Yesterday was Reformation Day, which I started by humming “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” As a side note, I personally believe that every day should begin with this song! Anyway, after a musical beginning, I headed out early as I do every morning to Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU) München so that I would make it to my Hebrew class in time. As I walked into the building from the subway I was thinking about spending time with my husband and one of my best friends later that afternoon. Half daydreaming, I looked up at the door and there was a sign on it that said the building would be closed on Thursday, November 1 for Allerheiligen (All Saints’ Day). I grinned, knowing that this day off gave me more time to spend with my hubby and friend, but then I looked pass the paper sign and through the glass door.
Through that door and on the left side of the grand old university hallway was a homeless man, sitting on one of the metal chairs that folds down from out of the wall. He was wearing a black winter hat and had his hands tucked into his jacket pockets. His head was leaned forward, bowed down in sleep. I had seen him there before, wandering the university’s halls or sitting on the chairs on colder days, so I wasn’t really surprised to see him in the building. However, seeing the note about Allerheiligen – about All Saints’ Day – and looking at this man jarred my senses. The question that came to mind was: “who are the saints of God?”
On Tuesday, October 30, I had visited the Alte Pinakothek, a gorgeous art gallery featuring medieval and Renaissance art from all over Europe. A lot of this art is religious in nature, and many of the paintings featured saints with their golden halos and the symbols of their sufferings, deeds, and miracles. Having minored in Medieval Studies in college, this was all familiar (and wonderful!) to me. I know a lot of the saints stories and so looking at these paintings featuring these people is kind of like visiting old friends. But thinking about these depictions in contrast to the man I saw sleeping in the hall of the university… what a world of difference.
“Who are the saints of God?” “Who are the holy ones of God?”
Are they just those who have lived exemplary lives?
Are the saints limited to those who have been martyred in the name of Christ?
Are they only those who can work miracles?
Martin Luther spoke of Christians at “simul justus et peccator” (simultaneously justified through Christ and sinners). This means that while we are forgiven and washed clean of all our sins in baptism, we still continue to sin – we are always, at the same time, saints saved through Christ and his righteousness, and sinners. Crazy! Through Christ’s loving acts – his death and resurrection – we are all glorious saints, just like in those in the paintings. At the same time, we are also imperfect people who continue to mess up, hurt ourselves and others, and fall short. And as sinner/saints, we are dependent on God’s grace and not on what we have done or haven’t done.
And what of the homeless man? I don’t know his situation or circumstances. I don’t know his story. I have no idea whether or not he believes in Christ. I have no idea if he’s been baptized. But what if I were to act as if he were one of the holy saints of God? What if I looked a bit closer and saw Christ in him? How would this change things?
I still love medieval and Renaissance art. The vibrant colors and masterful depictions of Biblical stories, classical myths, and saints continue to enchant me. But looking around, I think that there are other beautiful works of art. They’re not depictions done in the medium of gold leaf, rich paints or delicate carvings, but depictions artfully crafted by the fingers of God in flesh and blood. They’re images with flaws and imperfections, shocks and surprises, but maybe if we look a bit harder, we might see a halo poking through.
© 2012. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.