October 30, 2019
"Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven" (Luke 6:23). This Friday, November 1, is All Saints Day in the calendar of the Church. Historically, the holiday developed out of the tradition of remembering and honoring particular holy people on the anniversaries of their deaths. By the ninth century, though, so many different such "saints" with different dates throughout the year had been recognized by the Church that it became difficult to remember them all. So, the Church started a tradition of remembering all those who've gone before us on one particular holiday, All Saints Day. Thus for more than a thousand years we have remembered the "great cloud of witnesses" who surround us (Hebrews 12:1) on or around November 1.
Because we try to rely on Scripture more than human tradition, Presbyterians have insisted that all God's people are called "saints." (For just a few examples, see Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:2, Ephesians 1:1 and 4:12.) This is why most Presbyterians will rarely, if ever, apply the title "Saint" before someone's name. But the Gospel reading for this All Saints Day gives us even more reason to reconsider who we label as saints. Jesus says, "Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. . . . Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets" (Luke 6:22,26). By Jesus' own measure, those whom we're most inclined to speak well of might well be false prophets. And those who were the most faithful to him might well have been forgotten by history because they were so hated and persecuted in their own time. Jesus says to these faithful but forgotten and anonymous saints, "Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets."
This All Saints Day, let's thank God for the fellow saints who have blessed our lives, whether we knew them personally or have been inspired by their examples in other times and places. Let's also thank God for those anonymous saints whose ministries have been hidden from view, who may never be recognized as saints by other people, but in whom God takes great delight. And may we be inspired to follow Christ regardless of human recognition or esteem, trusting that great is our reward in heaven.
Grace and Peace,