All Saints’ Day
In early Christian tradition, saints’ days began as a way to mark the anniversary of a martyr’s death — his or her “birthday” as a saint. By the middle of the church’s first millennium, there were so many martyrs (particularly due to the persecution of Diocletian) that it was hard to give them all their due. All Saints’ Day was established as an opportunity to honor all the saints, known and unknown.
All Saints’ Day has a rather different focus in the Reformed tradition. While we may give thanks for the lives of particular luminaries of ages past, the emphasis is on the ongoing sanctification of the whole people of God. Rather than putting saints on pedestals as holy people set apart in glory, we give glory to God for the ordinary, holy lives of the believers in this and every age. This is an appropriate time to give thanks to members of the community of faith who have died in the past year. We also pray that we may be counted among the company of the faithful in God’s eternal realm.
All Saints’ Day has been celebrated on November 1 since the year 835. Previously it had been connected with the Easter season as a feast of all martyrs.
The Faithful of every generation
An excerpt from the Companion to the Book of Common Worship (Geneva Press, 2003, 150-151)
All Saints’ Day is a time to rejoice in all who through the ages have faithfully served the Lord. The day reminds us that we are part of one continuing, living communion of saints. It is a time to claim our kinship with the “glorious company of apostles … the noble fellowship of prophets … the white-robed army of martyrs” (Te Deum). It is a time to express our gratitude for all who in ages of darkness kept the faith, for those who have take the gospel to the ends of the earth, for prophetic voices who have called the church to be faithful in life and service, for all who have witnessed to God’s justice and peace in every nation.
To rejoice with all the faithful of every generation expands our awareness of a great company of witnesses above and around us like a cloud (Hebrews 12:1). It lifts us out of a preoccupation with our own immediate situation and the discouragements of the present. In the knowledge that others have persevered, we are encouraged to endure against all odds (Hebrews 12:1-2). Reminded that God was with the faithful of the past, we are reassured that God is with us today, moving us and all creation toward God’s end in time. In this context, it is appropriate for a congregation on All Saints’ Day to commemorate the lives of those who died during the previous year.
Lectionary readings for All Saints’ Day
Read the Revised Common Lectionary Scripture lessons for All Saints’ Day:
Resources for All Saints’ Day
Prayers for All Saints’ Day
These prayers might be used in a variety of settings: Opening Prayers (at the beginning of worship) or concluding collects (after the Prayers of the People); for church websites or newsletters; or in personal, small group or family devotion.
Act of Remembrance
This act of remembrance, based on two John Donne poems, is appropriate for All Saints’ Day. It may also be used for interfaith memorial observances.
This service based on Matthew 5 and an All Saints’ ribbon banner can be used for a special service or on the Lord’s Day. The instructions on making a simple banner even children can do are included.
Thanks for this comment, Steve. I would concur that any celebration of All Saints Day in the Reformed tradition must have as its focus what GOD has done in the lives of the faithful (living or dead). As the Westminster Confession says, "The perseverance of the saints depends, not upon their own free will but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father; upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ; the abiding of the Spirit and of the seed of God within them; and the nature of the covenant of grace; from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof" (6.095). As for abiblical holidays, the Sundays and festivals observed in the Presbyterian Church's celebration of the Christian year are organized around events in the life of Christ: his nativity, epiphany, baptism, transfiguration, passion, resurrection, ascension, and reign. Others, such as Ash Wednesday, Trinity Sunday, and All Saints, while not based upon particular events recorded or promised in the Gospels, are no less biblical (see Jonah 3, Matthew 28, and Revelation 22) and Christological (Christ’s call to repentance, his relationship to the Father and Spirit, and his sanctifying power).
I'm surprised that a Protestant church would put such an emphasis upon a liturgical holiday that has not played a central role in our church calendar and is so fundamentally counter to our basic theology. It diminishes the Reformed church's adamant movement (in which people gave their life for our theological heritage) away from self-focused, human-centric worship. This above history has failed to mention the liturgical renewal's overemphasis starting in the 1970s of abiblical holidays. Its no coincidence that mirrors our denomination's movement way from basic reformed heritage. The emphasis of the previous year's dead in a worship service of Almighty God, refocuses our attention away from genuine worship of God and to therapeutic mechanism focused upon me.