One of my favorite days

Collect for Reformation Sunday (31 October), derived from the United Methodist Church Book of Worship (1965 Edition)

O gracious Father, we humbly beseech thee for thy holy Church catholic, that thou wouldst be pleased to fill it with all truth, in all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in any thing it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, establish it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of him who died and rose again, and ever liveth to make intercession for us, Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord. Amen.

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So it’s one of my favorite feast days of the liturgical year: All Saints’ Day. And on a day like today, I can remember the whole body of the faithful departed who now are in the closer presence of our eternal God. And I will be especially remembering the souls of my grandfather, Bishop Emeritus C.N. Fang and my baby brother, Quentin.

Rest eternal grant unto them O Lord, and may light perpetual shine upon them.

Others may call this feast day something that is non-biblical. But I find this particular feast day to be one that is profoundly biblical.

The entirety of Holy Scripture talks about the lives of imperfect human beings whom God calls into fellowship with. Some respond to this call (like the heroes in the Old Testament/Hebrew Scriptures and the faithful in the New Testament/Greek Scriptures like St’s. Peter, Paul, Barnabas, Timothy, etc, etc). Others reject it. It’s the former of these two groups that are the ones who I hope and pray to be a part of when I am long gone from this earth.

The ones who St. John the Evangelist, when in exile on Patmos, described in his Revelation of the Apocalypse. The ones who surround the faithful and cheer them on from heaven as described by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews (traditionally ascribed to St. Paul) in the twelfth chapter.

As Christians living on this earth, our sainthood while we are here is an imperfect one. We bear an imprint, as Martin Luther so described, as being simul justus et peccator (both justified and sinful). By the merits and death of Christ alone is our sanctity derived. Both imperfectly here on earth and perfectly in heaven.

As a creedal Christian (among other descriptions such as Scripture-shaped, Jesus-shaped, Evangelical Anglo-Catholic and lay Benedictine that I use to describe myself as a Christian), I affirm that “I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy Catholick Church, the Communion of Saints…” (emphasis mine) each time I pray the words in the Symbolum Apostolorum (the Apostles’ Creed). Celebrating All Saints’ Day is a way in which I affirm my faith and I remember that death is not the end of life, but simply the beginning.

Next Sunday at Evensong, it will be special. Apart from being the first All Saints’ Day (given it is translated from 1 November to the first Sunday in November) that I will celebrate with the community at St. John’s (given that EMP doesn’t follow the traditional Methodist calendar), I hope to hear the names of my grandfather and baby brother read out in amongst the many names of those who are dear in memory to those in the St. John’s community. And that the sounds of Faure’s Requiem will assist us all in remembering the dead and looking forward to life eternal spent with them in the presence of God: Father, Son & Holy Ghost.

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Background to All Saints’ Day, taken from Exciting Holiness: Collects & Readings for the Festivals & Lesser Festivals of the Churches of England, Ireland and Wales and the Scottish Episcopal Church

From its earliest days, the Church has recognized as its foundation stones those heroes of the faith whose lives have excited others to holiness and has assumed a communion between the Church on earth and the Church in heaven.

Celebrating the feast of All Saints began in the fourth century. At first, it was observed on the Sunday after the feast of Pentecost; this was to link the disciples who received the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the foundation of the Church, with those who were martyrs, giving their lives as witnesses to the faith. In the eight century, a pope dedicated a chapel to All Saints in St. Peter’s at Rome on 1 November. Within a century, this day was observed in Britain and Ireland as All Saints’ Day.

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Collect for the Vigil of All Saints’ Day (31 October),
taken from Exciting Holiness: Collects & Readings
for the Festivals & Lesser Festivals of
the Churches of England, Ireland and Wales
and the Scottish Episcopal Church

Almighty God, in your mercy we prepare to celebrate the solemn feast of all your saints: grant that their example may increase our devotion and lead us in the way of salvation;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Prayer for All Saints’ Day (1 November), taken from the United Methodist Church Book of Worship (1965 edition)

O Lord our God, we praise thy holy name for the glorious company of the apostles, the goodly fellowship of the prophets, the noble army of martyrs, and for all who have served thee faithfully in thy holy Church throughout the world. We bless thee for all who by their speech, their writings, and their lives have enabled us to see more of the light of the knowledge of thy glory in the face of Jesus Christ; and for all who have helped and comforted, strengthened and encouraged us our way. For all whom thou hast called to be saints, and through whom thou dost manifest the riches of thy grace, we praise thee, O God; and we beseech thee that with them, and with all the host of thy redeemed, we may perfectly praise thee in thy heavenly kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Collect for All Saints’ Day (1 November), taken from the Book of Common Prayer (1662) and the United Methodist Church Book of Worship (1965 edition)

O almighty God, who hast knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord: Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed Saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys, which thou hast prepared for them that unfeignedly love thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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A sermon of St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Why should our praise and glorification, or even the celebration of this feast day mean anything to the saints? What do they care about earthly honours when their heavenly Father honours them by fulfilling the faithful promise of the Son? What does our commendation mean to them? The saints have no need of honour from us; neither does our devotion add the slightest thing to what is theirs. Clearly, if we venerate their memory, it serves us, not them. But I tell you, when I think of them, I feel myself inflamed by a tremendous yearning.

Calling the saints to mind inspires, or rather arouses in us, above all else, a longing to enjoy their company, so desirable in itself. We long to share in the citizenship of heaven, to dwell with the spirits of the blessed, to join the assembly of patriarchs, the ranks of the prophets, the council of apostles, the great host of martyrs, the noble company of confessors and the choir of virgins. In short, we long to be united in happiness with all the saints. But our dispositions change. The Church of all the first followers of Christ awaits us, but we do nothing about it. The saints want us to be with them, and we are indifferent. The souls of the just await us, and we ignore them.

Come, brothers, let us at length spur ourselves on. We must rise again with Christ, we must seek the world which is above and set our mind on the things of heaven. Let us long for those who are longing for us, hasten to those who are waiting for us, and ask those who look for our coming to intercede for us. We should not only want to be with the saints, we should also hope to possess their happiness. While we desire to be in their company, we must also earnestly seek to share in their glory. Do not imagine that there is anything harmful in such an ambition as this; there is no danger in setting our hearts on such glory.

When we commemorate the saints we are inflamed with another yearning: that Christ our life may also appear to us as he appeared to them and that we may one day share in his glory. Until then we see him, not as he is, but as he became for our sake. He is our head, crowned, not with glory, but with the thorns of our sins. As members of that head, crowned with thorns, we should be ashamed to live in luxury; his purple robes are a mockery rather than an honour. When Christ comes again, his death shall no longer be proclaimed, and we shall know that we also have died, and that our life is hidden with him. The glorious head of the Church will appear and his glorified members will shine in splendour with him, when he forms this lowly body anew into such glory as belongs to himself, its head.

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