The Hiddenness of the Saints

How good it was to be back at our congregation on Sunday, after a spate of weekend travelling. We celebrated the feast of All Saints’ Day, singing that great Ralph Vaughn Williams hymn “For All the Saints” with what for me has always been a striking line, speaking of the great company of saints in Heaven: “We feeble struggle; they in glory shine.” Our Pastor reminded us, though, that, according to the day’s text from Revelation, they too were only saints because their robes had been washed clean in the blood of the Lamb. We too are saints like them, only our sainthood is “hidden”–from the world and even from ourselves–until Christ will reveal it on His day.

The custom on this blog (which I sometimes forget) is to talk about yesterday’s church on Monday morning. Did you receive any insights from your worship service?

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  • The main insight from my service yesterday — my first All Saint’s Day worshiping in a Lutheran congregation — was realizing how little my previous churches (all evangelical) emphasized any connection with the past, at all.

    In all my years of churchgoing in various evangelical denominations, I could count on one hand the number of times that the pastor, from the pulpit, has stressed that we today are connected in some sense with Christians from the past. When I was in the PCA you’d hear a few blurbs about Luther and Calvin. Growing up Southern Baptist we’d have a Lottie Moon Sunday every year. But for the most part, especially in the last decade, church services had become so “me”-centered that you’d think that our congregation was the first and only group of Christians ever to get together under one roof, given the paucity of references to saints in the past. There was never a sense that we today are standing on the shoulders of many generations of faithful men and women in the past, and that we can and should think about these people and learn what we can from them, and that we today are connected to a proud past.

    It beats me why most evangelical churches today hardly ever talk about where we today fit in a historical context. They are missing an awful lot.

  • A couple of thoughts …

    First, the Scriptures for All Saints from the Revised Common Lectionary caught my eye, for all of them (Daniel 7:1-3,15-18, Psalm 149, Ephesians 1:11-23, Luke 6:20-31) express (either explicitly or implicitly) two ideas I was unaccustomed to hear developed during an All Saints homily: (1) the future glory of God’s saints, particularly as it is expressed in (2) His deploying them to judge the nations.

    The All Saints homilies I’ve preached and heard in the past usually dealt with “what is a saint?” or “the great cloud of witnesses from the past” and similar themes, all of them entirely appropriate and expected. All the saints — great or small — whom we know are in the past, and so it’s expected that we think of them as faded pictures in frames, hanging on the wall down the hall, or in the narthex of our church, or in the Sunday School classroom.

    So, it was fun to craft a homily on All Saints that expounded the glory and power and dominion of the saints as they take the Kingdom with their Savior (ala Daniel 7, or the end of Psalm 149), which is their inheritance in Christ (ala Ps. 149, and Eph. 1), for which they have suffered for the sake of the Son of Man, and so they hope in Christ’s promise of vindication in “that day” (ala Luke 6)

    In this view, all those saints are something more than a cheering section, as Hebrews 12 is often expounded. Rather, they are a gathering throng, building in number and glory and anticipation for the final triumph; a throng which it is our holy ambition to join; and, for THAT reason, we run with perseverance the race before us.

    Secocnd observation:

    At the end of the Prayers of the People (in the Book of Common Prayer) there is a prayer offering thanksgiving for all the faithfully departed in Christ. On All Saints, in our parish, this prayer is expanded with two elements:

    (1) a prayer of thanksgiving for our name saint, St. Athanasius, and

    (2) thanksgiving for those who have died in the Lord among our family and friends. This latter involves actually naming out loud the names of saints who are friends and family of parishioners, submitted to me ahead of time by each family in the parish.

    Each All Saints, the naming of all these people never fails to encourage and inspire me and everyone else as a display of the Lord’s faithfulness to His promise, to bless to thousands of generations of those who love Him. It impresses upon us that our salvation is not some isolated event in the ocean of events called history. Rather, we today are the leading edge of God’s continued mercy and faithfulness to His promises made to generation after generation of faithful ancestors before us.

    Heady stuff.

  • fwsonnek

    wow Fr Bill. This is great stuff! Therefore with angels and archangels and ALL the company of heaven…

  • Robert Talbot, welcome into Lutheranism! I wonder if you’ve read Greg Parton’s book THE DEFENSE NEVER RESTS? He was an evangelical who found a home in Lutheranism, and wrote about it, in part, in that book.
    I have a member of our Lutheran book club who spent twenty years in Evangelical-land, and has much to offer us in perspective about it. It is always a fascinating conversation. New Lutherans, unless marrying into it, almost always are drawn in by the unique theology or liturgy, and only after having taken their seat in a pew do they become aware that the theology is accompanied by a subculture. A Norwegian American or German American subculture. And that can sometimes be…fascinating. I think there needs to be a special club for those drawn from “the outside world” into Lutheranism. At club meetings there would be beer, coffee, a jello salad, an instruction book (How to locate and avoid Glass Walls). And a glossary.

  • I went to my father-in-law’s Catholic church. Apparently, All Saints was celebrated on the day, or they don’t care much. This was my second Catholic mass, and he likes the music-less service at 6:30am. Their reading was Zaccheus and the whole sermon (given by the deacon, not the priest) was about how we need to climb to see Jesus, and then come back down from our climb to be on the same plain as him. Can someone explain it? I didn’t catch what he actually said in his explanation of it.

    I am also saddened at how Eucharist is something we do. God has to accept their offering of the bread and wine before it is usable. What? I have no clue where they get that idea from, either.

    Needless to say, I’m glad that I’m at Good Shepherd Institute and getting to learn all about Paul Gerhardt and Martin Franzmann this week.

  • CRB

    I highly recommend an All Saints sermon preached by
    Pastor David Speers, available for download at St.Paul’s
    Blue-Point. The text is 1 John 3:1-3.

  • I was inspired to post on the sermon. The most intriguing part of it, for me, was to consider what I saw when I looked in the mirror: saint or sinner? Of course, I should see both – first sinner and then saint. Also, we had a good reminder of who the saints are. It was fitting to hear that message before communing with the saints at the altar. Click on my name to go to my blog post.