Watching for the morning of November 2
All Saints Sunday
Fra Angelico, The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs (about 1423-24) Tempera on wood, National Gallery, London
The celebration of All Saints has its roots in a day of remembrance for the martyrs of the Diocletian persecution, too numerous for each death to be honored on its own day. Like the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, it represents the many ordinary men, women and children whose fidelity to God braved death rather than acclaim Caesar as lord and savior. The destiny of the world is not in this or any human imperium, but the bending of every knee in allegiance to the lamb who was slain and lives, the anointed of God who offered his life for the world. It is not power that rules the world, but love.
From the memory of these martyrs came a day to honor all those heroes of the faith who did not have their own day on the church calendar. In the 8th century the feast was moved to November 1 in the western church, and later the Feast of All Souls was added on November 2nd.
With the Reformation insight that the whole body of Christ are properly called saints – set apart for God’s holy purpose – the feast of All Saints merged with All Souls to became an occasion to remember all the faithful departed.
But we are not remembering the dead – we are remembering those who live in Christ. We are remembering the whole body of Christ from every time and place, on earth and in God’s presence, as we await together that day when the earth is forever freed from tears and all things are made radiant “like a bride adorned for her husband.” We await a world reconciled, a world healed, human life made whole – and we choose to kneel before this vision of life rather than the empires of power and greed.
So this Sunday we hear of the song of heaven from Revelation 7. We sing Psalm 34 about “the Lord [who] redeems the life of his servants.” We hear the promise of 1 John that “we are God’s children now” – and though “what we shall be” remains a mystery, we have the promise that we shall be “like him” who was crucified and raised. And finally we hear again the words of the Beatitudes declaring God’s vindication for the poor who grieve over this broken world and hunger for true righteousness. We hear Jesus proclaim that it is these the merciful, the peacemakers, living God’s values in the midst of human empire building, who are honored in God’s sight. To them the earth belongs, and they shall know and delight in the fullness of God’s kingdom.
(Note: The title comes from Luke 20:38)
The Prayer for All Saints Sunday
Eternal God, source and goal of all things,
founding the world in your goodness and renewing it by your Holy Spirit,
creating us in your image, redeeming us in your Son,
and uniting us in one great company from every race and nation,
who sing your praise and bear your word and work to the world,
fill us with that confidant hope, born of the empty tomb,
that frees us to live as your faithful people, now and forever,
through your Son, Jesus Christ Our Lord.
The Texts for All Saints Sunday
First Reading: Revelation 7:9-17
“After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.” – The prophet’s vision turns from the woes of earth (as the seals are opened that draw the earth to that day when the reign of the slain-yet-risen lamb is everywhere acknowledged) to the heavens where he sees the faithful gathered around the throne of God.
Psalmody: Psalm 34:1-10, 22
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” – A song of praise for God’s deliverance that celebrates God’s care for the poor vulnerable and describes those who are honored in God’s sight.
Second Reading: 1 John 3:1-3
“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” – The author affirms that we belong already to the household of God, inheritors of the age to come, and declares that, though we cannot comprehend the future that awaits us, “we shall be like him” – sharing in the resurrection.
Gospel: Matthew 5:1-12
““Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – The Gospel for All Saints takes us back to the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount and the foundational teaching about those who are honored in God’s sight.