All Saints' Day
“Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.”
One of my favorite services during my years at the Cathedral of St. Philip was held on All Saints' Day. For over twenty years the community offered a Requiem to remember those who had died on the streets of Atlanta in the past year. We served a huge meal, often numbering close to 700 guests, and concluded the evening with a service of remembrance.
It was a night when the typical make-up of the congregation shifted radically. The vast majority of those gathered were the poor. There were men, women, and children, all without permanent shelter. They came from different places and traditions. There were those that made the sign of the cross when they received communion, and there were those that looked puzzled as I offered the wafer. It was impossible to know their individual circumstances.
Our guests would arrive by bus, and it was a practice of our hospitality to greet each person as they arrived with a welcome. The children always caught my attention. I remember asking one girl her age and was struck that she was the same age as my daughter. I could only begin to imagine how her life in a shelter could compare to my daughter’s decked out room. How did she do her homework? Did she even have a desk? How often had she moved in her life?
I always wondered how the words of our liturgy would translate to that evening.
The preacher was often from a different tradition and the music was an eclectic blend to say the least—often ranging from gospel to high Anglican. It never failed to be a powerful night and through the years I realized it became for me a visible sign of the communion of saints.
Being raised a Quaker and becoming an Episcopalian in my early twenties, I did not grow up with a concept of the communion of saints. My only concept of a saint was that of a miracle worker, or someone so holy as to be far removed from my experience. I did not have a lot of interest in becoming a saint, or frankly even hanging out with one. They didn’t seem like they'd be much fun.
The gift of becoming Episcopalian has been an appreciation for a very different kind of saint. The saints that are witnesses to their faith that call me to be better myself. They do it in a way that is humble. It may be the person who shows up faithfully to committee meetings because they want to support the work of the church. They write notes of thanks to those who are lonely or visit those who are sick. These saints often have quiet lives and act in ways that others might not notice. But when we look back over our lives, we see their fingerprints all over our souls. Who are the saints that have marked your life? Say a prayer of thanks for them today!