And oh, it is so that I am needing All Saints Day this year. It has long been a favorite for me, yes, but the losses are running deep and hard this time around and I can hardly wait to stand still in the gifts of the day. Indeed, along with my community I am in that in-between time. The phone call came. The vigil in the emergency room ended. Soon funeral arrangements will be made and by the time we gather for All Saints Sunday next week, we will be on the other side of that at least. And oh, I can hardly wait to get to the other side of all this heartbreak, if not in this life, then surely in the next.
And so I would offer you the gifts I do experience on All Saints Day every year:
- I love that it is so tactile. I am pastor in a tradition which is known for being a little staid. Oh, we get up out of our seats to receive the bread and wine of Holy Communion. And before that many of us are comfortable moving about the worship space to extend a hand of peace. But on All Saints Day we file to the front and picking up a candle, we light it from the light of another, setting it down and as it joins the light the others reflect, our memories of loved ones who have gone before also join together right before our eyes.
- As one so privileged to host this annual ritual of candle-lighting, I am fortunate to see the faces of those coming forward. In particular, I am always struck by grandparents and parents guiding the small hands of little ones whose eyes are shining as they watch the light pass from one candle to another, one at a time. It is, indeed, something the whole family does together.
- I love the tie to our Baptismal ritual. On this day the Christ Candle is lit, which is where our light originates. It is the same on baptismal days when we reach high to light a baptismal candle which will be sent home with the one baptized. During the last two baptisms in our congregation, we have carefully handed the lit candle to older siblings of the one baptized — in both cases little girls who are still in preschool themselves, making the passing on of the light somehow that much more wondrous. We remember as we light the candles on All Saints Day that many of those remembered were also claimed and loved by God in the waters of baptism.
- I am grateful for the universality of this ritual and how it binds us to one another across time and space. This year, in particular, I was ‘in conversation’ with a young woman raised in our congregation who now makes her home in Tanzania. I told her we would be lighting a candle in memory of her mother next Sunday. Gratefully, she said she would do the same. And so yes, we are more connected to one another in this shared ritual this year.
- And yes, I love how we point to our connection to those who have gone before every week in our communion liturgy. Not a Sunday goes by that I do not think of “all the saints” when I repeat the words of the liturgy… “And so, with all the choirs of angels, with the church on earth and the hosts of heaven, we praise your name and join their unending hymn…” I remember then those I have known and loved and commended to God’s eternal care who now can be counted among “all the hosts of heaven.”
- And oh, I do love the music. It is not All Saints Day here without singing “For All the Saints” which always has me standing a little taller. In these last years we have danced our way out to the tune of “When All the Saints Go Marching In!” It has become a favorite moment in the year for many of our people. For it is so, often music captures what mere words cannot, moving us from heartbreak, to defiance in the face of death, to dancing once more.
- And oh, I do love this about this day. As All Saints Day neared the first November after my dad died, a beloved friend called to tell me she was thinking of me as we came close to that special day. Yes, we remember loved ones every day, and we do so in a particular way on days important in our families: birthdays and anniversaries. First Thanksgivings and Christmases don’t pass without a nod or more to those who won’t be at the table this year. But All Saints Day? What a gift it was to hear from another that she would be remembering on that day as well. More than twenty years later I remember this. This year I will be calling to tell her the same thing about her own beloved dad.
- And I am so grateful for the chance to remember specifically those most precious ones we have buried from our congregation this year. We have a larger group than usual, so in the days to come I will spend a little more time visiting with close family members to be sure they can join us for the opening procession as we carry in the pillar candles for their loved ones. It is a wonderful time to reach out and remember and then to speak their names to the punctuation of ringing bells on Sunday is a powerful blessing.
- Indeed, I love the message we receive from God’s Holy Word on this day. The promise in Isaiah of a great feast where our tears will literally be wiped away by God’s tender hand. Where death will no longer have a place. The image of the new heaven and new earth of Revelation. And yes, the marvelous detail of the raising of Lazarus. The description of the reactions of Mary and Martha. The grief Jesus clearly felt and his being disturbed (at death? at the brokenness of this world?) as he approached the tomb! And the wonder of Lazarus stepping out and the command to unbind him as a certain symbol and promise of the freedom we will all know one day. For yes, I do know that this is more than a day when we ‘personally remember’ those who have gone before. I understand that the story of Lazarus, in particular, is shared this day as being about so much more than only bringing this one beloved friend of Jesus back to life. Surely this points beyond this moment to God’s Power, God’s Grace, God’s Gifts. Even so, I am so very glad that in John’s Gospel it comes home in one particular place, as gift to one particular family. For we can all see ourselves in that. And this All Saints Day? It seems that I especially need that.
- And finally, I love that this day holds within it the promise and hope of the Resurrection and that even as Lazarus and his beloved family are privileged to live into that promise in this life even now, so are we. So are we. Thank God, so are we.
And so with all of you, I wonder.
- Where will you observe All Saints Day this year? Who will you remember?
- What do you especially appreciate about All Saints Day?
- What makes the observation of All Saints Day especially meaningful to you this year? In years past?
- How do the words of our lessons bring the gifts of this day home for you? Which one or ones speak to you in an especially meaningful way?