All Saints Sunday Lectionary Reflection
November 7, 2021*
“Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ — John 11:40
This Sunday is the day the Christian church sets aside to honor all of the everyday saints, remembering their lives and faithful witness. It is a day of celebration and remembering, a time of reflection and thanksgiving. This is the day where tears and belief comingle to yield hope in the grace and glory of God.
Death shadows our days on this earth, and humans have long struggled to make sense of time, existence, and purpose. For the ancients, live was cyclical, a great wheel with death as its hub, affording the individual no option. Even Roman poet Marcus Manilius supposedly said “We begin to die as soon as we are born, and the end is linked to the beginning.” Against this darkly matter-of-fact view of life stands the contrasting and hopeful biblical notion of time.
Thomas Cahill, writing in The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels, details the stark difference in the way the early Jews understood time. “What was real for the Sumarians (and for all other peoples but the Jews) was the Eternal. What was to become gradually real for the Jews and remains real for us is the here and now and the there and then” (128). He goes on to explain that by living in real time, the Jews also came to value newness and surprise, to value the journey.
All Saints Day gives us an excellent opportunity to honor the journey and to tell the stories of those who have lived the faith and influenced our own discipleship. Through the word, song, prayer, and meal, we place ourselves in the great narrative of God’s loving and constant interaction with humankind. We celebrate that this life is not the end of the story. Our lives are not merely a rotation of some great wheel, but rather a slice of eternity and a glimpse the glory of God.
The limits of our human vision and the reality of our finitude bring the tears–and there are plenty of tears in the Year B readings for this Sunday and in the lives of God’s people. Thankfully, the tears will not last. Time goes on and by faith we place ourselves in the story of the faithful, in the great narrative of salvation that promises a day when the “LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines” and will “swallow up death forever” (Isaiah 25:6, 8a). Then God will wipe away those tears and rejoicing will replace them. And as John of Patmos sees in his vision of hope and glory, God will dwell among mortals, again wiping those tears and removing pain and mourning. Death will no longer cast its shadow, and all things will be new (see Revelation 21:1-6).
This day is one of hope, of remembrance and newness surely to come. So as you sing, proclaim, name the saints and perhaps light candles or share story and images, remember this great hope, this great procession of faith, and always, always the good news of Jesus. Surely all who believe–across time and space–will see the glory of God revealed. Blessings on your journey and on your preaching and teaching.
If you have video projection capability, consider developing a slide show by interspersing photos of everyday saints from your congregation’s history with images of saints throughout time. You might project this show while singing “For all the Saints” or “For all your Saints, O Lord.”
Consider moving thematically from tears to joy in the shape of your worship. Why not use “When the Saints Go Marching In” as the sending hymn or postlude.
Invite youth to write down or talk about their definition of a saint. Remind them that we are “simultaneously saint and sinner” or saints in process. Invite them to share a memory about someone whose life of faith has made an impact on them–whether that person has died or still lives.
Consider using the reading from Isaiah to tackle the tough issues surrounding death that some students will have experienced with peers who have died young, whether from accidents, illness, or completion of suicide. Share communion together as a foretaste of that great mountain-top feast to come.
If your church is one that has a bell with easy access, invite the children to gather around and help you or an usher pull the rope to ring it when the names of the saints departed are read. Let the children know that we can ring the bell in the spirit of joy and hope because of God’s promises. Remember that children will have a range experiences and emotions surrounding death. Consider in advance how you will respond to their questions that might involve the death of pets or terminal illness of a loved one.
Using Lessons for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost
Although it is All Saints Sunday, you might want to consider somehow using one or more of the lessons appointed for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost. The Old Testament lesson, Deuteronomy 6:1-9, includes the Shema and the instruction to love God with all one’s being. This lesson links to the Gospel for the day, Mark 12:28-34, where Jesus responds to the scribe about the centrality of loving God and neighbor in the life of discipleship.
Consider how these lessons might link well to the celebration of All Saints in telling the stories of how faithful everyday saints have “lived” these words by the grace of God through faith in the Son with the guiding of the Spirit. These lessons could provide a powerful alternative to the other lessons appointed for this special day in the life and collective memory/story of the church.
*This reflection is reprinted from All Saints Sunday 2012.