For those who follow the church year, All Saints Day is the occasion when we celebrate the saints of God who have gone before us. This year’s 2023 All Saints Day was actually yesterday, but most churches will be celebrating the saints this coming Sunday.
The older I grow the more All Saints Day means to me. This, of course, is not surprising, because with the passing of the years I find I have more people for whom I wish to thank God. There are my parents: no doubt they had their imperfections, but they were a real blessing to me and I continue to owe them a great debt of gratitude. Then there are Caroline’s parents, who were extraordinarily generous to our family. As I look back, I remember my ‘Crusader’ Bible class leaders who played a significant role to my spiritual formation in my early years. I remember too my ministers when I was in my teens who gave me opportunities to gain experience of Christian service. I think too of my deacons in my first church in Altrincham, all older and almost all holding significant positions in business life or academic life of Manchester, who encouraged me to be bold in my leadership of the church. Then when I moved to Spurgeon’s College, where I discovered that my faculty had wanted another colleague to be their principal and as a result created all kinds of difficulties for me, there were members of the College Council who stood by me when the going was tough – some are still alive, but many have died. I thank God for them. As I look back, I realise that I have been blessed by a host of saints who have been there to cheer and to encourage.
All Saints Day is indeed a wonderful day to look back with thanksgiving and to sing a hymn such as ‘For all the saints who from their labours rest… Alleluia’. So let me in turn encourage you this week to reflect on those saints of God, who have been a blessing to you down through the years – make a list of them and then thank God for them.
Then for those of you who are still in leadership in local church life, bless your congregations by making the most of All Saints Day. Over the years when I was a minister of my second church in Chelmsford I developed a ‘liturgy’ which involved inviting everybody to come forward and light candles as they remembered their past loved ones. The church was always packed – not least because I invited the relatives of all those whose funerals I had taken in the past year. I used the following form of words:
We find it hard to let go of our loved ones and leave them in God’s keeping. Today I light this candle to remind us that Jesus rose from the dead to bring us God’s new life, and that he is the Light of the world. Today let it be a sign of the new life and love of God. We invite everyone who wishes, whether your loved one died in recent years or many years ago, to come and take a candle and light it in memory of your loved one, so demonstrating your faith that all who trust in the risen Christ are in God’s safekeeping.
Then after the many candles had been lit I led the congregation in a prayer taken from Prayers for Today’s Church by Dick Williams:
We remember, Lord, the slenderness of the thread which separates life from death, and the suddenness with which it can be broken. Help us also to remember that on both sides of that division we are surrounded by your love. Persuade our hearts that when our dear ones die neither we nor they are parted from you. Let us find our peace in you; and in you be united with them in the glorious body of Christ, for you have conquered death, and are alive – our Saviour and theirs – for ever and ever.
At the end of the service I concluded with an appropriate benediction:
Let us trust God for the past – for the forgiveness of past sins and the healing of past hurts. Let us trust God for the present – for the meeting of daily needs and for guidance in daily living. Let us trust God for the future – for help with tomorrow’s troubles and for the hope of eternal life. So may the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be upon us all.
The service on All Saints Day always proved an immensely moving and cathartic experience, and was wonderful vehicle to enable people to experience God’s grace. But what was true then, can be true now. This coming Sunday let me encourage you to remember the many saints of God who in one way or another have been a means of God’s blessing on your life. Yes, let’s celebrate the saints!