All Saints’ Day is not just the name of a great song by Van Morrison. It is a celebration of, as the hymn says, “all the saints who from their labors rest.”
Elsewhere, the meaning of “All Saints” is made even more clear:
Some saints are known, some are unknown. But all are precious to God. Or as we pray from the Book of Common Prayer:
For all who have died in the communion of your Church, and those whose faith is known to you alone, that, with all the saints, they may have rest in that place where there is no pain or grief, but life eternal, we pray to you, O Lord.
When I hear those words, I think immediately of “nameless” North Korean Christians, hundreds of thousands that have died in labor camps and before firing squads. And I especially think of the village where Christians were crushed under a steam roller on orders from Kim Il Sung for daring to worship a God that was not him.
I see “nameless” South Sudanese Christians that resisted the imposition of Sharia and refused to deny their faith. I see them carrying crosses they formed from shrapnel, bullets, and other weapons used against them (no weapon formed against you shall prosper), singing “Death has come to reveal our faith.”
But not just the persecuted Church members are among the unknown saints. Saints old and new are Christ replicated in ten thousand places.
In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis makes it clear that there are, walking on Earth, such seemingly insignificant women and men that will be stars in Eternity because of the way that they represented Christ in this life. The narrator’s guide says of a woman that the narrator first mistakes for the Blessed Virgin Mary:
“It’s someone ye’ll never have heard of. Her name on earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green.”
“She seems to be…well, a person of particular importance?”
“Aye. She is one of the great ones. . . .
. . .“Every young man or boy that met her became her son – even if it was only the boy that brought the meat to her back door. Every girl that met her was her daughter.”
. . .“Every beast and bird that came near her had its place in her love. In her they became themselves. And now the abundance of life she has in Christ from the Father flows over into them.”
Saints and Martyrs of the Church Triumphant give courage to today’s martyr-saints, like the Assyrian Christians marked for death by the Islamic State, some of whom are now again ringing church bells that have long been silent. And this cloud of witnesses also give courage to today’s every-day “Golders Green” saints. Steve Fry wrote:
We’ve been raised for such a time.
History comes to the finish line.
And the saints who’ve gone before
Watch to see us end our course.
Whatever course God has set for us, we are blessed to be cheered on by such a “cloud of witnesses.”
But we are also blessed to be IN such company, with the other saints of the Lord, who, just like us, are trying every day to be faithful reflections of His love.
Whether it is the young man clinging to Jesus to maintain his newly-acquired sobriety, or the woman that leaves prayer cards in restaurant bathrooms, or the team that picks up food donations at five o’clock every morning to bring to the homeless and hungry, we are blessed to be part of such a crowd of witnesses.
Each one, as Gerard Manley Hopkins says, “acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is — Christ. . . “in ten thousand places.”