I’m actually writing this article on Nov. 1. On the “liturgical calendar” of The Church, used mainly by Catholics, Lutherans, and Anglicans, but also by many others, November 1st is set aside as “All Saints’ Day.” I thought I’d share a little about this day and its meaning.
So many articles and official documents have been written on this subject, so I will share here what many of them have in common.
What is All Saints’ Day? Originally, All Saints’ Day was a remembering of the martyrs of the ancient church. The martyrs were men, women, and children who were persecuted and killed because of their faith in Christ. In later times, it has become a “festival” to remember all the departed Christian faithful, all those who have died while in the true faith. When November 1st does not fall on a Sunday, the festival is celebrated on the first Sunday in November. As you read this, we will have celebrated it this past Sunday.
What does the word “Saint” mean?
The Latin word “sanctus” gives rise to the English word “saint.” Sanctus means “holy.”
Who are the “Saints?” Actually, God declares that everyone who has been baptized and believes the promise of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is fully forgiven, justified, holy, and blameless before Him. Therefore, “The Communion of Saints” includes both those who have died in the faith and are now living in heaven, as well as those faithful believers still living on earth.
Since I am Lutheran, I will tell you how we Lutherans honor the saints. We Lutherans do not pray to the saints in heaven or invoke their help as some other Christians do. However, we honor the saints. Going back to the early days of The Reformation 500 years ago, our first Lutheran scholars wrote of three ways that we Christians should honor the saints. The first is thanksgiving. For we ought to give thanks to God because He has shown examples of mercy… because He has given teachers or other gifts to the church… The second service is the strengthening of our faith; when we see the denial forgiven Peter, we also are encouraged to believe the more that grace truly super-abounds over sin, (Romans 5:20). The third honor is the imitation, first, of faith, then of the other virtues… (Apology to the Augsburg Confession, Article XXI, paragraphs 4-6).
It has been said that the second point here is particularly important. We take note that when we honor the saints, we are actually giving the glory to God and not to the saints themselves. All the saints who are now in heaven were in their earthly lives exactly like us: fallen sinful human beings and completely unworthy of God’s favor. It is indeed only by grace, God undeserved love and forgiveness, that makes the saints what they are.
What is the “liturgical color” for All Saints’ Day? First, you need to know that the colors of the altar and pulpit hangings, called paraments, are of significance in “liturgical churches.” Different colors are used for the different “seasons” of The Church Year. The color for All Saints’ Day is white. As the book of Revelation declares, God’s saints are those who have… washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:14).
Why is All Saints’ Day such a special event in the life of The Church?
This day is a very special day for worshippers. It is one that enriches the lives of all who observe it. It is a day on which we are encouraged and lifted up by the lives of the saints of ancient times. Many faithful saints of Biblical times come to mind: Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Ruth, David, and Elijah from the Old Testament; and Peter and Paul from the New Testament. We praise God for their examples of faith, even amidst their failures, faults, and shortcomings.
Of course, beyond these we remember the thousands of known Christians whose stories are such markers of faith throughout history. And, of course, we acknowledge the great majority of “saints” whose stories are now known still only to God. We commemorate these holy ones as well.
And finally, we remember our own loved ones, family and friends, now living in heaven whose Christian faith inspired us and gave us such joy as we knew them here on earth.
It has also been said that most importantly, on this day we glorify God not just for the faithfulness of the saints, but for God’s faithfulness to the saints. And, certainly, this day reminds us that it is only by the perfect life and saving death of Jesus Christ that Christians are made saints in the sight of God.
The famous hymn declares: For all the saints who from their labors rest, all who by faith before the world confessed, Your name, O Jesus, be forever blessed! Alleluia! Alleluia!
We say “Amen to that!”
[Kollmeyer is Pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church on Ga. Highway 314 in Fayetteville. Sundays 9:15 Contemporary and 11:15 Traditional. www.princeofpeacefayette.org]