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.