Bain White: All about All Saints Day, the day after All Hallows Evening
November 1, 2014
For those denominations that use a liturgical calendar we have come upon All Saints Day today. Many will recognize that an alternate name for All Saints Day is All Hallows Day, therefore the night before that celebration is known as All Hallows Evening (E'en), or Halloween as it is called today. In our tradition that means that we celebrate the saints and martyrs who have come before us, whether they have the name Saint applied to them or not.
I had an interesting discussion the other day in a nursing home Bible study, when I asked the residents to define a saint for me, as referred to from All Saints Day. The answers ranged from a holy, sanctified person who is acknowledged by all as a saint to the description that it could be any and/or all of us who are saints in the eyes of the Lord. I asked the person who said that they were holy if I could use the description of a person who had a halo in old paintings and icons, and they said that was appropriate. I asked the person who said that anyone could be saint if the description might be more appropriate to say that a saint is one of myriads upon myriads of people who had lived their lives devoted to the Lord, and they, too, acknowledged that might be appropriate. These two descriptions were identical with what is held in two major divisions within the Body of Christ, the Church. In Western Roman Catholic Christian theology, the day commemorates all those who have attained the beatific vision in Heaven. In Protestant Christian theology All Saints Day saints are considered to be any person who has lived a life devoted to the Lord. In the earliest days of the church martyrs were celebrated on the day of their deaths, but all acknowledged that there were many who were uncelebrated, and so they were acknowledged on All Saints Day.
To delve further into what would be a more appropriate definition of a saint I went to Revelation 7: 9-17 and found a description of "a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands" (NRSV). They were robed in white because they had come out of the great ordeal and had washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb. This isn't a description of a select few, but of access to all, regardless of ethnicity, creed, sex, national origin or anything else. It was opened to all who had (and have) lived their lives in accordance with a right relationship between themselves and their Lord, and between themselves and their neighbors. Ephesians 4: 12 speaks to "the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ" (NRSV). There again is no reference to only a select few, and Ephesians 5: 3 says that "fornication and impurity of any kind, or greed, must not even be mentioned among you, as is proper among saints" (NRSV). All appearances in the holy scriptures remind us that the saints are the body of Christ, the Church and therefore imputes that all Christians are called to be saints, not just those with haloes around their heads in ancient paintings and icons. Each of us is called to sainthood, toward matching our lives, bodies and souls to the likeness of Jesus Christ.
The Rev. Bain White is from St. Mark's Episcopal Church/Lutheran Church of Grace in Craig.