‘For all the saints’

Published 9:28 am Monday, November 7, 2016

by Andrew Book

Those are the opening words of a hymn by the same name that is most often a part of worship on or around Nov. 1, which is All Saints Day. It is not a hymn I sing often, but I have found myself humming it constantly over the last week as I have reflected on all those men and women whose faith has shaped me and brought me to this point in my life. 

A saint is any person who has gone from this life to the next life as a faithful follower of Jesus. They live with Christ now, but their impact on this world continues in you and in me and in all people who were touched by their lives. They have died, but their faith lives on.

Thinking about those who have died is often frowned upon in our culture where youth and vigor are idolized. We have an unhealthy avoidance of death — we like to separate ourselves from those who are dying and often feel like we should not talk about those who have died. 

When we do talk about death, we often refer to it as an evil which has no peer. We think that death is the most awful possibility any person could ever face, but reality is that death is part of this life. Death will come for us all (unless Jesus returns first!). Death is sad. It is certainly a time to grieve and our grief never fully leaves us when we have lost someone close to us because they have shaped our lives in ways that will never fade. 

At the same time, death is not the end of their journey. When we grieve those who have died, we are grieving because they are no longer a part of our lives. We are not grieving them as “lost” because their journey has simply moved on to the next phase. The second line of the song which provides the title for this column is “…who from their labors rest…” Death brings rest to those who have walked this life.  They are at peace, even as we wrestle with grief at their “passing.”

There is a term for those who having died in faith. We call them “the church triumphant,” because they have “triumphed” in this life and gone on to their rest. Declaring that those who have died are a part of the church triumphant reminds us that they are still very much a part of God’s Church — all those people who have followed Christ — even though they are no longer a part of the church like we who continue to strive to follow God on this earth (we are called “the church militant”.)

When we think about our faith, most people can easily remember the people who first pointed us to God. Often that was a parent, grandparent or teacher. What we rarely know is who are the people who shaped their faith, and on and on. All of us who follow Christ have spiritual family trees of people who shared their faith with someone who has influenced us. We all have many saints to be thankful for who are a part of our life of faith whether we know them or not!

I spent some time on All Saints Day walking through the cemetery that surrounds Courtland United Methodist Church. I walked past the graves of people I knew, whose funerals I have led. I walked past the graves of people I have heard about: the husbands of widows, the parents of children, the brothers and sisters of siblings. I also walked past many, many tombs of people I do not know at all. As I walked, I thought about the way each of those lives had impacted this community. I cried a little as I mourned for those who we miss, but more than that I celebrated the saints: the ways they have helped us to see God, to know God, and to follow God.  I thanked God for those names and how God worked through them.

I hope you will take a walk today. Maybe it is a physical walk through a cemetery like mine, but it could just as easily be a walk through your memories as you think about the people who have shaped and impacted your life. I hope you will cry a little bit as you miss them, but more than that, I hope you will thank God for them. Thank God that they were a part of your life. Thank God that they are part of the church triumphant and that they can rest from the labor. Thank God for all the saints who were a part of guiding and shaping their lives (and, in turn, your life.)

“Blessed are those who die in the Lord …Yes, says the Spirit, they are blessed indeed, for they will rest from their hard work; for their good deeds follow them!”  Revelation 14:13

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or andrew@courtlandumcva.org.