November 6, 2022 ~ All Saints Sunday
I once heard a story about a small country church in rural England. This church had a late afternoon worship service where the tradition was that all who remained following the regular service would share the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. One Sunday the pastor of this church looked out on the congregation. There were so few people in attendance that he wondered if he should even bother with administering communion that evening. He decided to do it anyway and while reading the communion liturgy, he saw these words, “with your people on earth and all the company of heaven.” He paused for a moment, realizing that a much bigger crowd was attending worship than he thought. All the people of faith for nearly two millennia had come together for worship. The pastor apologized to God for not realizing the great company he was keeping. And he continued the communion service with a new awareness of the presence of all of the saints.
We have been using the word “saints” a lot this morning and you may be wondering what it means. This word is a translation of the Greek word “hagio” which means “holy ones.” Today, in particular, we are talking about the holy ones who have passed on to eternal glory this past year, who are in some way connected with this congregation.
So how does one become a “holy one” or “saint?” Scripture is clear on this: God is holy. Holiness is a characteristic of God. We become holy by being in the presence of God. God’s holiness rubs off on us. But holiness is not just defined in terms of proximity to God. It also has the meaning of something being set aside for God’s use. As Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of our scripture text states, once one has heard and believed the message of salvation in Christ, we are home free — signed, sealed, and delivered as “holy ones” ~ “saints” for all of eternity.
The epistle writer, Paul, understands the title “saint” as belonging to those who have been united with Christ. Paul routinely calls the members of the churches “saints” because of who they are in Christ, and not because of what they have accomplished.
As Christians we believe that whenever we come to worship, we, too, are in the presence of God and are made holy, receiving faith in Jesus Christ and assurance of God’s blessing of eternal life. And so those who attend worship are saints who live forever and join with us whenever we come to worship. It is God who chooses those who will receive these blessings.
God has chosen ALL of us to be holy. Through the church and the worshiping saints who have surrounded us, God calls us, dedicates us for holy purposes, and gives us an inheritance of faith in Christ. Today, we have come into the presence of God. We are sealed with the Holy Spirit. We are holy ones. We have joined the ranks of saints. Church is a fellowship of saints who gather regularly to be in the presence of God, worshiping, and becoming increasingly holy.
So, All Saints’ Sunday is a time for rejoicing with all of the saints, the holy ones, who through the ages have faithfully served God in and through the church. This day reminds us that we are part of one continuing, living communion of saints ~ generation after generation. All Saints Sunday is a time for expressing gratitude for all who build and preserve the church of Christ so that it can continue to be a space where God is powerfully present in worship. To rejoice with all the Saints of every generation expands our awareness of the great company of witnesses that surrounds us like a cloud. For, in faith, we pray to join the ranks of those who are home free — signed, sealed, and delivered as the holy ones of God. Amen.