What is a hero?
A hero typically is someone of outstanding courage, strength and daring. Heroes often risk their life, and perhaps die, in a battle against evil. We honor such heroes with statues, memorials, and solemn services.
These days our culture, it seems, has a hunger for heroes. Witness the outpouring of emotion following the fatal shootings of two Canadian soldiers last month, one of whom was standing ceremonial guard at the War Memorial in Ottawa. Many of the tributes to these men described them as “heroes.” This past Remembrance Day ceremonies saw record crowds, increased poppy sales, and saturating media coverage. Perhaps because of relentless bad news, the attack on Parliament in Ottawa, and the sense that Canada is not immune to the wars raging elsewhere, many people are looking for heroes who will fight for them and assure their security.
The New Testament, though, does not talk about “heroes.” Its word for those who are to be celebrated is “saints.” The word “saint” means “set apart” for God. A saint is an ordinary, usually unheroic, follower of Jesus who dedicates his or her life to Jesus’s way.
In our main scripture for Memorial Sunday, Nov. 23, from Revelation 7:9-17, it is the saints who are the “heroes.” But they are a very different kind of hero. The saints have given their lives not in a violent battle against evil, but in faithfulness to the Lamb (Christ). From the world’s point of view, saints often seem to be weak, ineffective, and defeated by evil. But from the point of view of heaven, the saints are strong and triumphant, because they share in the victory of Christ. Saints are honored not with memorials on earth, but with white robes and crowns of life in heaven.
In our Memorial Sunday worship, when we remember those close to us who have died in the past year, we will reflect on heroes, and more importantly, on saints.