All Saints Day (Nov. 1 or All Saints Sunday, the first Sunday in November) is a day of remembrance for the saints, with the New Testament meaning of all Christian people of every time and place. We celebrate the communion of saints as we remember the dead, both of the Church universal and of our local congregations. For this reason, the names of persons in the congregation who have died during the past year may be solemnly read as a Response to the Word. Learn more.
Leading up to Nov. 1 the world (and mass media) around us is all about Halloween. It has become second only to Christmas in terms of decorations and displays. It is a big deal, to say the least. And it isn’t hard to see the connections between what began as All Hallows Eve and what is now being observed, although we have to admit that frightening folks with depictions of the next world seems to many folks to be somewhat antithetical to the gospel. Whatever you choose to do about Halloween in your local setting, worship needs to focus on All Saints Day instead.
All Saints Day is a time of celebration.
The mood of All Saints is one of celebration. Certainly, there is sadness in acknowledging loss, and there needs to be space for that grieving. Yet the overall experience is one of joy and hope. Therefore, we sing about the hope of eternity; we celebrate the cloud of witnesses; we pray for the sense of belonging together in community and the growth as disciples of Jesus Christ.
All Saints Day is one of those moments where we celebrate and remember those who have made the journey or who have taken the next step. We remember them because they are still a part of us, shaping us, mentoring us – maybe not in a direct way, but in a real way.
Perhaps founder of the Methodist movement John Wesley’s favorite celebration in the life of the church, All Saints is a time to give God thanks for all those who have brought us where we are today. All Saints is both a local remembrance and a true global recognition.
We can and should celebrate famous names whose lives and writings have shaped our faith, even as we celebrate members of our own church family who are now a part of the great cloud of witnesses that we remember together with both sadness and joy. The sadness, of course, is because they are parted from us for now, but the joy is our firm belief in the promise of eternity. We observe this date, not with the fear of death, but with the knowledge that death has been swallowed up in victory.
Adapted from “Not Far from the Kingdom” by the Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Discipleship Ministries Director of Preaching Ministries (2021). Visit this Discipleship Ministries website section for worship planning resources, including preaching notes and liturgical suggestions.
Also, visit ResourceUMC’s Ways to remember the lives and work of church saints.