All Saints Day

Published 4:04 pm Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Today is November 1 – All Saints Day. All Saints Day tends to get lost in the hubbub of Halloween, which used to be known as All Hallows Eve when it was once believed that the boundary between heaven, earth, and hell was at its “thinnest” and ghoulies, ghosties, and long-leggedy beasties could cross from the netherworld of the dead to terrorize the living.  However, we have gone the long way round from medieval farmers and villagers simply carving gourds with ugly faces to scare away potential demonic invasions to a full blown celebration of all things macabre. Recent news reports have said that Halloween is now one of the biggest adult holiday celebrations (which, by the way, is now the inaugural holiday for the Christmas season).  However, All Saints Day was never intended to be a disappearing tag-on to a ghastly gathering of costumed hobgoblins.

Around 800 AD Christians began to formally honor martyrs and those believers whose lives of faithfulness and service had become the stuff of storied example and tradition. Over time complex theologies of what constituted “saintliness” evolved, and are still defined and practiced among some Christian traditions to this day.  In the Roman Catholic Church there are very clearly stated criteria by which a deceased member of the church may be declared a “saint.” Recently a Native American Mohawk woman named Kateri Tekakwitha, who was born in 1656, was canonized as a Roman Catholic Saint after having met the church’s standards for receiving that honor. Eastern Orthodox saints are also recognized and named according to that tradition’s own methods and expectations.

However, during the rise of Protestantism the veneration of the saints was strongly discouraged and in many, if not most, of the Protestant churches in the world the definition of who is a saint ranges from no one to everyone.  Since I am an Episcopalian and our church is part of the world wide Anglican Communion I will make a bit of an attempt to describe why All Saints Day is important to our Christian tradition.

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First, let me say that Anglicanism as a faith tradition covers the spectrum from being very close to our Roman Catholic roots – what we call Anglocatholicism – to being very Cavlinistic and Evangelical in our theology and worship styles. Therefore what I am about to say is very middle of the road in nature; what we like to call the “via media” or “middle way.”

In the Episcopal Church we consider all baptized Christians members of the church in its most universal sense to be saints, and by virtue of that baptism we become members of the whole church, both the living and the dead, who have been “knit together in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Ergo, we are saints in this world and saints in heaven and we are united to one another through the living person of Jesus Christ.

Therefore we honor those who have died in the faith, some as martyrs, some as leaders, some as examples of spiritual devotion and virtuous living, but most just as simple people who have placed their faith in the promise of God in Jesus Christ that he will be with us through the trials and tribulations of this world and will welcome us into a perfected life of wholeness when our earthly body ceases to function.

This Sunday at our 10:30 a.m. worship service we will pray for all the saints, the living and the dead, and we will honor those from our church who during this past year have stepped through the door of death into that greater life at the throne of grace. Come join us.  It is a quite wonderful experience.

-The Rev. Dr. Michael Doty Rector, The Episcopal Church of the Holy Cross, Tryon