At church this morning, we celebrated All Saints’ Sunday. Through our hymns and prayers, we reflected on how Christian saints throughout the ages have relied on God, done good deeds, and lived hard lives, before gaining glorification in heaven, during which time we on earth live hard lives.
The part about the departed saints currently experiencing glorification in heaven goes against the religion with which I was raised, which holds that the dead do not go to heaven or hell but are unconscious until the eschatological resurrection. But I had a cozy feeling when I thought about the commonality that I and the people there at church shared with saints in the past: we rely on God as we trudge through the ups and downs of life, and we try to do good (with some being more successful at this than others).
The thing is, I wonder why I should feel this commonality only with Christians. There are non-Christians who try to do good and have been like angels to me on this journey called life. There are non-Christians who rely on a power greater than themselves—-some (such as Jews and Muslims) considering that power to be God, and others conceptualizing the higher power in other ways. There are non-Christians who seek to navigate their way through the ups and downs of life.
Moreover, there are Christians with whom I struggle to feel a commonality. I think of many fundamentalists, or Christians throughout history who oppressed Jews and people they considered to be heretics. Perhaps, in this case, I can look at the commonalities with such Christians, while also remembering the differences so that I do not whitewash what they did wrong. I do not identify with how Martin Luther felt about the Jews, for example, but I do identify with his search for peace amidst his inner turmoil.
Is that enough for me to call Martin Luther a “brother”? Not particularly. Honestly, I have problems calling people who are not in my physical family brothers or sisters, just because I may share some things with them (such as aspects of a belief system). I may vary in my closeness to or distance from a number of Christians, but calling them family would be a significant step for me, since I tend to associate family with unconditional love (remember the saying that home is where people have to take you in). Others may have had different experiences with their family, or they may feel closer with Christians than they do with their relatives. But, in any case, while I’m reluctant to call Christians my family (as much as I like many of them), I do see a need to note the commonalities between myself and other human beings.