All Saints Day
Halloween was yesterday; let the sugar hangovers for all our children begin! Today, Nov 1st, the day after the secular holiday of Halloween, marks a Holy Day in the Church – All Saints Day. (Halloween literally means Saints’ Eve, as in All Saints Eve. That’s why it’s traditionally been called “All Hallows Eve,” hallows= saints and een = evening before or eve.) Holy Days, or holidays, are days that have been given particular significance because of what occurred on that date and are acknowledged or commemorated as special. Individuals and groups often “sanctify” certain days as special because of the significance those dates carry (to “sanctify” meaning to set aside for special use). Wedding anniversaries are holidays for married couples marked by notes, gifts, and dinner. Birthdays are another example, but so too are the days on which loved ones died.
December 21 is a day that carries powerful memories and great significance for my family. On this day in 1997 my grandmother unexpectedly died because of complications during a routine medical exam. The day is unique, and special for my family; and we sanctify it as such, if only through phone calls to talk about Grandma and share our memories of her. It seems the more important and influential the person was and/or the more unexpected or traumatic their death, the more heavily the day on which the death occurred weighs upon the hearts and minds of those who remember it.
This common human experience and universal human practice is behind the Church’s Holy Day known as All Saints Day. In the early centuries of the Church persecution was widespread and the number of martyrs increased so quickly that before long almost every date on the calendar marked the day on which a faithful follower of Christ had died for the faith. A crisis arose over how to remember and honor each one for their faithful and inspiring example demonstrated unto death. So, in the third century All Saints Day was created to commemorate all the Christians who cannot have their own specific date or are only known to local congregations and not the entire Church.
Over the years, especially for many Protestant churches, All Saints Day has become a day to remember and give thanks for the people we have known, personally or through their ministries, whom God has used to form and strengthen our own Christian faith. They may be deceased or still living but what’s most important is the life they lived for Christ and the impact they had on us through the Lord’s use of them in our lives.
So, how might we celebrate this Holy Day? Begin by reading and meditating on Hebrews 11:32-12:2. Imagine those who are your “great cloud of witnesses.” Gather with your family or friends to read this passage together. Pray in thanksgiving for everything the Lord has done in your lives to provide you with all that is necessary for life and salvation. In doing this, give thanks for those people whom God has most especially used, or is currently using, in your life and family to bring about His redemption and healing. You might even invite those saints for whom you are most especially thankful to read and pray with you. Maybe after reading Hebrews 11 & 12 and thanking God for your saints, call or write as many of them as are still living and express your thanks for their faithfulness to Christ and how you have benefited.
It would be a beautiful day if hundreds of people from our church, All Saints Presbyterian in Austin, each contacted a few people to personally thank them and offer to pray for them in thanksgiving for their life in Christ. Hopefully the eventual effect of celebrating All Saints Day will be that we, who give thanks for the Lord’s use of others in our lives, would in turn follow our saints’ example and by God’s grace seek to serve and influence others as we have been served and influenced. May we each seek by God’s grace to us in Christ and by the Spirit to join that “great cloud of witnesses” on All Saints Day and every day.