In the early CE (Common Era) Catholic tradition, Saints Day was a way to remember the “birthday” of a saint on the anniversary of his or her martyrdom. By the middle of the first century, during the persecution of Diocletian, there were so many martyrs it became impossible to give them each their due. Pope Gregory IV made All Saints’ Day an authorized holiday in 835 CE to honor all the saints, known and unknown.
“All Saints’ Day has a rather different focus in the Reformed tradition. While we may give thanks for the lives of particular luminaries of ages past, the emphasis is on the ongoing sanctification of the whole people of God. Rather than putting saints on pedestals as holy people set apart in glory, we give glory to God for the ordinary, holy lives of the believers in this and every age.
“All Saints’ Day is a time to rejoice in all who through the ages have faithfully served the Lord. The day reminds us that we are part of one continuing, living communion of saints. It is a time to claim our kinship with the “glorious company of apostles … the noble fellowship of prophets … the white-robed army of martyrs.” It is a time to express our gratitude for all who in ages of darkness kept the faith, for those who have take the gospel to the ends of the earth, for prophetic voices who have called the church to be faithful in life and service, for all who have witnessed to God’s justice and peace in every nation.” (Book of Common Worship)
“To rejoice with all the faithful of every generation expands our awareness of a great company of witnesses above and around us like a cloud (Hebrews 12:1). It lifts us out of a preoccupation with our own immediate situation and the discouragements of the present. In the knowledge that others have persevered, we are encouraged to endure against all odds (Hebrews 12:1-2). Reminded that God was with the faithful of the past, we are reassured that God is with us today, moving us and all creation toward God’s end in time. In this context, it is appropriate for a congregation on All Saints’ Day to commemorate the lives of those who died during the previous year.” (Book of Common Worship)
On this All Saints’ Day, I invite you to call to mind those who have gone before you in life and faith. They are a part of the “great cloud of witnesses” mentioned in the twelfth chapter of Hebrews—both for the Church as a whole as well as for us individually. In remembering, we honor their memory and reflect anew on their impact on our spiritual journeys. All Saints’ Day is also a time to reflect on those still with us who have or are impacting your spiritual journey today. Reach out to them and let them know how much their presence in your life has shaped you. You’ll be glad you did.