Today, we celebrate All Saints’ Day. It’s one of the seven principle Feast Days listed in the Book of Common Prayer alongside Easter Day, Christmas Day, and the Day of Pentecost, among others. Today is a special day in our life together as the church. And on this special day, we remember all of the saints, the ones who are well known or known only to us, as well as those whose faith is known only to God.
But why do we place such importance on this day? Why is All Saints’ Day afforded the same status as the other Principle Feasts of the church year, such as Easter and Christmas Day? All Saints’ Day is important because it’s on this day we remember that the living and the dead are united in the love of Christ.
Now some people get a little uneasy with talk about saints. They feel that giving attention to saints distracts us from our faith in God. But giving attention to saints doesn’t distract us from faith in God, it actually strengthens our faith because one of the fundamentals of our faith is that we believe in the communion of saints.
The Apostles’ creed is the creed we associate with Baptism. It’s the basic outline of the Christian faith and we recite it at Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and it forms the first part of our Baptismal Covenant.
At Baptism, The Celebrant asks: Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit? And the people respond, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, and the communion of saints.”
The communion of saints is a fundamental part of our faith, but what is it? The Prayer Book describes it this way: The communion of saints is the whole family of God, the living and the dead, those whom we love and those whom we hurt, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer, and praise. The communion of saints is the whole family of God, those who are living and those who are dead, who are bound together in Christ.
We join with all those before us and celebrate All Saints’ Day to remember that the living and the dead are united in the love of Christ, whose love is with us in this life and the life to come.
One of my professors, speaking about the communion of saints, said something that has shaped my understanding of the Eucharist. She said that we are never nearer to our loved ones who have died, than when we are at the altar at Holy Eucharist. When we gather to give thanks to God, we join with all the company of heaven in their worship of God.
And in that company of heaven are the ones we love who have died. Where else could they be but in the presence of God?
In Psalm 139 the psalmist exclaims: “Where can I go then from your Spirit? where can I fee from your presence? If I climb up to heaven, you are there; If I make the grave my bed, you are there also.”
As Paul tells us, “It is in God that we live, and move, and have our being.”
John tells us that “All things came into being through Christ, and without him not one thing came into being.”
And in Colossians we read that “Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
Our very existence is made possible because Christ holds us in his love. This is true of us when we are alive, and this is true of us when we die. There is no where we can go in life or in death, where the love of Christ will not also be there with us, because nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And when we join our voices with Angels and Archangels and with all of the company of heaven in the Eucharist, we are joining our voices with the whole communion of saints, those living and dead, all of us connected in the love of Christ that transcends time and space.
One day when I was serving as a hospital chaplain during seminary, I received a page on my beeper that a young man had been in an automobile accident. He was in intensive care, and his mother wanted to speak to a chaplain. So I sat with her under the fluorescent lights in a small waiting room and she told me what happened. Her son and two friends were going to a concert. They had all been drinking, and her son was driving when they hit a tree. The two friends died, and now her son was lying in a hospital bed with limited brain function and little hope of surviving.
She told me how much she loved him. How he had always been mischievous, but it was impossible to ever stay mad at him. Now his life was in jeopardy, and two other people were gone because of him. She was worried about him and his relationship with God and what would happen after he died. I assured her that God loved her son in this life and death would not change that.
Later on the mother paged me again. It was clear that he would not survive. She wanted a chaplain to pray as the family took him off life support.
I entered the room with all of the family, and made my way to the hospital bed where the mother was holding her son. My prayer was personalized for her son and the family, but my prayer was based on a prayer for those we love from the Book of Common Prayer.
Almighty God, we entrust all who are dear to us to your never-failing care and love, for this life and the life to come, knowing that you are doing for them better things than we can desire or pray for; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
In those last moments with this young man, I knew the family was worried about what would happen to him. But this is what was happening to him as we prayed, he was being entrusted by his family to God’s never-failing care and love. The love that was always with this mischievous and fun-loving son. The love that was with him when he made a terrible decision on the way to a concert. The love that was with him in this life, and the love that will be with in the life to come.
Christ’s love has defeated death and sin. His love is with us in this life and the life to come and it unites us all. And on this morning of All Saints’, at this altar, we give God thanks for the love of Christ and the communion of saints, and we entrust those who are dear to us to God’s never-failing care and love, for this life and the life to come, knowing that God is doing for them better things than we can desire or pray for, through Jesus Christ our Lord.