As I write this reflection, we are fast approaching All Saints Day. To be clear, this is actually rather odd for a Protestant community, since the early Protestants declared that all Christians are saints. Therefore, there is no need to single out individuals for remembrance or inspiration. And yet, some Protestants did find a way to preserve a kind of recognition in the form of Totensoontag, also known as Totenfest. In this ceremony, the faithful who have departed in the previous year are remembered and oftentimes, honored with pictures and lit candles. Of course, this is precisely what we do at Immanuel—even though we refer to the day as All Saints Day. And rather than making a point to modify this misphrasing, I actually find it encouraging that we are so hospitable that we have no problem with so-called Catholic celebrations, which we have found ways to incorporate into our services.
Many of you are probably in shock at this point, and others may be chuckling. My hope was for the latter response, not because I necessarily think that all theological differences are trivial, but rather I think we humans find ourselves unable to tend the “theological walls” we’ve erected when it comes to those we love. And with good reason. We worship a relational God, are made in the image of that relational God, and furthermore, seek to be in deeper relationship with this God. How better to live in God’s presence than by loving our neighbor as ourselves, which means of course sharing what we have, listening for what we do not know, and yes, worshipping with those that do not formally affiliate with our denominational gathering.
As many of you probably know by now, I was raised in a Southern Baptist church. What this meant was that we railed against anything that looked like “tradition” (a bad word to be sure in this community), while forming some of the most immoveable traditional practices the world has seen! You see, it’s impossible to not foster traditions. Otherwise, how would we relate to each other, cook with each other, sing together, and even dance! (Another bad word in the community of my youth.) Traditions are ways of building relationship, and of course, even when we change our minds about certain features of our overall worldview, it is quite difficult to disentangle ourselves from our traditions. To do so would be what some call, “throwing the baby out with the bath water.”
All Saints Day, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and so many other holidays in the life of our church and other families are ways of relating with people with whom we may not otherwise be able to communicate. Doing so is not disingenuous; it’s the most human thing we can do—break bread with people, have a drink, sing a song, dance with someone (or at least try if you’re like me!). Yes, we are Protestants, protesting till we die I suppose. However, even the most Protestant of us have depths that are unable to be contained by any tradition. I encourage you during this holiday season to let yourself be carried beyond the boundaries of a certain practice and perhaps find that you have a whole lot in common with people that seemed initially to be so different from you. Of course, that would mean also being a lot like Jesus. Are you ready?