Tuesday was All Saints proper. We will celebrate it this Sunday. All Saints is the Christian feast day that originally inspired Halloween or All Hallows Eve. There are all kind of explanation stories about where this feast day came from. You can read some of them at the wikipedia page or is you want something more sanctified the Catholic Encyclopedia has some history. The church lives with a distinction of the Church Militant (those alive here and now) and the Church Triumphant (those already in glory). The Roman Catholic church would add the Church Suffering (those in purgatory) and also All Souls Day which is the day after All Saints. To me what all of this tries to capture is one line in the Apostle’s Creed and a general sense of connectedness. Though dead saints may have passed, we remaining still feel connected to them and not just in an emotional way. In the third article of the creed we confess that we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Christian Church, the communion of saints. The entire church – militant and triumphant – is united in Christ. The church at all times and all places is united in Christ waiting for that final revelation and victory. That communion, because we know that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, is what All Saint Celebrates. All Saints ends up being a celebration of the Church and a looking forward to our final unity.
One of the great Hymns that captures this sense is For All the Saints. The Text was written by William How and the tune by Ralph Vaughan Williams. IN the span of the church it is a relatively recent hymn written in the 19th century. But what I want to highlight about it is how it gets the end times sequence correct. Stanzas 5,6,7,8 capture the true confession about time.
|5) And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong
|6) The Golden evening brightens in the west
Soon, soon to faithful warriors cometh rest
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blest
|7) But, lo, there breaks a yet more glorious day
The saints triumphant rise in bright array
The King of Glory passes on His way
| 8) From earth’s wide bounds, from oceans farthest coast
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host
Singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost
In verse 5 the Church militant – us here and now – is still struggling, but already we hear the music. The victory has been won. It might be far off, but we hear it – in word and sacrament. In verse 6 is the acknowledgement that eventually all the saints move from militant to a better term might be rest. It is not really the church Triumphant yet. Sweet is the calm of paradise, but things are not as they will be. In verse 7 a yet more glorious day breaks. The Great and Glorious Day of the Lord – resurrection day. The saints, now triumphant, rise is bright array. You see, before the resurrection, is not the end. Read Rev 6:10. The saints in Abraham’s bosom or calm paradise or heaven ask the same question we ask – How long? The Triumph waits until the resurrection of all flesh and the King of Glory passes on his way. Verse 8 captures the final situation. After the resurrection and judgement, from earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast – from every race, tribe, nation and tongue – the saints take up residence in the new Jerusalem. Rev 21:2-4, 21
For All the Saints captures in Word and Song the Hope, Struggle, Rest and Triumph of the Church and all her saints. For that reason is gets pride of place as a theme song on All Saints Day. You’ll hear it this weekend. Come and sing with us.