In confirmation class back in 1980, we were deep into the Third Article of the Apostles Creed (your favorite topic). Pastor Yunker, training us in the jedi ways of Lutheran doctrine, said this weird thing:
“Pay attention to the comma.”
Okay. What young teen isn’t riveted when invited to behold punctuation.
Here’s how my thirteen-year-old self memorized the Third Article from Luther’s Small Catechism:
I believe in the Holy Ghost;
the holy Christian church,
the communion of saints;
the forgiveness of sins;
the resurrection of the body;
and the life everlasting. Amen
You’ll note a number of phrases here separated by semicolons. The only comma is between “the holy Christian church” and “the communion of saints,” not setting them apart like the other petitions, but identifying them with each other.
As I understand it, the 1941 LCMS (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod) catechism and hymnal used that comma amid semicolons. Most every version I see these days has all commas.
A comma might matter on All Saints Day.
With it, we honor the holy Christian church being the communion of saints. Or at least the one being folded into the other as the Body of Christ beyond space and time.
Without it, we make a distinction between them. Not a bad thing, and theologically there may be good reasons to do so.
But in this moment of the liturgical year, we are re-membering who we are: All Saints. With the comma, we understand that the single, global church, having evolved over generations and sprawled across our planet is comprised of saints in communion. In other words, people embodying the Christ as they live in harmony, unity.
Sound like us?
Sure is. You with the barbecue drippings on your sweatshirt, her with the foul mouth, him oblivious to his rudeness, people theologically inferior to you– all of us forgiven sinners, all of us stumbling saints.
On All Saints, we re-gather, re-member, re-claim one another around the bombastic notion that Christ’s single, living Presence is made up of no one else.
We’re invited to live into God’s claim on us.
We’re challenged in our vocation to– depending on your favorite gospel of epistle– follow, obey, nurture friendship with and/or embody the Christ.
I like that comma.