What is All Saints Day?
1Corinthians 1:2-3 ESV
2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
All Saints Day, also known as All Hallows’ Day, or Hallowmas, is a Christian celebration in honour of all the saints from Christian history. In Western Christianity, it is observed on November 1st by the Lutheran Church, and other mainstream Protestant denominations.
All Saints Day relates to giving God earnest gratitude for the lives of his saints, remembering those who were well-known and not. Additionally, individuals throughout Christian history are celebrated, such as Peter the Apostle and Charles Wesley, as well as people who have personally guided us to faith in Jesus, such as a relative or friend.
In addition to weekly worship gatherings, “All Saints Day” annually reminds us of our connectedness as Christians. It’s commemorated every November 1st.
Perhaps, we think of saints as statues in a church building. But the Bible teaches something completely different. Who is a saint? You are. That is if you’re a follower of Jesus. God calls a “saint” anyone who trusts in Christ alone for salvation.
Dear Saints in Christ, I want you to have a quick look around, and tell me if anyone here is wearing a golden halo.
Is there anyone here who is looking particularly saintly today?
Your husband or wife perhaps? No?
Children – have you been little saints this morning?
The fact is, we know that we’re all pretty human, and being human means “warts and all”.
Most of us have probably said, “I’m no saint”. However, in just a little while we are all going to say the words, ‘I believe in the communion of saints’.
And with these words we will confess our belief that there is more to the church than meets the eye.
There is more to this Lutheran congregation, than meets the eye.
The church is far more than a gathering of individuals loitering with religious intent.
The church is, in fact, a communion of all people who have been made holy by Jesus – all believers in Christ, in all places, of all times.
The communion of saints includes all Christians living now, all the faithful who have died, and even those believers who are yet to be!
All of these are “saints” because they are baptized into Jesus, and all of these saints are a “communion,” because being united to Jesus makes us united to each other.
But as you probably know, among the various churches there exists a differing emphasis on the saints – who they are, how we are to honour them, whether or not they pray for us, and so on.
The Roman Catholic Church, for example, recently canonized Mary McKillop and she was made an “official” saint of the church.
And many other Christian traditions, ours included, hold the saints in memory by naming our congregations and schools after them.
But quite apart from these questions, the thing I’d like to focus on today is that we regard all Christians as saints.
All baptised believers are holy, and that’s what the word ‘saint’ means: a holy person.
And to look at the role that the saints (both living and departed) play in our lives, I’d like to focus on a passage from the Lutheran Confessions, one that I think all Christians could say ‘Amen’ to.
Let me read the relevant passage to you.
Our Confession approves giving honour to the saints. This honour is threefold. The first is thanksgiving: we should thank God for showing examples of his mercy, revealing his will to save people, and giving teachers and other gifts to the church….The second honour is strengthening of our faith: when we see Peter forgiven after his denial, we are encouraged to believe that grace does indeed abound more than sin. The third honour is imitation, first of their faith and then of their other virtues, which each should imitate in accordance with his calling. (Apology, XXI)
Let’s look at these three ways of honouring the saints in more detail.
First of all, we give thanks to God for all his people.
Because apart from the gospel and the sacraments, the saints are the greatest blessing the church has.
Every saved man, woman and child is a wonderful cause for rejoicing.
Every believer sitting in the pew today is evidence that God is still at work in the 21st century just as much as he was in the first.
Every believer sitting here today demonstrates that miracles still occur.
We should never stop giving thanks for the fact that despite all the faults we can find with others, and all the warts others can find with us, God has begun his work of salvation, and is daily working to bring it to completion.
Moreover, we can thank the Lord for those who taught us the faith and brought us to Jesus: our parents, our uncles and aunts, our god parents our pastors, our teachers.
Thank the Lord for every mature Christian who showed us what following Christ means.
Thank the Lord for the pastors who established congregations in this region decades ago.
Thank the Lord for the early missionaries who gave up everything to bring Christ to this unforgiving and harsh land as it was in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Thank the Lord for those whose theological insight has helped us to think through the faith clearly.
