Generation After Generation

In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.    ~ Ephesians 1:11-23

A child is born.

There has never been, nor will there ever be, anyone like her. She is unique and amazing in all creation. And we wonder: where did she get her eyes? Her hair color? Her disposition? Will she play volleyball? Will she love math, or poetry, or country music? What will be the spiritual and familial heritage she will receive—the ways in which all those who love her, will help her become who she is, and who she is meant to be? A child is born.

A man dies.

There never was, nor will there ever be again, anyone like him. He was unique and amazing, and he lived a long and rich life. He was loved for his smile and his kindness, and his constant presence at his grandchildren’s sporting events. He was loved for the way he ambled across the fairway, and for the simple fact that he was a present and loving husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather. He was a man of faith. What is the spiritual and familial heritage he left for those whose lives he touched?  A man dies.

A child is born, and a man dies. And, through the lens of faith, we claim this: Their heritage in faith is one and the same. Each of them, the man and the child, was chosen by God for baptism. Each of them, the child and the man, is a saint of the church of Jesus Christ.

There it is… a churchy word that we need to parse to keep things clear. For some Christians, “saints” are just a few, exemplary people, whose lives were inspiring, and whose good works seemed to continue after death, so that the church actually singled them out, and lifted them up, and called them saints.

But for us, we Protestants in the Reformed tradition who take our cue from the author of this scripture passage, “saints” are every single person who is a member of the church, which is also called the “body of Christ.” We are made saints by baptism, and we are joined to that body—we become a part of that family which, just like our own families, are enormous and in some ways unknowable assemblies of the living and the dead, whose origins travel back, generation after generation, into a mysterious past. And like our own families, the church does not end with us, nor our children, whom we carry to the font and baptize, nor our grand, or great, or great-great-grandchildren. The church continues into a future we cannot see yet, which is still beyond our vision, the stuff of dreams—and the saints of that future, unknowable church are, like those of the church past, still and already with us, gathered around, praying for us, encouraging us, giving us strength.

It’s a little overwhelming. It’s not the stuff of math formulas or theorems with proof, And yet, that is the promise we are given, when we say those words: I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic (universal) church, the communion of saints…

And don’t worry if your belief falters, if your faith feels fleeting, or sometimes, not there at all. We are surrounded, here, and beyond, by others embracing these claims, and living into them. We can lean on one another’s faith, when our own hesitates. We can trust in one another’s faith, when ours skips town. And we can wait to be carried back by the God whom Jesus trusted, we can wait for wisdom. We can wait for the eyes of our hearts to be enlightened. And we can gather around the table to be strengthened for the journey. Thanks be to God. Amen.