Lectionary Reflection for All Saints Sunday
November 2, 2014
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:12
They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Revelation 7:16-17
On this day most congregations I know will honor in some form or fashion the saints who have departed this life. Whether worshipers will have a chance to write the names of their loved ones in a memorial book, to place their photo in a place of honor, to hear their names recited in the prayers as the church bells toll, or to light candles in their memory, it seems fitting and important to remember their lives and witness among us.
But is that all there is? Tears and memories? What about those of us left behind to continue in this life?
Because we are people of resurrection hope, All Saints Sunday is truly a day where the church can shout “Amen,” live in abundant hope, and rejoice prodigally. Such rejoicing is an act of defiance in the face of the powers of death and darkness and an affirmation of our Lord’s promises and teachings. This is a day when we stand as the communion of saints around Christ’s table to share in the Eucharist and to speak the familiar words “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” What great hope!
Perhaps one of the reasons All Saints Day has more than a tinge of sadness is that it does call us to confront death and to acknowledge our mortality. Like death, this life is not the last word. It too will pass away, and we cannot see clearly what lies beyond. Meanwhile, not all of life is joyous or easy or fun. Most Christians will face more apathy and benign rejection than they will any hint of persecution or danger of martyrdom. Perhaps what we name as sadness is more malaise than deep grief.
We live in a world of constant, relentless change. Even how we experience and understand “church” in mainline North American culture is being blown to bits beneath our carefully ordered pews. Keeping up appearances and maintaining the status quo are no longer sufficient cover. We hunger and thirst for something more, something deeper and purer–something real.
So dear friends, remember the faithful departed. Honor their loss, grieve the difficulties and changes that life’s passage entails, but do not be defeated. These are lessons brimming with hope, pointing clearly to the source of life and healing and hope–God in Christ Jesus. Rejoice and be glad. We are children of God, precious and beloved in God’s sight.
On this day, why not try some new activity to honor the saints who have been instrumental in shaping and nurturing our faith. Consider making white origami paper cranes. The crane is a symbol of honor and loyalty in Japanese culture. Make paper available to parishioners or have a team fold many paper cranes before worship. Invite parishioners to write a name and a meaningful trait of the faithful saint they remember this day. Bedeck the altar, communion rail, or window sills with the lovely birds. Here’s a link to instructions detailing how to fold the cranes.
What does it mean to bless the Lord at all times like the psalm for this week says? Some days don’t seem exactly happy or particularly pleasant, so how do we remind ourselves to give thanks and honor and praise to God in all circumstances. Yet if one reads the entire psalm selection for this week, the meaning becomes clear–practice is important. Focusing on God and taking refuge in the divine arms of grace help make any day brighter. It’s funny how whenever we look to God, we see the bigger picture and realize that we are dearly beloved and deeply valued by the Creator of the Universe. In God none are condemned. This is very good news.
Why not use the epistle lesson with the children today? These three short verses can help children see how much God loves them–that they are named and claimed as children of God. Even though the world may not recognize them as children of the Heavenly Father, they are. Consider singing “Children of the Heavenly Father” with the children. Take them to the font and mark the sign of the cross on their foreheads with this reminded “You were named and claimed in baptism as a Child of the God. Never forget how much God loves you, (First Name) Child of God (Last Name). If you have children who have not yet been baptized, remind them that God knew them before they were born and loves them deeply. Assure them that God’s love is for them, too, and they can look forward to being signed, sealed, and delivered–named and claimed on their very special day because God’s big family has room for everyone.
(Photos: Beatrice Murch, Oakley Originals, and Allison Meier, Creative Commons. Thanks!)