Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
Daniel 7:1-3,15-18 + Ephesians 1:11-23 + Luke 6:20-31
The Episcopal Church celebrates November 1st as All Saints’ Day (thus marking Oct. 31st as All Hallows’ Eve). It is one of the seven Principal Feasts of the church, and the only one that the Prayer Book allows to be also observed on the Sunday following the day—presumably as a practical measure to provide ample opportunity for all to keep the feast!
A saint is, literally, one who has been “sanctified”—set apart, made holy in Jesus. In the New Testament, St. Paul uses the term for all the baptized—all who are “in Christ,” whether living or dead. But the church has also long recognized certain saints as providing models of faithful discipleship; in their lives we see Christ’s life reflected. All Saints’ Day has traditionally been regarded as a celebration of these famous holy men and women. Thus, an additional observance developed on November 2nd—All Souls’ Day is an opportunity to remember before God one’s own family and friends departed, perhaps with more tenderness than celebration. (The Commemoration of All Faithful Departed on Nov. 2nd is a day of optional observance in the Episcopal Church calendar.) Of course, it is appropriate to celebrate and remember truly all saints on November 1st—it is All Saints’ Day, after all! Yet there are distinctions in how we have known these saints of God—some personally, others by reputation, but most we do not know by name.
And communion—on-going relationship—is at the heart of this feast. It is good that we remember the saints and look to many of them as exemplars, but there is more—this is not simply the church version of Memorial Day, when we publicly honor and thankfully remember the lives of those who have gone before. On All Saints’ Day, as we remember before God in prayer all those loved ones whose names and lives are beautifully memorialized at our flower-bedecked altar, we are also reminded that God has brought us all into “one communion and fellowship in the mystical body” of Christ. As the Risen Christ transcends place and time, so the mystical communion of those who abide in Christ transcends place and time. And abiding in the One who overcame death, death itself is no final obstacle to this communion. For, as the Burial Rite reminds us, to God’s faithful people “life is changed, not ended.”
O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
O God, the King of Saints, we praise and glorify your holy Name for all your servants who have finished their course in your faith and fear: for the blessed Virgin Mary; for the holy patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs; for all your other righteous servants, known to us and unknown; and we pray that, encouraged by their examples, aided by their prayers, and strengthened by their fellowship, we also may be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; through the merits of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
~The Book of Common Prayer, p. 504