Thank the Lord for those whose lives were channels of divine love – like Mother Teresa or St Francis of Assisi – and have shown that in a world of poverty or cruelty or war, God still draws near to us.
Thank the Lord for those who shed their blood rather than deny the faith and by doing so secured or strengthened the future of the church, such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer who died at the hands of the Nazis, or many centuries ago, Bishop Polycarp of Smyrna who when ordered to curse Christ responded:
‘Eighty-six years have I served him, and he has done me no wrong: how then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?’
But thank the Lord also for ordinary Christians who have simply and steadfastly kept the faith, and for unknown Christians who were never remembered in this life, but will receive ample reward in the next.
And, we can even thank the Lord for those living saints with whom we disagree, with whom we experience conflict, because they too are our brothers and sisters, and our unity in Christ transcends our disagreements and tensions.
Every saint, in fact, is a demonstration of how much God wants to save us, how much he wants to forgive us.
And that brings me to the second reason for honouring the saints: for strengthening our faith.
Again and again we discover that the saints are forgiven sinners.
They may have been heroes of the faith, but they were highly forgiven heroes!
The greatest hymn-writer of the Bible, King David, was an adulterer and a murderer.
Jacob, who was named Israel, was dishonest and tricked his brother Esau.
Peter denied his Lord three times.
Paul confessed to a lifetime struggle with sin.
And yet, God’s grace triumphed over all their faults and his forgiveness covered their most disastrous sins.
When they were weak, God showed his strength in them.
Whenever they thought they had failed, God’s word returned to them having achieved all it set out to do.
And how does this strengthen our faith?
Well, if God has shown such mercy to them, think of what mercy he will show to us.
If God has used other sinners, he will also use us.
There is hope for us all!
And that means it doesn’t make much sense to say “I’m no saint”.
In effect, that’s saying: “I don’t believe in God’s forgiveness” or even worse “I don’t need God’s forgiveness”.
Remember, that the only kind of saint is a forgiven saint.
Even Jesus, the saint of saints, the holy one of God, became sin for our sake.
The third way we honour the saints is to imitate them.
The saints who stand out are worth copying.
They are good role models for the rest of us.
In St Pauls letter to the Phillipians he said quite unashamedly:
‘Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you’.
We too can ‘take note’ of those who have excelled in faith and love and seek to imitate them.
I think this is especially true for younger Christians.
We need heroes to inspire us. We have sporting heroes – why not faith heroes?
A young Catholic I spoke to some time ago said that at their confirmation they chose a saint to whom they could look as a model and inspiration.
What a good idea!
In so many TV shows, novels and movies, the idea of a hero has gone out the window.
Often, all the characters are depressingly hopeless.
There is no-one you can admire or respect.
How sad if for young Christians if it’s no different in the church.
Although I haven’t any formally recognised saints in my own mind, there are a number of people who for me have really demonstrated a faith and love worth following.
And by being more like them, I am being more like Christ.
Parents and Grandparents: why don’t you talk about this with your children or grandchildren when you have lunch today?
Who modelled the faith for you?
So, our honour of the saints is three-fold, say the confessions.
We give thanks for them, our faith is strengthened by them, and we imitate them.
To finish off, let me return to a point I made at the beginning: the communion of saints is a spiritual reality, and therefore it’s something we can hardly begin to understand in this life.
But because we are all joined sacramentally to Christ – through baptism and holy communion – we are also joined to each other.
Because my left ear is joined to my head, and because my right ear is also joined to my head, both ears are in union with each other, even though my ears have never seen each other in their life!
They share the same health, they share the same illness, they share the same life by being members of the same body, united by one head.
So it is with all the saints: we share all things in common.
The spiritual strength of some saints help and sustain those who are weak.
On the other hand, the sins and weakness of others are shared by the rest as well.
As Paul writes to the Corinthians: ‘If one part (of the body of Christ) suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it’.
So, on this festival of All Saints, let us give thanks for what we all share in common, and let us confess: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints”. Amen.