On the 27th October, the hour went back, and darkness closed in around us as the nights became longer. It is too easy to look on the end of October and beginning of November with a touch of despair; fallen leaves, dampness, fog, and rain. The church has traditionally associated the end of the year with the end of life.
At the beginning of November, we commemorate the faithful departed and also celebrate All Saints. All Saints’ Day (also known as All Hallows’ Day or Hallowmas) is the day after All Hallows’ Eve (Hallowe’en). It is a feast day celebrated by both Anglicans and Roman Catholics. It is an opportunity to remember all saints and martyrs, known and unknown, throughout Christian history.
Remembering saints and martyrs and dedicating a specific day to them each year has been a Christian tradition since the 4th century AD, but it wasn’t until 609AD that Pope Boniface IV decided to remember all martyrs. Originally 13th May was designated as the Feast of All Holy Martyrs. Later, in 837AD, Pope Gregory IV extended the festival to remember all the saints, changed its name to Feast of All Saints and changed the date to 1st November.
The festival of All Saints’ and the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed are meant to shed light at the beginning of these dark days. All Saints’ helps us to call to mind the ordinary people from ages past who lived a Godly life. Few of them held important positions in life and their names do not appear on any official role of honour. They are not canonised saints. Many lived in obscurity, died unknown, and all memory of them has faded. Their lives are not marked by any great occurrence. God alone remembers them and the good works they have performed. They are the ordinary people of life. People who in their daily lives have tried to live the Christian life to the full. Like each one of us, they experienced the trails of growing up, the tensions and frustrations of living with others, and the normal difficulties and uncertainties of life. They had to cope with their own personal problems and weaknesses. But, however great their difficulties and faults, they accepted that God loved them and they relied on the strength of that love more than anything else; the way they lived their lives was more important than the recognition they attained.
The Festival of All Saints’ and The Commemoration of the Faithful Departed should give us fresh inspiration to continue taking up our cross daily, and to follow Christ. We too can strive to live the Christian life to the full. Heaven is within our reach.
The book of Revelation uses symbolic imagery to paint a picture of heaven which the saints enjoy, and the celebration of All Saints invites us, in a particular way, to turn our eyes toward heaven and to remember that we are all called to be saints. In doing this, we look at all the great saints of the Christian faith for inspiration and guidance. In the book of Revelation the saints are described as the ones “marked with the seal.” This language draws on an account found in the Old Testament in the book of Ezekiel where the holy ones were marked on their foreheads with the Hebrew letter taw. This letter is shaped like a cross (similar to the English “t”). Thus, the saints are the ones marked with the sign of the cross. We can easily make the connection with our Christian life including our baptism (where we are signed with the cross), and our confirmation (where we are sealed with the Holy Spirit through the cross being traced with holy oil on our foreheads), and the sign of the cross itself. The book of Revelation also describes “a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.” In other words, Heaven is not exclusive to one people group. Rather, there will be people “from every nation, race, people, and tongue”.
These festivals remind us that holiness of life is not for the privileged few but what God expects of all of us. Holiness is about bringing the Spirit of Christ into our lives; it is about doing ordinary things well. The command of Jesus, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” is addressed to everyone. We are called to reflect something of the holiness of God himself in the way we live our life.