Lectionary Reflection for All Saints Sunday
November 6, 2011
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. Revelation 7:9
Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not ;yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 1 John 3:2
When I was serving a four-point parish in North Dakota, a colleague shared with me the symbolism behind the half moon shaped altar rails in the Scandinavian churches. The current congregation gathers around the visible half circle rail, while the circle is completed beyond time and space by those who have already died. The wholeness of that transcendent circle of all the saints makes a beautiful and powerful statement about the faith we profess and the hope to which we cling.
The readings appointed for this day offer a fine opportunity to explore the concept of sainthood in its various expressions. What do we ordinary, everyday folk have in common with pillars of faith commemorated by the church throughout the ages–from apostles, to mystics, to martyrs, and prophets? The answer of course is both many things and the one thing that matters.
I suspect many people today look at the saints as either inaccessible or otherworldly and beyond mere mortal comprehension. A saint is either someone whose image is stamped on a medallion or carved into statuary or else who died a gruesome death for his or her faith in Jesus Christ. I remember as a young adult reading a battered second-hand copy of Lives of the Saints by Alban Butler and being fascinated by the entries therein but also daunted by the scope of the saints’ witness and lives.
Every time we recite the Apostles’ Creed in worship, we say we believe in “the communion of saints.” On All Saints’ Day we often include hymns such as “For All the Saints,” singing “Oh, blest communion, fellowship divine,/we feebly struggle, they in glory shine; yet/all are one in thee, for all are thine.” Yes, we may be struggling, we may be faltering, but we are part of that communion of saints right along with the apostles, Augustine, Perpetua, Felicity, Jerome, Hildegard, Oscar Romero, Mother Teresa and a host of other folk.
We, dear friends, are God’s children, and this is very good news indeed. John reminds us of this fact in this week’s epistle reading from 1 John. We are loved, we are called children of God, and even though we may not fully comprehend what it means to be part of that great communion and never-ending story, we are nonetheless included. Our very calling as Christians is to reflect God’s great love–not our own pitiable attempts at goodness–so that the world may see God.
This week, consider how you might engage the senses to help the saints with whom you serve to see and comprehend their role in the great salvation narrative. Invite the congregation to share stories of those who have influenced their faith development and who have shown them the love of Jesus. Invite them to write those names on slips of paper to be gathered into a beautiful bowl that may then be placed on the altar. Make candles available for people to light after communion in memory and/or in honor of various every day saints. If you are fortunate enough to have one of those half moon altar rails be sure o share the symbolism. Drag out a copy of The Lives of the Saints, Sundays and Seasons, or a comparable volume and decorate a bulletin board or produce a PowerPoint presentation with information about selected saints, highlighting the broad scope of their gifts, ministry, and devotion to God.
Finally, consider how you might make a connection between the lives of all saints and Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount. How can each one of us as precious children of God witness to this great love and saving grace of which we are heirs? Maybe this would be a good Sunday to leave worship to the words and music of David Haas’ fine hymn “Blest are They” (GIA Publications, Inc.). Indeed, in the company of such saints past, present, and future there is much about which we may rejoice. Thanks be to God!
Consider framing a sermon within the singing of one of the many fine hymns appropriate for All Saints Sunday.
Purchase emergency candles and use terracotta pots filled with sand or tea lights on mirrors as an opportunity to invite worshipers to light a candle in memory or in honor of a saint who has influenced their lives. A good place to incorporate this into the service is following communion. This makes a powerful visual statement. Be sure to have ushers or other helpers on hand.
Start the worship with the Children’s Time, inviting the children to the font and having them dip their fingers into the water and make the sign of the cross on their foreheads. Talk with them about how they were incorporated into God’s family on the day of their baptism. Invite them to help you following the Affirmation of Baptism and during the entrance hymn by using evergreen branches to gently splash water from the font on the congregation. Have the bigger children “help” the little ones so that all remain safe.
All Saints Sunday Super Saint (Here’s a PDF for a “Super Saint” children’s sermon based on the reading from 1 John 3:2-3)