Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, All Saints Sunday, Year A
November 1, 2020
Lessons: Revelation 7:9-17; Psalm 34:1-10 & 22; 1 John 3:1-13; Matthew 5:1-12
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people are reminded on All Saints Sunday of the many faithful disciples who have help shape their faith and share the good news.
Key Scripture: “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
All Saints Sunday is a powerful worship time. Not only do we praise God and give thanks, we also remember and celebrate the lives of everyday ordinary sinner/saints who now rest in eternity. Our gatherings are often poignant, marked by tears and memories, candles and flowers, the tolling of the church bell. We remember that yes, there are spiritual giants of faith, but that all of us are children of God and dearly beloved.
Maybe you find it difficult to remember how beloved you are right now. It’s been a tough year with COVID-19, economic upheaval, contentious politics, and the veil being pulled back on systemic racism, poverty, human rights, and cries for justice. Many in the LGBTQ community face new fears of discrimination. Women wonder whether they will have any say over their own bodies and whether a pro-birth ethic can become a true pro-life (from birth to death) movement. Neighbor is pitted against neighbor, daughter against mother, father against son, even pastor against parishioner. Common ground is a rare commodity, yet one that must continue to be sought and struggled for if we are to regain our footing as a people who love and care for God and neighbor.
What will your All Saints Sunday worship look like this year? Are you still online, or are you back in the building, or perhaps working in a hybrid form of both digital and personal ministry? Whatever style of worship or contextual situation wherein you find yourself, let’s make this Sunday one to remember our better angels, to give thanks for the faithful witness of so many people across time and space, and to focus on the radical and inclusive nature of God’s love for us. Perhaps you could invite worshipers to name their favorite “saints” throughout church history, as well as the everyday saints who have had an impact on their lives, perhaps reminding them of God’s amazing love. For me, this year, those “saints” would be Karolina Sandell-Berg and Howard Thurman.
One of my favorite hymns for All Saints Sunday is “Children of the Heavenly Father,” composed by Karolina Sandell-Berg. Karolina’s story is one of those ordinary saints stories from which we may take comfort and in which we will find hope. “Lina” was the daughter of a Lutheran pastor. She had been partially paralyzed after an illness and confined to bed much of the time. One Sunday morning when Lina was twelve and her parents were at church, Lina began to pray earnestly and read scripture. When her parents returned home they found her dressed and walking around—healed. But life was not a bed of roses after that; when Lina was 26, she and her father were crossing Lake Vättern, and Jonas Sandell fell out of the boat and drowned. Instead of shutting down in her grief, Lina went on to write some 600 hymns expressing trust in and gratitude to God. Click here to hear “Children of the Heavenly Father.”
Howard Thurman, American theologian, civil rights leader, philosopher, author, and mystic, is one saint whose extensive writings are as timely today as when they were penned in the early and mid-twentieth century. Thurman was dean of Rankin Chapel at Howard University and later dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University. He and Alfred Fisk started the first major interracial and interdenominational church in the U.S. While Jesus and the Disinherited is perhaps his most well known work, Thurman wrote extensively about Christian mysticism and the interior journey.
I leave you with an excerpt from Thurman’s Meditations of the Heart. The words are perhaps just what is needed for these complicated and troubling days.
“The old song of my spirit has wearied itself out. It has long ago been learned by heart so that now it repeats itself over and over, bringing no added joy to my days of lift to my spirit. It is a good song, measured to a rhythm to which I am bound by ties of habit and timidity of mind. The words belong to old experiences which once sprang fresh as water from a mountain crevice fed by melting snows. But my life has passed beyond to other levels where the old song is meaningless. I demand of the old song that it meet the need of present urgencies. Also, I know that the work of the old song, perfect in its place, is not for the new demand!
“I will sing a new song. As difficult as it is, I must learn the new song that is capable of meeting the new need. I must fashion new melodies that have never been mine before, that all that is within me may lift my voice unto God. How I love the old familiarity of the wearied melody—how I shrink from the harsh discords of the new untried harmonies.
“Teach me, my Father, that I might learn with the abandonment and enthusiasm of Jesus, the fresh new accent, the untried melody, to meet the need of the untried morrow. Thus, I may rejoice with each new day and delight my spirit in each fresh unfolding.”
Consider making All Saints worship as tactile and multi-sensory as possible. If people are worshiping at home, invite them to light candles at home in memory of their loved ones. Provide candles and sand trays in your worship space for those who gather in person, but do be sure to practice safe social distancing measures.
Many congregations will be playing “For all the saints” this week. Consider what other hymnody and/or readings might be relevant and meaningful this week. How about “Children of the heavenly father” or one of Howard Thurman’s poems?
Let’s write a psalm this week using Psalm 34:1-10, 22 as a template. Read this psalm in several translations, and then write your own psalm to communicate how you relate to God and what God’s nature is as you experience it.
Feeling really creative? Write a psalm song and play it in worship.
This week’s focus verse is 1 John 3:1: – See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
Invite children to tell you their names. Ask if they know how they came by their name or what it means. Then tell the children that they have another identity—child of God. Because God loves all of us so much, God has named us children and incorporated us into the divine family. People may not realize this because they do not yet know God, so it’s up to us to share God’s good news as God’s beloved children.
This week I want to challenge you to embrace your identity as God’s beloved child. I want you to feel confident that God loves you and desires good for you. And then, I want you to share that love. It may be as simple as a smile, a hug, or a drawing. Whatever it is, know that it is enough and that God loves you and every atom and molecule of this world.
Finish with a simple echo prayer and blessing.
Dear God (Dear God),
Thank you (Thank you) for loving us (for loving us) and calling us your children (and calling us your children). Thank you for teaching us (Thank you for teaching us) to love you and our neighbors (to love you and our neighbors). Keep us from fear (Keep us from fear). Keep us hopeful (Keep us hopeful). Make us helpful (Make us helpful). Give us peace (Give us peace.) Amen (Amen).
Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Today we remember and give thanks for the faithful witness of those who have gone before us. We give thanks for their faithful discipleship and stewardship. Let us also renew our own commitment to living as God’s beloved children in this world.
Stewardship at Home
What ordinary “saint” do you want to learn more about this week? Consider how you might learn. Will you read a book about or written by that person? Will you listen to sermons, music, or poetry by this person? If you are interested in learning more about Howard Thurman and Christian mysticism, consider listening to this “lost lecture” by Thurman from Morehouse University. Click here to listen to “Love or Perish.” Consider how timely this lecture is after all these years.
2011 Reflection: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2011/11/in-the-company-of-saints/
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