All Saints Day

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number of all nations, tribes, peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God Who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’ – Revelation 7:9-10

One of the greatest weaknesses in any society occurs when it can no longer differentiate between the sacred and the secular, the holy and the profane.  God rebuked His priesthood for this very failing in Ezekiel 22:9, 16 – You have despised My holy things…her priests have violated My law and profaned My holy things.  They have not distinguished between the holy and the unholy, nor have they made known the difference between the unclean and the clean…  When this difference is lost, sin becomes acceptable and even fashionable, the things of God become objects of contempt, and society casts off restraint.  It was entrusted to the priesthood to instruct the people in this clear difference, and for that reason, the Church has always believed that God is able to sanctify (that is, to make holy) time, things, places and people.  And one of the days that is set aside in the liturgical calendar to recognize this divine action is All Saints Day.

In order to understand the significance of a day dedicated to the remembrance of all saints, it is first necessary to understand what it means to be a saint. This is a word which is used in both the Old and New Testaments.  In Psalm 16:3 it declares,  And to the saints who are on the earth, they are the excellent ones in whom is all my delight.  Or in Jude 14, Behold the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints.  In both Old and New Testaments, the word saint is derived from other words which help us to understand the divine meaning in the designation.  In the Old Testament, saint derives from a word which means sacred.  When it is used as a verb, to sanctify, it refers to those things, places or people which are set aside for use in the worship of God.  A reading of the Old Testament Torah gives us the very clear picture that such objects, places or people are set aside as belonging to God.  As such, they are to be used solely by Him for His purposes, and in the way He sees fit.  In the New Testament, saint derives from a word which means the holy ones, those separated out of the world to be a holy people to the Lord.  We need only compare the descriptions in I Peter 2:4-5; 9-10 with Exodus 19:5-6 to see the consistency of God’s calling throughout the entire scriptural record.

And it’s just at this point that we start to understand what it means to be a saint of God.  It has nothing to do with attainment, something or some place for which we have worked or disciplined ourselves.  It has everything to do with calling.  It is that state in which we find ourselves when God’s grace has called us out of the world and translated us into the Kingdom of His beloved Son.  That is why Paul addresses some of his epistles to all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints… – Romans 1:7 , or, To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord... – I Corinthians 1:2.  It’s no wonder that Paul urged the Church to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.  And do not be conformed to the world…. –  Romans 12:1-2.  It was nothing more than what was expected of them in their calling!

Now the Church has set aside November 1 near the end of the liturgical year to celebrate the remembrance of all the saints of God.  Throughout the year there have been remembrance days in which specific saints are remembered who have had a special or important place in the foundation of God’s continuing work of salvation through the Church, but on this day, the day of all saints, we remember every member of the Church triumphant (those saints who have passed on to glory) and renew unity with every member of the Church militant (those of the brethren who yet contend for the faith upon the earth). The day is intended to remind us that when we gather as the Church we have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things…- Hebrews 12:22-24.  Concerning the history of All Saints Day, it has been celebrated in the Church dating back to the 4th and 5th centuries, and was formally added to the liturgical calendar by the bishop of Rome in AD 610.  But as we have already pointed out this formal declaration was only the recognition by the Church of a work which had been decreed and brought to pass by God in the calling of His people.

Sacred or secular, holy or profane…the world may downplay or even deny such distinctions as being outdated, but it is upon these distinctions that God has founded His Kingdom.  The record of scripture is clear, You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. – Leviticus 19:2   God has never changed, His calling has never changed, it is only the world that no longer has a clear understanding of the unclean and the clean.  May we, the saints of God, raise up that standard once more in order that our history, the things which fill our lives, the places in which we dwell, and the people of our communities may once more become consecrated to the service and use of God.

Photo Credit: Cropped painting by Fra Angelico. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All_Saints'_Day#mediaviewer/File:All-Saints.jpg