One of the first liturgical celebrations after the summer break is All Saints Day, which is held on November 1 or the first Sunday following it. On this day, we remember and give thanks for those who came before us, many of whom walked beside us and taught us. It somehow seems appropriate to have this special day of gratitude ahead of the more general Thanksgiving that follows a few weeks later.
Some churches have a verbal “roll call” of the names of those who have died during the past year; others may list the names in the order of worship. Some church members remember specific individuals by giving an offering in their name or donating a library book in their honor. Some congregations offer lilies for purchase in their remembrance, which they take to shut-ins following the worship service.
There are other ways to remember those who have left us. You might designate a “wall of faith,” where church members can place photographs of their loved ones. Some churches have started the tradition of creating a memory quilt, adding new squares for those who have died each year.
I always think about the passage in Hebrews that mentions the “cloud of witnesses” that circles us from above, watching and cheering us on in the faith. One year we were in Glorieta, which was a Baptist camp in the mountains of New Mexico, for church music week. The staff had created banners, each bearing the name of a departed ancestor in our musical faith heritage. As the choir sang the J. Paul Williams/Joseph Martin anthem “We Are Surrounded,” the individual banners were unfurled from the three-sided balcony above us. We were visually “surrounded” by a cloud of these musical witnesses in the faith.
You might take this idea and create banners for those in your own congregation who have departed during the past year. Remember them with a special roll call of their names, or surround the congregation with their banners during an anthem like “We Are Surrounded” or the hymn “For All the Saints.”
I offer this special litany in their remembrance:
Today we remember our spiritual ancestors, those who modeled the faith for us and taught us by example.
Let us be faithful, like them, to run the race that Christ has laid out for us,
throwing off everything that could hold us back or slow us down.
Help us to keep our eyes on the One who endured the pain and the shame of the cross for the joy that was to come. By focusing on His example, may we not grow weary or lose heart.
We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, those who have gone before us.
We thank you for those ancestors who ran before us, who persevered despite difficulties and hard times.
Find us faithful to run in their footsteps, so that when our race is done,
those who follow may inherit the legacy that was left to us.
For all the saints, we give our thanks to you this day.
Editor’s note: Please enjoy these selections suitable for All Saints Day celebrations.