Saturday, November 1, 2008

Observing All Saints' Day

November 1 is set aside on the Western Catholic Calendar to commemorate All Saints. As that day has come this year, we should be reminded of what our Lutheran Confessions say about those who have died in the Christian faith before us and the honor due them:

"Our Confession approves giving honor to the saints. This honor is threefold. The first is thanksgiving: we ought to give thanks to God because He has given examples of His mercy, because He has shown that He wants to save humankind, and because He has given teachers and other gifts to the church. Since these are the greatest gifts, they ought to be extolled very highly, and we ought to praise the saints themselves for faithfully using these gifts just as Christ praises faithful managers [Matt. 25:21, 23]. The second kind of veneration is the strengthening of our faith. When we see Peter forgiven after his denial, we, too, are encouraged to believe that grace truly superabounds much more over sin [Rom 5:20]. The third honor is imitation: first of their faith, then of their other virtues, which people should imitate according to their callings." (Apology to the Augusburg Confession XXI:4-6)

All of us know Christians who have preceded us into life beyond this earthly one. They are worthy of our imitation, as they have traveled the path of discipleship before us, experiencing things that we also will. From their lives, we are given patterns to shape our lives. They are also worthy of our commemoration, for by it we worship the Lord Jesus Christ. As we remember those who have died in the faith, we also remember what Christ has done for them. They are recipients of His graciousness, the very reason why they are saints. By speaking about them as such, we speak about people whom Christ has forgiven, showing us what it means to be made part of the "communion of saints."

The honoring of the blessed dead does not detract from the worship of Christ our Lord, but augments it. So it is a worthy custom that our parish does not pass by the first days of November without commemorating All Saints' Day. Once again the Beatitudes will be read in the Divine Service, and we will hear of the blessedness that Christ possesses and which is imputed to us through our baptisms. We will also have a glimpse into heaven from the Revelation to St. John, by which we will join in the company of heaven's worship of Christ, the Lamb of God. And we will be told that what Christ is like, we will be made into, as St. John testifies in his first epistle. Though all of this teaches about the saints, it is ultimately a confession about Christ and His work.

So we Lutherans observe All Saints’ Day by remembering and thanking God for all His saints, both dead and living. It is a day to glorify Jesus Christ, who had made the saints holy through Baptism and faith. There is vibrant rejoicing that the Christians who have entered life eternal before us are in heaven. We look forward to joining them with Christ for eternity. And we receive a reminder of our own identity: we are Christ's saints, as we have been rightly taught the Gospel of Christ and received His rightly-administered Sacraments.

As we commemorate those who have died before us in the faith, let us take to heart the words of the Collect for All Saints' Day and make them our own prayer: "O Almighty God, by whom we are graciously knit together as one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of Jesus Christ our Lord, grant us so to follow Your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living that we may come to the unspeakable joys which You have prepared for those who unfeignedly love You; though our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever."


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