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All Saints Day…

October 26, 2009

resurrectionWe will observe All Saint’s Day on Sunday, Nov. 1 (although I will be speaking at Strasburg Mennonite Church for Renewal Meetings). During our worship service we will remember our loved ones whose faith in Christ has given us encouragement.  Jean and Rachel will be creating an altar space which contains photos or remembrances of departed family and friends that have been brought by members of our community.

This practice seems foreign, perhaps even questionable for those of us who have grown up in an expression of faith that did not talk much about the Communion of Saints.  So what basis is there for entering this unfamiliar tradition?  Much could be said, but let me just offer a few brief thoughts. 

What does Scripture say about saints?

 
And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’?  He is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong.”  Mark 12:26-27

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves.  And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.  Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.  Matthew 17:1-3

Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.  Ephesians 6:18

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us…  Hebrews 12:1

When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.  Revelation 5:8

The smoke of the incense, mixed with the prayers of the saints, ascended up to God from the altar where the angel had  poured them out.   Revelation 8:4
 
Our Worship
Some of the hymns we sing reflect the reality that the Church is a communion of saints that transcends space and time limitations.  O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing (Charles Wesley) is one that readily comes to mind.  One of the verses of that song uncovers the reality that Jesus has conquered death, so that the body of Christ is not limited to those of us who offer glory, praise and love from “below”:

To God all glory, praise, and love
Be now and ever given
By saints below and saints above
The Church in earth and heaven.
 
History
Christians have been honoring saints and martyrs since at least the second century AD. The Martyrdom of Polycarp, probably written near the middle of the second century, attests to this reality:

Accordingly, we afterwards took up his bones, more precious than the most exquisite jewels, and more pure than gold, and deposited them in a fitting place, so that when being gathered together, as opportunity is allowed us, with joy and rejoicing, the Lord shall grant us to celebrate the anniversary of his martyrdom, both in memory of those who have already finished their course, and for the exercising and preparation of those yet to walk in their steps (18).

As SMC attempts to uncover this reality which Scripture and the Church point to, the opportunity to bring photos and remembrances of loved ones who have been an encouragement to our faith is one way this is being expressed. 

The Church is an incarnational reality.  It is also a mystery.  There is so much about faith and the story uncovered in the biblical text that defies the categories and ways of knowing of modern rationalism.  A simplistic literal reading of text (as independent individuals or enlightened gods) will not allow us to hear the Communal witness which invites us into relationship with God and each other. 

All Saints Day is an opportunity to see ourselves within this beloved community of faith, hope and love.  This tradition reminds us that we are not just an independent Community gathering in this space and time around the Words our little group can agree to.  Our Faith and relationship with the body of Christ is much deeper and stronger than uniformity mediated by reason and words.  We are invited into the Divine Community of Love that is embodied, but also not limited to reason, time and space.  It is a question of what communal witness we trust and place ourselves within.  It is a question of how we make room for mystery. 

Like the story of beginnings found in Genesis, like the bread and wine table blessing of Abram by Melchizedek-the priest of God (Gen. 14), like the story of God taking up residence in the womb of a girl as a fetus, like the story of the empty tomb, the Emmaus road…like so many other stories of our faith, we hold this one with a sense of mystery and awe.  We hold it and we say Magnificent

Magnificent
Oh, oh, magnificent

I was born, I was born
To be with you in this space and time
After that and ever after
I haven’t had a clue only to break rhyme
This foolishness can leave a heart black and blue, oh, oh

Only love, only love can leave such a mark
But only love, only love can heal such a scar

I was born, I was born to sing for you
I didn’t have a choice but to lift you up
And sing whatever song you wanted me to
I give you back my voice from the womb
My first cry, it was a joyful noise, oh, oh

Only love, only love can leave such a mark
But only love, only love can heal such a scar
Justified, till we die you and I will magnify, oh, oh
Magnificent, magnificent, oh, oh

Only love, only love can leave such a mark
But only love, only love unites our hearts
Justified, till we die you and I will magnify, oh, oh
Magnificent, magnificent, magnificent

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One Comment leave one →
  1. October 26, 2009 9:17 am

    Excellent post, Brian. Blessings to you and SMC as you celebrate All Saints Day this Sunday. And guess what song I’m pulling up on itunes right now… ;)

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