Sunday, October 28, 2018

All Saints Day: On the Way to Holiness

Oh, Lord, we want to be in that number! When the saints go marching in, of course. And we are, at least symbolically, every time we walk into a church. The aisle(s) of a church offer us a way to think about the life of faith. Are we getting closer to our goal? Are we farther away? Of course, most of us are in the same place, the same pew, week after week, which might say something, too.

The church of S. Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy, is a basilica plan church (the footprint is a rectangle with a half-circle apse at the end opposite the door). The side walls (connecting the door wall and the apse wall) are covered with mosaic figures in procession toward the altar. On the left side the 22 female martyrs process from a representation of the city of Classe toward a group that includes Mary with the Christ Child on her lap and flanked by four angels. Their procession is led by the magi, identified by name as Balthasar, Melchior and Gaspar. To the right is a procession of 26 male martyrs in a composition that echoes the opposite procession. These martyrs are led by Saint Martin as they move from the Palace of Theodoric toward a figure group that includes Christ seated on a throne again flanked by four angels.

(Top) South wall mosaics of male martyrs. (Bottom) North wall mosaic of female martyrs. Consecrated 6th century. 

The martyrs clothed in white and carrying their wreaths and palms may seem beyond our reach. Their exemplary lives of service and sacrifice and ultimate sanctification may seem unattainable. But these two mosaic processions do more than dishearten those of us living in this world. They also demonstrate for worshipers the idea of entering the building and, throughout life, moving toward the holy.

In the Reformed tradition, All Saints Day reminds us of God's work of sanctifying not just spiritual superstars but the whole people of God. We give thanks for the lives of believers whose lives were both ordinary and holy in this age and in every age. We give glory to God as we remember members of the community of faith who have died in the past year. And yes, we pray that we will be in that number when the saints go marching in.

For additional thoughts on All Saints, click here.
If you aren't focusing on All Saints this Sunday, see Art&Faith Matters' Facebook post about Ruth and Naomi.

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