For All the Saints
Some months ago I led a Wednesday evening series on saints and sainthood, where we looked at the lives and stories of some of the most well-known saints, and discussed the history of sainthood within the wider church.
Some of us were surprised to learn that the history of sainthood is actually rooted in local churches, who would celebrate those among them who modeled the life of faith and whose legacy lived on. This understanding of sainthood rang true for our group, and at the end of one of our sessions we closed by naming some of the “saints” of our church through the years.
One name after another was lifted up, along with a memory of their life and influence in the lives of others. One story often led to another story, before another name was lifted up and then more stories, more names, and so on.
We often say that the church is a people of memory, and calling to mind this great cloud of witnesses was a moving testimony to the ties that bind, even across space and time.
This Sunday is the day in our church year together when we lift up this great cloud as part of worship. On All Saints’ Sunday we remember the many saints who have touched our lives and left an imprint on our church. We also lift up especially all those in our beloved community who have “gone home” in the past year.
To help us do this, we’ve had a tradition for many years of printing the names of those who have died in the past year in the bulletin and reading them aloud during worship. Last year we added the ringing of a bell after each name, calling to mind the words of the poet John Donne, “Each man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind. Therefore, send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee,” and the Apostle Paul’s reminder that when one part of the body is in pain, the whole body suffers.
Of course, our church has another tradition that honors our continuity with the saints of this church through time. The first Sunday of November is also our Commitment Sunday, when we once again commit ourselves to each other and the mission and ministry of our church.
We process down the aisle to deposit our pledge cards into the little model church, and when we do we’re not just symbolizing our commitment to living and working together at the top of Poplar for another year. We’re also committing ourselves to honor the memories and carry on the mission of those who came before us, and “on whose pews we sit.”
I hope you’ll join us this Sunday for this powerful testimony of what it means to be church together.
For all the saints,