There are particular days in the Church calendar set aside to honor the heroes of the faith, such as Peter, Andrew, and the Virgin Mary. All Saints’ Day, November 1st, however, comes as the Church year ends—the last of the major Saint’s days before Advent ushers in a new year.
In an age of the celebrity, All Saints’ Day is a needed reminder that the Church, indeed the Christian life, is a team photo, not an action shot of a franchise player making a spectacular game-winning catch in the closing seconds of the game. Luminaries in the Church may dazzle us with their accomplishments and holiness. Reading the biographies of such men and women as Augustine of Hippo, Martin Luther, St. Teresa of Avila or Susannah Wesley, often inspire us with their brilliance, sacrifices or indefatigable labors. Even people in our day, such as Billy Graham or Mother Teresa can awe us with their accomplishments. Yet these distinguished Christians would be the first to acknowledge the network of “rank and file saints” who enabled their ministries to shine brightly, and without whom their labors would have faltered.
The Collect for All Saints’ Day (BCP2019 p. 622) refers to the “…one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of [Christ].” It alludes to this vast network of believers from every tribe, language, people and nation who have been and are part of the team. All are included in the 360-degree team photo that surrounds us as a great cloud of witnesses. In the Eucharist, we join our voices with their voices and celebrate the communion we share with them in the life and worship of our Lord.
When I wrestled at Bakersfield High School, I used to look at the photographs of wrestlers and teams of the past above the practice mats. Strategically placed to inspire us during 3-4 hour workouts, the wrestlers in these photos took on legendary qualities, inspiring us to work harder. They made us realize we had a noble tradition to live up to. I suppose the wrestlers of earlier generations were not much different from us. Indeed, a photo of my teammates and me now hangs above the practice mats right there among the photos of other generations. We were certainly far from famous; closer to rank and file plodders; yet we challenged one another, set records, and in the end won championships that eluded others.
When you and I gather to worship this All Saints’ Day, whether in-person or virtually, it will be as a team, caught in snapshot fashion in the middle of our life’s course, hardly aware of how our faithfulness today may influence those who come after us. Knit together with believers around the world and down through the ages we follow both luminaries and ordinary saints “in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that [God] has prepared for those who truly love [Him].”
Hope to see you in the team photo!