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‘For lives cut short, no time or space to grieve’


With All Saints’ Day falling on Sunday, David Gambrell writes additional stanzas to ‘For All the Saints’ hymn — to make more space, in worship, for our lament this year

By Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

The second extra stanza that the Rev. Dr. David Gambrell wrote for the classic hymn “For All the Saints” is a lament for racial justice on All Saints’ Day: “For those oppressed and murdered by the state; for systems built by centuries of hate; for justice now — no longer will we wait: O Lord, have mercy. O Lord, have mercy.” Rich Copley

LOUISVILLE — Traditionally, All Saints’ Day is celebrated in public worship on the first Sunday after Nov. 1. All Saints’ Day is an occasion to remember those we have lost in the past year and recognize how God is at work in the lives of all the faithful. Fittingly, in 2020, Nov. 1 is on a Sunday.

And many congregations are preparing to sing the classic 1864 hymn “For All the Saints” as part of their remembrance.

This year has brought so many losses. Nearly 1.2 million people have died worldwide from COVID-19. Nearly 250,000 of those deaths have been here in the U.S. Loved ones have suffered and died in isolation. Friends and family members have been unable to gather and grieve. All of this is happening alongside the ongoing pandemic of racial injustice and violence against Black, Indigenous and other people of color —and increasing poverty. 

With these things in mind, the Rev. Dr. David Gambrell, associate for worship in the Office of Theology & Worship, wondered if we might need different words for “For All the Saints” in 2020 — words that make more space for our lament this year.

“In the original hymn, each stanza ends with a double ‘alleluia.’ In 2020, I felt like we might need to sing the Kyrie Eleison — ‘Lord, have mercy,’ ” he said.

So, Gambrell wrote some extra stanzas for the beloved hymn that reflect on the losses and challenges of the past year. As the words came, he imagined them being inserted between the first and second stanzas of the original text, or perhaps spoken as prayers of intercession in Sunday’s All Saints’ Day service.

For lives cut short, no time or space to grieve;
for saints and servants you have now received;
for all who still bear witness and believe:
O Lord, have mercy. O Lord, have mercy. 
For those oppressed and murdered by the state;
for systems built by centuries of hate;
for justice now — no longer will we wait:
O Lord, have mercy. O Lord, have mercy. 
For dreams deferred, for lost and stolen breath;  
for friends beset, beleaguered and bereft; 
for days to come when love will conquer death:
O Lord, have mercy. O Lord, have mercy.

Permission is granted for congregations to use or adapt these words in worship, in person or online.

Gambrell said the themes found in the additional stanzas are consistent with the Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday. Revelation 7:9–17 is a vision of those “who have come out of the great ordeal” (Rev. 7:14), as God promises to “wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 7:17). In the Gospel reading from Matthew 5:1–2, Jesus offers a blessing for those “who mourn” (Matt. 5:4) and those who have been “persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (Matt. 5:10).


 Additional resources for All Saints Day may be found in the Book of Common Worship (WJKP, 2018), pages 383391; and prayers for the commemoration of those who have died in faith can be found on pages 115116.  

 Other appropriate hymns for All Saints’ Day may be found in Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal (WJKP, 2013), numbers 295326 and 801836.

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