Pastor Jerry Donovan
November 6 was All Saints Sunday in many faith traditions. Who are saints? Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 1:10 they are all those who “glorify Jesus” and “marvel at him” on the day of his returning. How can we “be in that number, when the saints go marching in?” In verse 12 he says by being “in that number” among whom the name of Jesus is glorified now.
There were two pastors Trott and McLeod as well as many other lay and clergy who were advocates against the relocation of Native Americans from their lands in northern Georgia, and who traveled with them when they were forced onto the Trail of Tears. If you read their stories, you see them receiving brutal treatment because of their attempts to oppose the seizure and relocation policies of the state of Georgia and the federal government under Andrew Jackson’s administration. However, you also see their persistent efforts to offer their personal witness and conduct worship, even in jail.
Through their story, and the story of Proctor, a native Cherokee captured with them, we also see how, as brutal as the treatment of advocates for the Cherokee was, the Cherokee themselves were treated with even greater violence and hostility.
In World War II there was a woman who wrote this saintly prayer at the concentration camp in Ravensbrück: “O Lord, remember not only the men and women of good will, but also those of ill will. But do not remember all the suffering they have inflicted on us, remember the fruits we have bought, because of this suffering; our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart that has grown out of all of this, and when they come to judgement, let all the fruits we have borne be their forgiveness.”
This prayer does not reflect any sort of naive “God will make it all better right now,” kind of faith. Her prayer reflects a hard-lived faith that has asked; “Why?” in the face of horribly unjust suffering. In the asking, she discovered the capacity to love God and include even enemies in God’s love, to pray for them.
We do not know anything about the anonymous woman of Ravensbrück who wrote this prayer except that she was female, because this place was a concentration camp for women and children. Most of the children died of starvation before the camp was liberated in the spring of 1945. The camp housed many Polish women who were part of the uprisings in Poland, as well as a sizable number of Gypsy women, Roman Catholic nuns, Orthodox nuns, and Jewish women. Whoever she was, and whatever her religious community, she had clearly come to rely on the grace and mercy of God, not only for herself but for those who imprisoned, tortured, executed, or otherwise were causing massive suffering and death among them.
This prayer helps us remember that we are all called to be saints through our courage, humility, fellowship, loyalty, generosity, and greatness of heart. It also reminds us what it is for us to live what Paul prayed for the Christians of Thessalonica, and for all of us, to grow in every desire for goodness, and every work of faith, relying on God’s grace.
Saints do not live in halos, removed from this life. They live by faith, waiting in the middle of all of life’s messiness, horror, joys, and despair.