Mainline Protestant Channel
Remembering All Saints
By Bruce Epperly
There is a saying that goes, when you sing, you pray twice. For me, hymns are at the heart of All Saints' Day. Connected as it is, among Protestants, with Reformation Sunday, the robust "A Mighty Fortress" complements the melodious "I Sing a Song of the Saints of God" and the majestic "For All the Saints." A children's hymn, popular in Great Britain, "I Sing a Song of the Saints of God" suggests that ordinary people, going about their business, can be saints, that is, revealers of God's grace whose faithfulness changes the world:
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.
All Saints' is about aspiration: God asks ordinary people do extraordinary things: the hymn continues: "they did what is right for Jesus' sake . . . prophets . . . priests . . . [a martyr] slain by a fierce wild beast." Meister Eckhart once noted that all things are words of God and we can play our role as revealers of grace -- singing God's graceful melodies -- by responding to the needs of the world, letting our light shine so that our world may know that God is alive, seeking beauty, healing, and justice in our midst. You can aspire toward holiness; you can be a person of stature, grace, and hospitality; you can share God's healing love and break down barriers of race, gender, ethnicity, and sexuality throughout the ordinary business of everyday life.
The world is filled with living saints,
who choose to do God's will,
You can meet them in school, on the road, or at sea;
In church, in a train, in a shop, or at tea;
for the saints are folk like you
and like me, and I mean to be one, too.
Believe it or not, you can be a saint and not even know it! Just be listening for God's vision for your life -- as your gifts meet the world's needs.
Traditionally, All Saints' (November 1) celebrates those who have received their heavenly reward; All Souls' Day (November 2) remembers those who are still in process, once described in terms of the purgatorial journey. I would suggest that both All Souls' and All Saints' celebrate persons in process, whether living in our world or sojourning in God's everlasting realm. All Saints' and All Souls' days are about connection: this whole earth is a "thin place" in which everlasting life and day-to-day existence are joined in God's holy adventure. Our prayers of gratitude or blessing for saints and souls testify to the interconnectedness of life: not even death can separate us from the love of God or our loved ones.
On All Saints', we give thanks for those whose faith has transformed the world. Faithful to Christ, they brought healing to the sick, justice to the oppressed, welcome to the outcast, and compassion to the vulnerable. Others courageously sought justice and loved mercy. They sacrificed their comfort and lives for God's vision of Shalom. Yet, the saints did not do it by themselves or on their own. Their fidelity was a gift of grace, grounded in God's faithfulness and mediated through communities of support and inspiration.
You [O God] were their rock, their refuge and their might;
you, Christ, their Hope that put their fears to flight;
‘mid gloom and doubt, you were their one
True light. Alleluia! Alleluia!
Their courage and wisdom, their strength and sacrifice, create an energy that joins the living and dead, in the Communion of Saints. As the hymn continues:
Ringed by this cloud of witnesses divine,
we feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet in your love our faithful lives entwine.
Knowing their courage inspires and gives wing to aspiration. In battle fierce, "we hear the distant triumph song, then [our] hearts are brave again and faith grows strong. Alleluia! Alleluia!"
Today, we need the vision of saints. Greed abounds, individualism carries the day, violence is beneath the surface, fears abound, and earth is in the balance as we face the realities of global climate change. We need to claim our humble role as saints, healers of the earth, for our time and place. Grateful for their courage, we are called to make a commitment to transform our world, faithfully sacrificing for God's reign on earth as it is in heaven.
Take a moment in prayerful reflection for saints among us, around us, and before: Who are your saints? Who has shaped your life and world? What kind of saint is God calling you to be?
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty one books, including Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for lectures, workshops, and retreats.