For All the Saints
November 1 is All Saints Day, the day Church remembers and gives thanks for all who have died in the faith. Most ELCA congregations observe All Saints Sunday on the first Sunday in November, and we will do that too, with a rite of remembrance this Sunday, naming aloud those dear to us who have died in the past year, tolling bells and lighting candles in their memory, awakening our senses to what the writer of Hebrews called the “great cloud of witnesses” surrounding us.
Many years ago, I began saving the prayer cards you often receive at funerals and memorial services. Sometimes these include a favorite passage of Scripture or an image of a religious work of art. The best ones, to my way of thinking, include a photograph of the person who died. Sometimes the photographs show the person exactly as I knew them, sometimes the photograph shows them decades earlier, years before I met them. As comforting as the first type is, I especially like the second—showing a younger version of the person I knew—because it reminds me that we really only ever know part of a person’s life. Some of these saved prayer cards live in my desk drawer but others have been called into service as bookmarkers in the various bibles and commentaries that I use in my personal reading and sermon preparation. The unexpected gift of this collection of saints is revealed every time I turn a page or look for something in the desk drawer and come across a tucked-away card. Sometimes they bring old stories to mind, remembrances I haven’t thought of in many years; sometimes I’m simply reminded of an old friendship, come to life again for a moment. This simple way of remembering the saints in my life feels sacred to me for the sense of gratitude I experience every time one of those prayer cards turns up.
Who are the saints, living or dead, who have most influenced you? If your cherished saints are still living, have you told them how much they mean to you while you are still able to? If not, what are you waiting for?
Give thanks for saints of ages past
And saints alive today:
though often by this world despised,
their hearts by God are richly prized.
Give thanks that we may say
we share their pilgrim way. (ELW 428, st 4)
May the memories of those who have gone before us be a blessing.