The first Christian saints to be celebrated were martyrs, from Stephen onwards, and the Feast (Solemnity) of All Saints was pioneered by the Syrian Church, with its Feast of All Martyrs. Since then, many other categories of holy persons have been signalized in the calendar. . .
The medieval calendars finally produced two related days, All Saints' and All Souls', linked with the opening of November probably to counteract the surviving pre-Christian uses of this season, which were marked with magic and superstition. All Souls' was important in a church and culture that gave intense care to prayer for the departed. The Reformation churches either abandoned both of these days, or retained only All Saints'. Especially since the First World War, some Protestant churches rediscovered both days, and have used the first Sunday in November as a combined acknowledgement of all the faithful departed, whether canonized or not. – David Tripp
We do not pray for the dead on this day; they are in God’s hands. Rather, we give thanks for all the witnesses who have gone before us, holding up to us a vision of God’s mercy and living in ways that showed God’s love for all people. Roman Catholics and Protestants alike can rejoice in the faith of our ancestors whether or not they have received particular status in the Church.
The story of Lazarus’s raising gives us on this day a stark reminder of the very first disciples whose incredible response to Jesus has traveled through time to our own communities, our own friends, to us. We have lost our loved ones, our brothers and sisters, and yet we have not lost anyone. They speak to us through the word of God because the sacraments bring us into the life of the holy Trinity.
These selected verses begin with Jesus being blamed for letting Lazarus die: death is something that calls for questioning God. Then, with hardly any rebuke for these doubts, Jesus communes with the Father, and, as one with the Father, summons Lazarus to life. The inner life of the Trinity is the fount of our life, in this life and the next. – David Tripp
In the face of suffering and death, this poetic song is a vision of hope for an end to pain through the divine care of the LORD of hosts. On a day when we remember those who have left us, it is well to hear these words. For those whose family members and friends have died, these words will resonate as language commonly heard to comfort the mourners at the funeral.
Given the richness of the images on this day and the emotional tenor of the one time each year when many congregations remember by name the specific sisters and brothers who have died since the previous All Saints Day, the preacher is given a huge scope for the sermon. May this nudge by David Tripp from 2006 center you in a way that is life-giving in the midst of a focus on death.
From the very early days of the church, we have given thanks for the martyrs, those for whom witness meant the surrender of life itself: Stephen; Polycarp; Perpetua and Felicitas…and the list goes on to our present time. Young missionaries murdered on the banks of a South American river; a U.S. teenager shot in class for professing belief in God; an archbishop butchered publicly in Uganda; three teenage girls being brutally murdered in Indonesia for being Christians.
Soon after those early days, however, it was seen that holiness is shown in many other ways: in lives of utter devotion, in lives of heroic service, in miraculously effective leadership in mission. Mother Teresa and Albert Schweitzer come at once to mind. Some church traditions make lists of special heroines and heroes of the faith through whom God blessed the world, while others don't.
What we all agree on is that there are countless lives of great holiness, of faith and hope and love, that are known only to God: so it is natural to offer one collective “thank you” for “All Saints.” This time for remembering all Christian people who have died, or fallen asleep in Christ, as Paul put it, points toward an eternal awakening.
They are saints, not because they have died, but because, taught by the Holy Spirit, they professed and lived the faith in Jesus, a faith that makes us disciples, children of the Father, God's holy people.
Do we share that faith? If we are unsure, at least we can say to Christ: “Lord, I believe: help my unbelief.” – David Tripp
David Tripp, a United Methodist minister who served Salem United Methodist Church in Indiana, served in the British Methodist ministry for twenty-eight years and wrote in liturgics and related subjects.
Homily Service 39, no. 12 (2006): 3-13.