And when the strife is fierce,
the warfare long,
steals on the ear
the distant triumph song,
and hearts are brave again,
and arms are strong.
William W. How, 1864 (UMH 711, verse 5).
Scripture everywhere reminds us of the struggles, challenges and costs of faithfulness to God. Hebrews 11:35b-38 sums them up eloquently:
“Some were tortured, refusing to accept release in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheeps and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground” (NRSV).
While some may think of these persons as exceptional, or as “hero-saints,” the record we have of most of them was they did not and still do not. They were not trying to “show off” their personal capacity to endure or even God’s power to give them endurance.
Rather, they were “showing up” as those seeking to be faithful in challenging times. These, some of whom we also call martyrs, generally understood their actions as the simple obedience required at the moment.
During this third cycle of A Season of Saints, we invite you and your worshiping community to take the month of October to discover, remember and celebrate those saints whose strife was fierce, and whose warfare was long. Some were martyrs, killed for their faith. Others were persecuted, or faced what seemed to be endlessly uphill climbs in their quest for righteousness, holiness and peace.
All were, and some you know still are, both in and despite such struggles, continually spurred on by “the distant triumph song.”
We are aided this year by the musical and video work of a United Methodist deacon and an Episcopal priest, Michael Bell and Duane Arnold, in their multi-media project called, Martyrs Prayers.
As in the previous two cycles, A Season of Saints offers your congregation the opportunity to focus attention to three categories of saints each week: one widely recognized across all of Christian history, one from our United Methodist heritages, and a “living saint” you identify from your congregation or local community. Lift up one or more during weekly worship, and the others throughout the week.
The saints for each Sunday from the first two categories are chosen based on the connection of their lives or witness with the lectionary texts assigned for that day. By all means feel free to change any of these names, or mix and match with resources for Year B or Year A, or add others.
Here is a suggested list of saints from Church history and United Methodist history to consider for each of the five Sundays this year. Hyperlinks are provided for persons who may be less well known.
Date Denominational Event Christian Saint UMC Saint
Tears (p. 50-61)**
To help you share your stories and find stories of other living saints, we have a page describing this project on the United Methodist Worship blog. Just leave your story in the comments section.
Think about creative ways to tell their stories—maybe saints videos, or children telling the stories. Use them part of a testimony time after the sermon during these weeks. Post information about them on Facebook or Twitter during the week. Schedule an “All Saints Parade” on All Saints Sunday, with everyone coming to the event dressed as a saint whose life and witness speaks deeply to them.
Whatever you do, make this a congregation-wide emphasis, involving not just worship, but also Sunday Schools, youth groups, mission teams, caring ministries, small groups, and of course the choir and/or praise team.
We'll provide more specific ideas and information about the saints listed above for each Sunday during October in our weekly Worship Planning Helps.
So remember these saints who “nobly fought “ of old, and celebrate and pray for those who continue to “fight the good fight.” Our own calling to faithfulness is no less, even if our circumstances may not require the degree of suffering these have known and many know still. That calling comes down, always, to the same question: “What will you suffer and die for?” For them, the answer was and is Jesus Christ. May this Season of Saints renew in you and your congregation that singular commitment to Jesus, that you may join with that
singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost:
* The linked music is for the martyr Carpus, but works well with the witness of Perpetua as well.
** Find ways to remember and honor all our forebears who were forced to relocate as well as those who chose to go with them, or advocated to prevent this action in the first place.