This weekend, the big deal seems to be Halloween. What seems crazy to me is that people spend as much on decorating for Halloween as for Christmas. For us, a carved pumpkin on the doorstep would do. What gets lost in this is a holiday that actually, at least for me, goes far more to the heart of my life. And this is All Saints Day. And this year, All Saints Day (November 1) falls on a Sunday, a time Christians around the world are gathered for worship.
All Saints Day, in some traditions celebrates those who have attained “the beatific vision” of heaven, and is distinguished from All Souls Day (the next day) remembering the faithful who have died and not yet attained heaven.
I understand that distinction but my read of things is that “saint” comes from the word “sanctus” which can mean “holy” or “set apart”. When Paul wrote letters to various churches, he invariably addressed them all as “saints”. That is because he understood all the faithful as having been “set apart” by God through Christ. It strikes me that those we have called “saints” have singularly lived into their set apart, holy identity, an identity all of us who believe share.
I don’t want to get into a religious argument here, but rather reflect on who I will be thinking of and celebrating this coming All Saints Day. For me, “all saints” includes:
- my immediate family–my wife, my son and daughter-in-law–who probably earn the designation “saint” just by putting up with me!
- the people gathered around me at my own place of worship, Smoky Row Brethren Church, a group of people I’ve kept company with for twenty-five years who have taught me as much about a lived faith as any group I know.
- the amazing group of people I work with in the collegiate ministry I’m a part of including grad students, faculty, volunteers, team members and leadership–funny, intelligent, gifted, and tremendously thoughtful about being faithful to apply the whole of the Bible to the whole of life.
- the mentors in my life who have passed–my parents, my grandmother Marie, Bob Mulholland, Mrs. King, Dick Kutan, and Sarah Gordon–people who prayed for me and through word and life introduced me to the faith.
- the mentors in my life yet living–Doug, Sue, Barney, Kent, Terry, and Dave–who were gifts of God at various points in my journey teaching me what a well-lived life as a Christian looked like.
- the saints who have shaped my life and captured my imagination through their writing, from Augustine to John Calvin to John Stott to Marilynne Robinson and Wendell Berry.
- as a lover of music, I think of all the gifted composers from the earliest centuries through Bach to the present who gave us so much glorious music to play and sing that was written “soli Deo gloria” (to God’s glory alone).
- then there is this universal, flawed and yet incredibly diverse community known as “the Church” that bridges all the fault lines of discord we humans create along lines of gender, ethnicity, class, economic status. Even in all of our differences expressed in denominations and diverse traditions there is this many-splendored Bride of Christ who will be revealed in all her beauty at the Last Day.
- increasing I am grateful for the Church in the Majority World and Eastern Europe, for all its vitality and distinctive witness.
I could go on, but you might not go with me! In the Apostles Creed, we affirm “the communion of the saints”. The longer I go, the richer this phrase becomes to me as I think of my union with a community visible and invisible, living and at rest, stretching through the centuries and around the world.
Even if you do not share my faith but have read this far, this day reminds us of the basic truth that there is a community of people, living and dead, who have shaped each of our lives, hopefully for good. Beyond the macabre commercialism of Halloween, might there be something far better worth remembering and celebrating on the day we call All Saints Day?