, For I'm going to your house today!
For I'm going to your house today!

Zacchaeus was a wee little man,
But a happy man was he,
For he had seen the Lord that day
And a happy man was he;
And a very happy man was he.”

Zacchaeus and the many Saints we honor this day compel us to examine our lives, to see if our trajectory is leading us to more holy lives or farther away. These songs for children are meant for adults too, for us to ask in earnest the question: Are we willing to run and dash and scramble up trees to get a better look at Jesus?

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