On November 1st, we celebrate All Saints’ Day. As I was meditating on All Saints’ Day, I began to think of all of the saints that have blessed my life. Historically, in the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions, saints are individuals who, because of their holy nature, are canonized into the church. These are folks who have been linked to miracles, among other traits. While most saints have their own “feast” or holy day, All Saints’ was a day set aside to venerate all of the saints, both known and unknown.
For the Reformers, the role of the saints in the life of the church was problematic. Like the theology of the Pope being God’s vicar in the world, and therefore set above other humans, the beatification and canonization of saints did the same. This suggested that there were some who were more blessed than others, a concept that the Reformers rejected. Another problem with the saints for the Reformers was that many people were worshipping the saints in the same way they were worshipping God, and in some cases, worshipping the saints instead of God.
For the Reformed movement, to place anything or anyone at the same level or above God is idolatry. However, saying that, the Reformers did not do away with an understanding of sainthood. They embraced it as a core theology, but changed our understanding of sainthood to one that embraces all of the elect. Hence, we recognize the sainthood of all believers.
For people in the Protestant reformed tradition church, All Saints’ Day and All Saints’ Sunday are set aside to celebrate all of the saints of the church. This is a time to celebrate those who have come before us who faithfully served the Lord. It is also a time to celebrate those who are with us today, and those who will be with us in the future, reminding us that:
… we are part of one continuing, living communion of saints. … It is a time to express our gratitude for all who in ages of darkness kept the faith, for those who have taken the gospel to the ends of the earth, for prophetic voices who have called the church to be faithful in life and service, for all who have witnessed to God’s justice and peace in every nation.
To rejoice with all the faithful of every generation expands our awareness of a great company of witnesses above and around us like a cloud (Heb. 12:1). It lifts us out of a preoccupation with our own immediate situation and the discouragements of the present. In the knowledge that others have persevered, we are encouraged to endure against all odds (Heb. 12:1–2). Reminded that God was with the faithful of the past, we are reassured that God is with us today, moving us and all creation toward God’s end in time. In this context, it is appropriate for a congregation on All Saints’ Day to commemorate the lives of those who died during the previous year.
This year we will have our annual All Saints’ Service at 6:00 p.m., and at Revive and Sunday worship, we will have special activities to remember and pray for the saints in our lives.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen