39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. 12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Today is All Saints Sunday. Throughout much of Western History the Church celebrates this day in recognition of all our Brothers and Sisters, Fathers, and Mothers in Christ who have gone before us and who now comprise the Church at rest. We take this day to remember and commemorate the Saints, just as the writer of the book of Hebrews remembers and commemorates the Old Testament Saints in Hebrews chapter 11. The writer of Hebrews holds up these long departed as positive examples of faith and models these saints before the congregations as examples of the kind of faith that the Hebrew congregation is to have.
In terms of remembering and honoring the long dead we do the same thing in our broader culture, as we are doing here on this Lord’s Day. In our broader culture we have days like “Veteran’s Day,” and “Memorial Day,” where the purpose is to honor those who have gone before in a general sense. “All Saints Day” is to the Church of Jesus Christ what Veteran’s Day or Memorial Day is to us as Americans.
On “All Saints Day” we are reminded that we are who we are because we are in Christ and being in Christ we have been given a Christian History as lived out by those who have gone before.
This is a celebration you will seldom find in Reformed churches. The Reformation was known for getting rid of the idea of saints because the idea of saints had become a business with praying to saints, and a calendar full of holidays for saints and and the blasphemous idea that dead Saints could intercede for those still living. The Medieval Church thought they were honoring the Saints in such a way but in point of fact they were dishonoring Christ as our alone Mediator with God by lifting departed saints to such an exalted positions.
But I think the Reformed Church needs “All Saints Day.” The Bishop of Rome has no property of rights over 2000 years of Christian heritage. If the danger 500 yeas ago was to worship the Saints or to make them silly by giving us things like “A Saint for oversleeping,” (St.Vitus), or a Saint for Ice Skaters ( St. Lidwina) or a Saint for caterpillars ( St Magnus). then our danger today is forgetting our History. our story, and those who have gone before.
And So we come to the first necessity of “All Saints Day,”
I.) By Restoring “All Saints Day” to our Calendar we can reconnect with our Past
Notice what the Writer to the Hebrews does here in Hebrews 11 & 12. He invokes the Saints of the past and their faith hoping to connect the Hebrew congregation with a living and dynamic past. The Hebrew congregation is in danger of returning to the Old Covenant because they are weary and what the writer to Hebrews does is to bolster their faith by recalling the faith of the Patriarchs.
Here we see a linkage between the past and the future that much of the modern Democratic Western Church has forgotten.
When a Church cuts itself off from its past and forgets those who have gone before it becomes rootless and so prone to being blown around by every stranger wind of doctrine. The writer to the Hebrews, much in keeping with the idea of “Honoring our Father and Mother,” seeks to bring forth the History of the Hebrew congregation so as to root them again in their undoubted catholic Christian Faith.
This desire to root them in the past is done so as to propel them into a Christian future. The past and the future are thus intertwined. In the way we comprehend our past is the way we will seek to craft our future. If our past is characterized by faithful men and women who have gone before we will see that as the ideal and so will seek to live ourselves as men and women with the same kind of faith as those who have gone before. And so an embrace of our Christian past will be a mighty stimulant to creating a God honoring Christian present and future.
The idea of “All Saints Day” then is not so that we can live in the past. The idea of “All Saints Day” is that by recognizing and honoring those who have gone before who finished the race well, we might be inspired ourselves to be the kind of men and women those Saints were to the end that eventually the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ.
So … “All Saints Day,” is not about the Past without, at the same time being about a future oriented people. When we get cut off from our past then we lose our identity in Christ who is the author and finisher of the Faith of all Saints — past, present, and future. When we get cut off from past then we run the danger of having our Christian faith reinterpreted for us through a historical prism that is not particularly Christian.
When the Church loses its self understanding of its past it immediately loses its vitality for the future. This is what was happening to the congregation of the Hebrews. They had lost their identity and so the writer to the Hebrew parades their History before them…. the History of the Saints.
Without a strong sense of those who have gone before and of our past we will eventually adopt a different past in our thinking and so will end up have having a different future. Those with an agenda will insert a different past that will serve their humanist agenda for the future.
This is what is happening with the advent of Multiculturalism and Political Correctness. Strip the past of its nobility. Bespatter our Christian forbears with scurrilous lies. All seeking to make us repent for a noble and Christian past.
So in order to reconnect with our glorious past we celebrate “All Saints Day.” We realize that if we don’t revitalize our Christian past and the Saints who made it (Historical theology) we will suffer grave consequences.
1.) A diminished short term future
Unless we can convey the same conquering faith that characterized the Saints who have gone before our future will be diminished. We will become pariahs fit to only pay the Jizya tax of some Muslim overlord. We will become economically limited and socially isolated.
2.) The probable loss of our children to the faith
If we can not esteem the Christian past to our children we will not be able to convey the meaning of the Christian faith as being much more then fairy tales. The Christian faith, in order to be sustained in our children must make a deep imprint in terms of how Christianity has shaped those who have gone before into Heroes. Without that reality the Christian faith will lose its substantive meaning and so other faith systems will intrude themselves upon our children’s thinking.
