There was a time when a good Presbyterian would look askance at the mention of All Saints Day, thinking it Popish nonsense at best and a strange and dangerous idolatry at worst. I like the day. To be sure, we in the Reformed Tradition understand it differently than our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters understand the day, but rather than dangerous, I find that it can be day to reflect and give thanks.
November 1 has been marked All Saints Day since 835. That’s a long time. Originally it was something like Presidents Day or the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Canonized Saints were given their own feast days, but as the number of duly recognized saints and martyrs grew, it was clear that not all saints could be given their own day. And surely there were exemplary Christians who had not been officially recognized as such and who deserved the church’s acknowledgement. And so All Saints Day.
The Reformers rejected the idea that one became a saint by church decree. They denied the efficacy of prayers to the saints and intercession on our behalf by the saints – we have but one intercessor, our great High Priest whose name is Love, Jesus the Son of God. For a long while most Protestants and certainly those of us in the Reformed Tradition shied away from having anything to do with any of the saints days including All Saints Day.
The New Testament understands the saints to be those who “are beloved of God” (Romans 1:7), who “call on the name of the Lord Jesus” (1 Corinthians 1:2), who “are faithful in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 1:1). All Christians in all times and all places are all the saints.
This is a nice explanation of how a Presbyterian might understand and celebrate All Saints Day.
No candles lit, no intercession asked for or expected, I have been thinking a lot about the saints who have touched my life.
I begin with those “who from their labors rest.” (That phrase comes from the great hymn. I encourage you to find four and a half minutes to spend with this presentation of the hymn and the wonderful story of hope and promise the lyrics tell.) We remember more than just grandma and her famous chocolate chip cookies or Uncle Bob and his great sense of humor. We give thanks for those Christians, those saints, who God has used as a means of his grace in our lives. Who among those now resting from their labors taught you what the life of faith and the giving of grace looks like? Are there those in the church triumphant who were used by God to introduce you to the gospel and to the One whose person and work is the gospel? Names that come into my mind from my list include Bob and Louise; Mabel, Ruth and Scott; Bill and Don and many others.
All Saints Day also calls me to give thanks for particular members of the church militant, to mark those who now so live (Philippians 3:7) as to provide an example of faith, hope and love in the ordinariness of our lives. They live in California and Brazil; Oregon, Michigan, Tennessee and Beaver, PA; Guatemala, Burundi and Hunting Park. Many of them live in Langhorne, Pennsylvania.
Who among all the saints are a means of grace for you – living and speaking the gospel into your life?
I have said so many times before and will continue to do so; on the Lord’s Day at LPC I always have the best view in the house. So when I come to the pulpit or lectern on Sunday, and if I pause for just a fleeting moment, it will be because, looking out over the congregation gathered for worship, I will be giving thanks for all the saints.