“I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened
in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you,
the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints”
(Ephesians 1:18, NIV).
As you read this article, there’s a festival fast approaching on the church year calendar. It’s a festival that doesn’t receive much attention these days. It is “All Saints’ Day.” It falls each year on the first day of November.
How and when did the Festival of All Saints originate, and what is its significance? In the days of the early church, when Christianity was an outlawed religion, followers of Jesus were subjected to bitter persecution. Many were killed for refusing to knuckle under to the authorities and renounce their religious beliefs. It was during this period of open hostility toward Christians that the church chose a day of the year on which to remember those who had been martyred, and to praise God for His mercy in preserving them in faith amidst the fiery trials they faced. The name they ascribed to the day was All Saints Day. Later, all who died while anchoring their hopes in Jesus were remembered on this day, with thanksgiving to God.
What spiritual benefits did early Christians derive from remembering believers who had gone on ahead of them to heaven? They were many, and they are the same benefits that we may derive for our lives as present-day believers. Consider that just like those early Christians, we may receive strength for our walk of faith as we reflect on the goodness of God. It is God Who has used His Word to create faith in Jesus in the hearts of countless thousands born in unbelief, and Who has used that same Word to keep them in faith to the end of their lives. We may be spurred on in our Christian calling as we remember how we are part of the glorious band of blood-bought souls. We are among those whom Jesus purchased with His atoning death to be His own, and who will never be separated from His love. This, despite the raging of Satan and hatred of the world which are as bitter in their opposition toward Jesus and His people now as they ever were. In the words of a favorite hymn,
The Church shall never perish! Her dear Lord, to defend,
To guide, sustain, and cherish, Is with her to the end.
Though there be those that hate her And strive to see her fail, Against both foe and traitor She ever shall prevail.
(Christian Worship #538:3)
As we recall saints of the past whom God preserved in their faith, we are encouraged to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus as they did. We’re reminded of the importance of setting our hearts on things above as they did, instead of on earthly things. Our spirits are buoyed by the knowledge that the goal of our faith is identical to theirs: “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:4-5).
All Saints’ Day is not as widely observed in the church as it used to be. Yet it is a festival worth retaining on the calendar. It provides an opportunity to praise God for the redeeming love He has shown to unworthy sinners, and to be comforted by the prospect of the bright future that awaits all those who anchor their hopes in Christ.
For all Your saints, O Lord, Who strove in You to live,
Who followed You, obeyed, adored,
Our grateful hymn receive.
For all Your saints, O Lord, Who strove in You to die,
Who counted You their great Reward,
Accept our thankful cry.
They all in life and death, With You, their Lord, in view, Learned from Your Holy Spirit’s breath To suffer and to do. For this Your name we bless And humbly pray anew
That we like them in holiness May live and die in You.
(Christian Worship, #555)
Thomas Schuetze is pastor of St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lakewood, Colorado.