3.) Finally the death of the Christian West
If we will not conquer the world by a faith informed by the past and the Saints who have gone before we ourselves will be formed by alien faiths. We are seeing that happen daily all about us. Either Christianity will absorb and convert on the strength of its undoubted catholic Christian faith as lived out by the Saints who have gone before or we will be absorbed by the faith of aliens and strangers.
So what must we do in order to recapture our Christian Past. Well we must engage upon the very same thing that the writer to the Hebrews is doing. We must keep telling about the Saints who have gone before. This is something St. Paul did as well. Using the OT Saints as a negative example he wrote,
11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.
We must give our children Christian History. Full of heroism, struggle, triumph and loss. Christian history that inspires all ages with resolve, tenacity, and confidence in Christ. We must give them a history that gives them a reason to believe and keep believing that Christianity is both true and is superior to all other faiths.
We must tell them about the great Captain of the faith; the Lord Jesus Christ. We must tell them of the Saints in Scripture and History who were what they were because of their being rooted in Christ. We must tell them of the Saints in Church History. The Mission of St. Patrick and then the Green Martyrs. We must tell them of Augustine and his writings. We must tell them of Perpetua and Polycarp. We must tell them of Charles Martel, Jean LaVellette, and John Sobieski. We must teach them Geert De Groote and the Brethren of the Common life. We must teach them of Jan Comenius and his resolve to teach the Christian faith. We must teach them of Huguenots, Covenanters, Pilgrims, and Voor-Trekkers. We must teach them of Henry Martyn, Raymond Lull, and Samuel Zwemer. We must tell them of Faithful Christian wives and Mothers like Monica, Susanna Wesley, and Katharina von Bora. We must tell them of how Ambrose denied to communion to Emperor Theodosius, how Calvin denied communion to enemies of Christ, and how Gergory VII humbled Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV at Canossa. We must tell them of the saints Columbus, Cortez, and Henry Hudson.
We must tell them of Christian Grandparents and great Grandparents and cousins and Aunts and Uncles. We must let them know that theirs is a Saintly lineage and that to be a Douma, or a Bacon, or a Matens or a McAtee is to be a Christian. Because of God’s covenantal faithfulness to a thousand generations our lineage is sainted.
So, we are reminded by the celebration of this day then that to be a Christian is thus distinct from being an American. After all, those Americans who have no interest in Christ and His Church are not celebrating this day today. We as Christians have our own History and the celebration of “All Saints Day,” communicates that.
This is our Faith and unless we pass it on with all its regal history we will rightfully lose our children.
II.) By Restoring “All Saints Day” to our Calendar we can Emphasize the Communion of the Saints
When we talk about “All Saints Day,” of course we are talking about the Communion of the Saints. The holy catholic church of which we speak of in the Apostle’s creed corresponds to the church visible while the communion of saints corresponds to the church invisible. The communion of saints means that inward and spiritual fellowship of true believers on earth and in heaven which is based on their union with Christ. It is their fellowship with God the Father the Son and the Spirit (comp. 1 John 1:3 1 Cor 1:9 Phil 2:1) and with each other a fellowship not broken by death but extending to the saints above. A most precious idea
The saints in heaven and on earth
But one communion make
All join in Christ their living Head
And of his grace partake
Here are all these Saints who have gone before listed by the writer to the Hebrews and yet a relationship exists between the living and the dead even though the living comprise the Church Militant and the dead comprise the Church at rest.
In the confessional tradition of the Reformation, as expressed in the Augsburg Confession, the Book of Common Prayer, the Belgic Confession, the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, and the Cambridge Platform, the members of the church are said to have a blessed union and communion with one another and with Christ. The Second Helvetic Confession says that those “who truly know and rightly worship and serve the true God, in Jesus Christ the Saviour, by the word and the Holy Spirit, and who by faith are partakers of all those good graces which are freely offered through Christ … are sanctified by the blood of the Son of God. Of these is that article of our Creed wholly to be understood, ‘I believe in the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints.’ “ Question 55 of the Heidelberg Catechism teaches that “the communion of saints” means “First, that believers, all and every one, as members of Christ, have part in him and in all his treasures and gifts. Secondly, that each one must feel himself bound to use his gifts, readily and cheerfully, for the advantage and welfare of other members.” Calvin recognized that the phrase expressed that the church is a community of heart and soul, a diversity of graces and gifts. Although the Reformed creeds encourage us to imitate the faith of deceased saints, they never promote venerating, invoking, or praying to them.
So, to celebrate “All Saints Day” is to magnify Christ. There is only one reason we or they are or were saints and that is due to the finished work of Jesus Christ. All the Saints have been grafted into and united with Him and so we have fellowship with one another. Christ is the champion of this day. He is the one who has formed this Holy body by His work of turning aside the Father’s wrath. He has given us a reason to live besides material comfort. Being a Saint is NOT a result of being super Christian. It is merely the result of being found clothed with the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
We cherish then, the honored dead
Magnifying our Covenant Head
Ours is a living faith that gives the lie
That faith or Saints can ever die
Happy All Saints Day.