(Only read this first paragraph is you are a geek like me. Otherwise, skip it and jump in below. You've been warned.) In this post, I'm going to be using the word "saints" in a very Reformed, Protestant manner. There is a phrase in one of Paul's letters- part of the greeting- where he refers to the church to whom he is writing as those who are "called saints." Or, it could be translated "called to be saints." My sense is that Protestants tack toward the first translation, assuming that all of us who have been claimed by God's grace are called saints; while Roman Catholics seem to tack toward the second translation, assuming that there are certain persons whose lives and actions make them 'saints', unlike the rest of us. Today I'm using the word "saints" in the first sense; tomorrow I'll explore the second sense.
On our trip to El Salvador, we experienced what the Apostles' Creed calls "the communion of saints." On several occasions we had, in our company, not only our delegations and our hosts, but also the presence of those who have died. And while I am generally not a spooky sort of thinker, feeling the living presence of the dead is very much a Christian experience. I'll share two:
The first was in El Mozote, a town that was virtually wiped out by the Salvadoran military during the war. General Monterrosa- trained and equipped by the U.S.- launched a massacre on the small town of El Mozote because they were thought to be offering aid to the rebels moving around in the surrounding woods. Mark Danner's excellent book, Massacre at El Mozote, describes carefully how this massacre took place. The men were separated out and taken into a house and shot. The women and children were separated and the children were gathered into the church hall and shot, then the hall was set afire. The women went ballistic when they heard their children being killed and had to be herded down the street where they were shot and killed. It was mindless violence, meant to instill fear into other communities. One woman survived- Maya Rufina, who died a couple of years ago. Maya Rufina survived by hiding under the branches of a maguey plant until she was able to escape amid passing cattle and make it into the woods.
It has always been my experience that, whenever I stand in El Mozote, I am standing among the children who were massacred there. I feel them calling me to speak out against violence; to ensure that- as the plaque there says- El Mozote, Nunca mas! (never again!). I feel accountable to those children, whose names and ages are listed from 3 days old to 18 years, numbering at least 300 victims. To me, those children are the saints with whom I am called to live accountably as a person of faith. The communion of saints- living as if victims matter. (You can read more about this by viewing my sermon from last Sunday at www.heartlandpresbyterian.org.)
The second occasion on which I felt the communion of saints was in El Tablon Cerna, when we dedicated a brand new school. Most of the money for this school was provided by memorial money from two women- Ruby Hartsook and Trina Fischer. Ruby's son Larry was there to tell us of how she was born in the early 20th century, riding a horse to a one-roomed school house and getting there first in order to start the fire for warmth. He spoke of how Ruby married and after the 2nd World War they bought a house in which she and her husband lived for the remainder of their days. And now Ruby Hartsook- of blessed memory- has left behind estate money that was given freely on behalf of the children of El Tablon Cerna.
Then Bill Fischer spoke about his daughter Trina. Unlike Ruby, Trina did not live a long and complete life. She died way too young, leaving behind grieving family and her partner Erica, who was able to join us for this celebration as well. Before she died, Trina was able to visit El Tablon and as she was dying she made it clear that whatever memorial gifts might be given on her behalf, she wanted to put toward the school that the children of El Tablon Cerna needed.
Most of our friends from El Tablon would not remember Trina and none of them had ever met Ruby. But, on Wednesday of last week, Trina and Ruby were present in that school- they were remembered, loved, and mystically laughing with us as we danced, crying with us as we cried, and hoping with us as we put our hope in God's steadfast love that endures forever.
I believe in the communion of saints. Amen.