Monthly Archives: October 2011

All Saints’ Day

An unusual number of newsletters, magazines, and social network postings this year have addressed the origins of Hallowe’en and its relation to All Saints’ Day. The most notable link (rooted in the history of observing the days) is the names. Hallowe’en is an adumbrated version of “All Hallows Evening.” All Hallows – or All Saints’ Day – is the day the Christian church has remembered and honored first martyrs for the faith and later all Christian believers who have died and have been gathered into glorious communion with God in heaven. Although historical records are sketchy and reveal early observances of celebrations of the martyrs or saints on various days during the year, by around the 8th century A.D. most of the western church had settled on November 1 as All Saints’ Day.

My curiosity piqued by the postings, I dug further into elements of All Saints’ Day. One discovery was a hymn I had not known before. It summarizes the best motivations for such a celebration very well.

A British mother often wrote songs and hymns for her young children to sing. A devout Christian, she decided in 1929 to write a song for her children to help “impress on them the fact that sainthood is a living possibility today.” She was surprised when her hymn, I Sing a Song of the Saints of God, was published in the Anglican Hymnal. (In 2003 it was selected as #14 on a list of 20 “desert island” hymns readers of Anglicans Online would take with them if they had only 1 hymn with them on a desert island.) The hymn was also selected for inclusion in the British Hymnbook for the Armed Forces. Mrs. Scott commented, “I confess to a certain amount of glee in picturing a choir of Sergeant-Majors singing the words I wrote for my nurseryful of innocent babes.” The lyrics bring the biblical call for all followers of Jesus to realize we are part of the communion of the saints into fresh, personal focus:

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. 2. They loved their Lord so dear, so dear, And his love made them strong; And they followed the right, for Jesus’ sake, The whole of their good lives long.

And one was a soldier, And one was a priest, And one was slain by a fierce wild beast: And there’s not any reason–no, not the least, Why I shouldn’t be one too. 3. They lived not only in ages past, There are hundreds of thousands still, The world is bright with the joyous saints Who love to do Jesus’ will. You can meet them in school, or In lanes, or at sea, In church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea, For the saints of God are just folk like me, And I mean to be one too. (Lesbia Scott, I Sing a Song of the Saints of God, 1929)

God’s people – in both Hebrew and Greek, the ones “made holy” by faithfully following God – are referred to as saints. Each follower’s faith is intended to be supported and strengthened by sharing with other genuinely faithful people. Several Psalms call God’s people (saints) to active worship: e.g. “Love the LORD, all you his saints.. {24} Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the LORD.” (Psalm 31:23-24 NRSV) Paul’s letters often open with greetings to the saints, by which Paul means everyone who lives by faith in Jesus. The opening lines of 1 Corinthians demonstrate who is included in the saints: “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours. (1 Corinthians 1:2 NRSV) A passing reference to the saints nevertheless underscores the vibrant life of faith Paul prays for every follower of Christ: “I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, [God] may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, {17} and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. {18} I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, {19} and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:16-19 NRSV)

This year on All Saints Day I plan to spend time with my mental album of saints who have helped to shape my faith, whose lives I hope to emulate as a follower of Jesus. I’m picturing a kind, gentle man who grew up in the rural Indiana community in which I served as pastor while in seminary, who was the backbone of the congregation and who did countless acts of ministry unknown except by those whose lives he helped to change. My thoughts linger over the respected and powerful lawyer who designed and taught courses to train a generation of Sunday School teachers who effectively taught God’s word. I think about a debate team partner whose strong, quiet faith shone brilliantly in a challenging and skeptical environment. These and many more saints have shown me what following Jesus is all about. Who are your special saints?

This Tuesday – All Saints’ Day – sneak a “fun-size” Snickers or your favorite leftover from Monday evening’s activities. Spend time reviewing the saints who have helped shape your faith. If your saints are already gathered around God in heaven, give thanks for their continued faithful witness in your life and others. If your saints are still living you might take the opportunity to tell them what their faithfulness has meant in your relationship with God. It will be a special, cherished blessing to you both.

– J. Edward Culpepper

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