by The Rev. Nowell Copley, All Saints Spartanburg
This year, as we do each year on November 1, Christians around the world will celebrate the Feast of All Saints. We do this to commemorate the lives and ministries of those saints who have gone before us, particularly those who were very good at living faithful lives and having faithful ministries.
In my early Anglican experience, I saw this also as an opportunity to remember those who have departed this world and my hope of their glorious reception into paradise. As my faith deepened and the Anglican marinade I was soaking in did its work, the day became more about realizing the debt I owed to those saints who went before me and on whose shoulders I stood in my proclamations of faith. As the writer of Hebrews reminds us, “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” But, I must admit, sometimes I’m more enamored by the witnesses than by him to whom they bear witness. Veneration of the witness is appropriate and helpful; but it can also be idolatry. So how do we celebrate this historic feast in a way that honors God?
The writer of Hebrews provides clarity on the matter: “since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews. 12:1-2). We honor and celebrate the witnesses by seeking the same prize that captured their affection. We can rightly celebrate our fellow travelers, past and present (and future for that matter!) whose testimony issues an invitation to join them in this epic adventure of faith in Christ Jesus. Their example of sacrificial giving promotes in us courage for the journey.
Cranmer’s collect for All Saints Day is also instructive:
He reminds us of simple yet profound truths. It is God who binds us together—past, present and future—as his elect, in one communion, one fellowship in one Lord, Jesus. By his grace we follow in this glorious cloud of witnesses “in all virtuous and godly living” and in the end into “those ineffable joys” being prepared for those who truly love Jesus by him who truly loves us. Therefore, it is wonderfully appropriate to celebrate the lives of those called before us and to honor their obedient devotion to Christ. They have passed through the crucible of this world and are with Jesus. They see clearly what we long to see. In their lives and death, we see hope.
At All Saints Church, Spartanburg in South Carolina, we’ll gather on All Saints’ Day around the table of our King Jesus and, proclaiming the mystery of faith, will remember his death, resurrection and imminent return. We’ll praise him for all that he’s done, is doing and will do in the lives and hearts of our parish and the world. We’ll appeal to his grace for our needs and the needs of others with prayer and supplication, with tears and joyfulness. We’ll laugh and we’ll cry together. We’ll remember the saints who have passed before us and we’ll mention their names and we’ll share stories of how they were to us truth-tellers and disciplers. And we’ll remind ourselves on this All Saints’ Day, all over again, that in Jesus, we’re family.
Nowell+ Copley came to All Saints Church Spartanburg more than 10 years ago as a founding member and part of the planting team. He began leading worship in Colorado nearly 25 years ago and has been active in worship ministry in various settings ever since. He graduated with degrees from Clemson University and University of South Carolina in horticulture and biology and was ordained to the priesthood in 2013. He is married to Laurie and they have five children (two by marriage) and six grandchildren. Nowell+ and Laurie are both from Spartanburg.