Mike: Today is one of the most important Feast days for my own faith. March 24th is the celebration of Archbishop Oscar Romero in the Episcopal Church, marking the day of his martyrdom in 1980. I’ve marched through the streets of San Salvador with friends from the Anglican Church of El Salvador many times to remember the archbishop who stood with the poor. Romero has not yet been officially recognized by the Catholic Church, that is coming later this year, but the Episcopal Church added him to our calendar in 2009. I’ve been thinking a great deal about Feasts, Fasts, and the marking of time. Ellis and I are in Mexico, and on Friday we were at Chichen Itza for the Vernal Equinox. We saw the sun’s shadow make the body of a snake down the side of a temple, designed to help the Mayans mark this time of year for planting, and for worship. It was an amazing sight, and it made me reflect on the way we mark time.
Jason: That reminds me, you gave me one of my favorite t-shirts! On the return from one of your trips to El Salvador you brought me a shirt with Romero’s portrait on the front. Romero is definitely one of my faith heroes, along with MLK, Stringfellow, Bonhoeffer, Kierkegaard and many others. Growing up in the evangelical community, there were certainly role models within the history of the Church that we respected. But we never talked about sainthood. What do Episcopalians think of “saints”?
Mike: Like most things Episcopalian, it is tricky to talk about whether we have “saints.” We definitely have some saints. Francis, Mary, Joseph and the other New Testament Characters, anyone recognized by the Church before the reformation we tend to still call a “saint.” Others, like Romero, are celebrated with feasts, but we don’t necessarily officially call them saints. I think Madeleine L’Engle, the writer, who was an Episcopalian best stated our attitude towards saints. She said she liked to name her own saints, and among them she counted J.S. Bach and Einstein. Certainly the thick volume Holy Women and Holy Men, which is currently in trial use in The Episcopal Church takes this approach. There are lives which point us to the larger life of God, and we celebrate those lives. One day, when the whole Church of Rome, Canterbury, and Constantinople is reunited, we might settle on a single calendar, but for now, I like L’Engle’s approach. I know some clergy colleagues would disagree with me, but I tend to celebrate the saints that are meaningful for me, and leave the other saints alone.
Jason: When I was at Fuller Seminary, I had a class that required us to pick a “mentor” from Church history. You would read biographies and really study whomever you chose. I got way more out of this assignment than I thought I would (I studied Roland Allen). However you approach saintly stature, I think it’s worthwhile to dive in and really study those we revere in order to see what can be learned from their life and work.
You mentioned the Christian calendar. Let’s talk about this. Why do we still need a Christian calendar?
Mike: The whole concept of the Christian calendar gets us into the idea of “sanctified time.” In our modern day, time can feel a bit static. Besides feeling cold as we walk to the Metro to work, or getting a little bit of a vacation when the weather is warmer, our lives tend to have the same rhythm. We work at computers, many of us, and do the same kind of tasks day in and day out. Now with modern supermarkets, we can even eat whatever kind of produce we’d like year round. That wasn’t always the case. The Christian calendar helps us remember that there are seasons in life. That we move in cycles. Next week is Holy Week. It comes early this year because the cycles of the moon dictate when it comes. To calculate Easter, you have to use a “Golden Number” (see page 880 of the Book of Common Prayer). The Christian calendar helps us remember something that our ancient ancestors knew in their bones. We are not in charge of the time.
Jason: Ooh, that’s good, Mike! Let’s stop with that, “We are not in charge of time.”
Enjoy Mexico, brother.