“For All the Saints.” This hymn, written by William How in 1864, encompasses the theme of All Saints Day, always 1 November. All Saints is a celebration in which we recall the true unity of the Church, characterized by Paul in I Cor. 2 as “. . . those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” One’s eternal membership in the Church is secured by the fulfillment of the command to “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2: 38-39.) The Church, then, is comprised of people either past, present, or future, who profess Christ and who are baptized and as a result are vessels of the Holy Spirit. (There are arguably exceptions to the command to “be baptized,” as the story of the thief on the cross will attest, but that is beyond the scope of this essay.) The Church is Lord of Life congregation, and it is also the other faithful, confessional churches throughout the world, or, as Luke writes in Acts, the Church extends to “all who are far off.”
Christian orthodoxy has always characterized the two-fold nature of the Church; it is both “visible” and “invisible.” Obviously, the visible Church is comprised of those who attend Word and Sacrament worship, and it is manifest in our church buildings and in our various “ministries.” Yet, as stated previously, the Church extends far beyond that both geographically and in time. And, not everyone who is an outward member of the Church is truly a member of the true, invisible Church, as we read in Matt. 7: 21, “Not everyone who says to me [Jesus], ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven.”
The easy commercialism of modern society encourages a type of rugged individualism suggested by advertisements which proclaim, “You deserve it,” “Just do it,” etc. The Church, often harmfully influenced by society, tends also to think with a similar theological myopia. We may become so concerned with our own tasks and busy-ness (which we may call “ministry”) and “our” successes and failures that we lose the perspective of the Church Universal comprised of “All the saints who from their labors rest, all who by faith before the world confessed. . .” (stanza 1) In the words of Jesus, we are the “branches,” Christ is the “vine.” (John 15: 5) Today we pause to remember the other “branches,” separated from us by geography and/or time, but part of the Church nonetheless. We remember, in the words of stanza 2, that Christ only “. . . was their rock, their fortress, and their might, [He] their captain in the well-fought fight.” This common doctrine and faith echoes Eph. 2: 20: “You are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone.”
All Saints Day generally, and this hymn specifically, 1) encourage us in our daily life and 2) remind us of the vast scope of the Church Universal. We are encouraged that we, too, will eventually conclude the “race” which is our earthly struggle to achieve, through Christ, the “crown of gold;” we also remember that the Church and its concerns is not limited simply to the four walls of our church building or even our Christian home.