I have such fond memories of All Saints Day as a child. At my school we dressed up as different saints for a special parade into the chapel. We’d wait eagerly to get the slip of paper telling us which saint we would be. Of course, I always wanted to be Mary but ended up with unfamiliar names most of the time. Still, I remember feeling proud walking in this large group of little people, streaming into that high-beamed chapel, representing someone who came long before me and whose faith was apparently so lovely as to be remembered this far into the future. I remember singing that wonderful Anglican children’s hymn “I sing a song of the saints of God” with gusto. (I can still sing the whole thing by heart.) I remember holding onto that little slip of paper and thinking there was a whole world in that saint’s name- a whole life, filled with stories, filled with choices she made about how to live and how to have faith- and how I wished I could know more about her.
I realize it probably seems strange to most people (even many Christians) to have a day set aside where you celebrate the people of faith who went before you. It can have the taste of Dia de los Muertos or seem too murky for those who don’t want to be anything near the Catholic practice of praying to saints. For my part, I think we’re in a place where we should elevate All Saints Day as best we can. We need it. We need it because we’ve forgotten that we are connected by a shared faith that has only lasted because people have passed it down to us. We did not stumble upon our Bibles and figure it all out ourselves. We did not read the Scriptures and deduce from our own individual intellects what all of this means. (And Lord have mercy, any time anyone tries to do that it becomes some kind of hot theological mess.) We’re here because they were here first.
About 40 years ago the Church of St Stephen in Washington, D.C. wrote a processional liturgy for their All Saints service that has become a tradition and has fanned out to many other places. At the end of the service, they process around the sanctuary and list off names of saints, beginning with Abraham and ending with modern day exemplars, each time saying, “Stand with us!” And then at the end, after they name Jesus, they stand in the center aisle and sing “Gloria.” Isn’t that a breathtaking liturgy that embodies what this day is about?!
I find such beauty in the idea of a cloud of witnesses, a communion of saints who envelop us as we do the very difficult work of figuring out what faith means in our lifetime, just as they did in theirs. In a world where isolation continues to pervade us, it makes all the sense in the world to spend a day remembering that we are connected to an endless parade of saints. May we all feel encouraged today to make our lives of faith beautiful, that we may continue to sing the song for those who are yet to come.
Almighty God, who by your Holy Spirit have made us one with Your saints in heaven and on earth: Grant that in our earthly pilgrimage we may always be supported by this fellowship of love and prayer, and know ourselves to be surrounded by their witness to your power and mercy. We ask this for the sake of Jesus Christ, in whom all our intercessions are acceptable through the Spirit, and who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.