Each year at the end of October, Halloween festivities take center stage with many Americans tricking and treating in one form or another. And each year in the shadow of ghosts and ghouls and Batman capes, All Saints’ Day assumes the following act. On November 1st, liturgical churches consider, reflect, and remember what St. Paul calls the great cloud of witnesses in his letter to the Hebrews; the named and unnamed saints who no longer grace this earth.
To me, the observance of All Saints’ Day has often felt like an afterthought. Especially this year where it shares a seven day stretch with Halloween, a tumultuous Election Day, growing COVID cases, and every other ingredient used in the unsavory mixer that’s been thrust under our nose. One may miss the hint of hope that snuggles up next to our collective angst on this All Saints’ Day. Such a snuggle is a bold thing for hope to do. I shudder at the number of saints we include this year in our remembrance that COVID and a litany of other woes have taken. And yet hope reluctantly moves closer still. Author Charlotte Donlon shares about such an absurd hope in her recent article in Christianity Today, “I Lost My Dad to COVID-19. The Theology of All Saints’ Day Sustains Me.” She writes:
All Saints’ Day also gives me hope. Hope has been pretty hard to come by this year. But on this feast day, God reminds us of our ultimate destination. Having hope in the eventual full realization of the kingdom of God doesn’t take away our sorrow and grief, but it becomes a sort of comrade. It takes our hand and leads us toward what’s true. Yes, we have lost so much, and we will continue to experience loss. But we have also received good things, and we will continue to receive good things. In Christ, we receive God’s presence, comfort, love, grace, and mercy. We receive the ability to empathize and sympathize with others who are where we have been or where we are now. We receive assurance that this place we inhabit isn’t our final stop.
Not the final stop, indeed. It is a kind comfort that hope holds our hand in the present while directing our eyes to the future. And it is this “in between” that All Saints’ Day plants it’s roots both in time and flesh. Theologian Fleming Rutledge wagers that on All Saints’ Day, like every other day, we are to be reminded of the God who makes saints out of sinners. She writes:
[R]edemption finds us in spite of ourselves—that is to say, the grace of God follows those whom God loves to the last station up the river, the deepest place in the jungle, the furthest outpost where we seek to escape…God is able to make a saint where there was no saint…On this special day let us remember that we do not achieve sainthood, nor did any of those whom we call saints. The saints are the people of God, period—so that Paul addressed all the members of all his churches as saints, no matter how badly they were behaving. Martin Luther taught us that we who are baptized members of Christ are all, each one of us, saints and sinners at the same time (simul peccator et iustus).
In the “in between” of All Saints’ Day, it is indeed good news, despite it all, that we’re met with a traveling companion named Hope and a God who knows our farthest outposts and sends Jesus to meet us there, and bring us back home.
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