For All the Saints …
By Scott N. Field
In America, Halloween is the second biggest holiday of the year, based on consumer spending. Without a doubt it almost completely overshadows the day from which it derives its name. “Halloween” is the contracted form of “All Hallows’ Eve”, the night before All Saints’ Day. It isn’t surprising that All Saints’ Day gets lost in the shuffle of holidays, celebrations, and consumer trends. Our culture seems to promote sins and sinners rather than sainthood. Unfortunately, Christians, too, while affirming their belief in the “communion of saints” most often overlook the promise of sainthood given to all of Christ’s disciples.
Here are three reasons you might want to take a little time this week to trace the trajectory of God’s work in your life. Believe it or not, you are on the path to sainthood, too.
Three Reasons for “Ordinary” Christians to Observe All Saints’ Day
- Our “Celebration Repertoire” is pretty puny.
For most holidays the standard scope of celebratory options seems to be buying things, having parties, special food and/or music, a parade, maybe some entertainment spectaculars, and, sometimes, perhaps on Memorial Day or a 9/11 Remembrance in the US, a solemn ceremony.
We’re about to enter the “holiday season”. Many people guard their calendars, brace themselves, and generally “clear the decks” to prepare for the frenzy of the Halloween—Thanksgiving—Christmas – New Year’s Marathon. No wonder All Saints’ Day gets overlooked.
By contrast, All Saints’ Day is entirely out of step. It’s hard to imagine an “All Saints’ Day Sale!”, or an “All Saints’ Day Prime Time Special” on TV, or even the “All Saints’ Bowl” football game (though there is, to be sure, some arguing over whether South Bend, Indiana or New Orleans, Louisiana is home to heaven’s favorite football team.)
Despite being out of step with our cultural celebrations, or maybe precisely because it is truly a holy-day observance, perhaps we should reconsider our consigning All Saints’ Day to the category of “just another day.” We might find ourselves encouraged and refreshed by expanding our “celebration repertoire” to make more room for worship, prayer, gratitude, meditation, and traditions of both remembering those who have gone before us and connecting with those who are walking the way of Jesus with us right now.
- There is a huge crowd of witnesses cheering us on…especially in trying times.
When we affirm our faith in the words of the Apostles’ Creed, we confess our belief in “the communion of saints.” The common understanding of “the communion of saints” is our recognition that we stand in a long line of Christian believers, stretching from the distant past into the indeterminate future, throughout all places and all times, living and dead, who have been, are now, or will yet be disciples of Jesus Christ. This is the wondrous and sobering encouragement from the “Faith Hall of Fame” in Hebrews 11 that looks to the past. But then, the Scriptures address us directly here and now:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2 We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. 3 Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.
Hebrews 12:1-3 NLT
The saints of the past are examples and models. They encourage us to keep going; don’t become weary and give up.
For All the Saints (OGRP # 480 / UMC hymnal # 711), often used in corporate worship on the occasion of All Saints’ Day, includes these words to help us press on:
And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
- The extraordinary impact of ordinary Christians like us.
When we confess we believe in the “communion of saints” we are not only looking back, but also looking around. We are seeing the sisters and brothers in Christ with whom we share this particular season of life together. These are the “saints” who do not need a council of the church to investigate and authorize the holiness of their lives. No one names a church building after them. They don’t get a special “Feast of Saint Kevin” or a “Fast Day in Honor of Saint Libby” on the calendar. For the most part, their name is familiar to only a relatively small circle. But they are the “saints” most of us know. In fact, you are likely one of those saints, too.
Sometimes there are gems hidden in those portions of Scripture we often overlook. Like what? Like those greeting lists with which the Apostle Paul closes most of his letters. Their names? Here are a handful of them: Epaphras, Demas, Nympha, Archippus, Trophimus, Eubulus, Pudens, Claudia, and Linus. They were the ordinary people who, as disciples of Jesus Christ, lived, worshiped, witnessed, loved, and served in Jesus’ name. Ordinary people, I would venture to say, that became part of the extraordinary redemptive mission of God because they said, “yes” to Jesus.., and kept saying “yes” every day thereafter.
The Apostle Peter includes this description of us:
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)
Peter was not writing to a group of people who had some kind of Graduate Degree in Holiness. He was writing to ordinary believers who had been given the extraordinary role of “declaring the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
That is the extraordinary calling for every Christian. Peter goes on to remind us that while we live in the world here and now, we are aliens and foreigners. We represent the King of Glory while living in the kingdoms of this world.
Among the many things I appreciate about the Wesleyan Covenant Association is the “association” part. Since entering the role of President, I have had the unreasonably joyful opportunity to have conversations with an amazing “cloud of witnesses”, young and old, male and female, leaders of churches and Sunday morning worshipers…but all who are devoted to Christ and seeking to discern the best path forward. Why? So that the community in which they are located can be blessed by the congregation of which they are a part.
There is another hymn sometimes sung for celebrations of All Saints’ Day. Though is it s bit chirpy for my personal taste, the words catch the bifocal vision of looking to the past and remaining focused on our own impact in the present:
1 I sing a song of the saints of God,
patient and brave and true,
who toiled and fought and lived and died
for the Lord they loved and knew.
And one was a doctor, and one was a queen,
and one was a shepherdess on the green:
they were all of them saints of God, and I mean,
God helping, to be one too.
2 They loved their Lord so dear, so dear,
and God’s love made them strong;
and they followed the right, for Jesus’ sake,
the whole of their good lives long.
And one was a soldier, and one was a priest,
and one was slain by a fierce wild beast:
and there’s not any reason, no, not the least,
why I shouldn’t be one too.
3 They lived not only in ages past;
there are hundreds of thousands still;
the world is bright with the joyous saints
who love to do Jesus’ will.
You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea,
in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea;
for the saints of God are just folk like me,
And I mean to be one too.
(OGRP, # 482 / UMC Hymnal, #712)
Are you expecting to be among “all the saints”?
That is the glorious gospel trajectory for all who surrender themselves to the Lord Jesus.
We are sent, together, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, for the healing of the world in Jesus’ name. Let’s not settle for anything less.