October 31, 2016
I grew up in France, where All Saint’s day (“Toussaint”) is a national holiday celebrated mainly by a two-week vacation for schoolchildren. At the time I did not bother to wonder what the weeks of freedom commemorated, and it was only recently that I stopped to think about those early holidays in conjunction with the Church celebration I have come to love.
All Saint’s day is, at its simplest, a Feast day commemorating all of the saints, known and unknown. Woven into the tribute is a call to holiness, as the collect from the Book of Common Prayer reminds us. “Give us grace,” it intones, “to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living.” This day is an opportunity to celebrate the heroes of the faith—and they have much to teach us.
The Anglican Communion gives us a list of saints ancient and modern, from the likes of the apostles and early church Fathers to George Herbert, Florence Nightingale, and C.S. Lewis. Clearly these are people worth imitating.
Yet All Saint’s Day is more than just a call to remember and emulate (Hebrews 12:1). It is also meant to draw us into the “communion of saints” that we proclaim belief in when we say the Nicene Creed. This communion is a theological reality that reminds us that all believers are in fellowship through Jesus Christ, including the dead who are now truly alive in Christ. Rather than a musty heritage, it is a deep and beautiful connection full of the living breath of the Spirit. As such All Saint’s Day is a day to celebrate fellowship and community, not just a litany of names.
We will see this enacted on Sunday (November 6) when individuals are baptized into the Church family, and when we join together in the Eucharistic feast. Beyond the Sunday church service, we can enact this Feast day in our communion with friends and family, enjoying the communion of saints and beckoning others into it. Christians have a large and holy family both on earth and in heaven, and on this All Saint’s day at Resurrection we are blessed to be called to a Family celebration.