It’s been my experience that All Saints’ Day, celebrated on November 1st and observed on the first Sunday following, gets overshadowed by the celebration of Reformation Day. This often overlooked church holiday embraces every major aspect of Christianity and grounds the Christian in realities only realized in Christ.
All Saints’ Day not only proclaims the forgiveness won for us by Jesus’ crucifixion, but the faith through which we are saved and declared righteous. It reminds us of the now-not-yet tension justified sinners live in. It calls to our minds the wages of sin, which is death, both spiritual and physical. It also calls to our minds the wages of Christ’s resurrection, which is life, both spiritual and physical. Ultimately, All Saints’ Day proclaims to us the greater reality of the life we live by faith in Jesus: we do not walk this life alone; but rather, with the justified sinners who have gone before us.
Forgiveness and Faith
Foremost, All Saints’ Day directs our eyes to Jesus. He endured the punishment we deserved. He earned forgiveness for us by spurning the shame that came to Him on the cross. All this He did because of the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:2). The joy of uniting us to Himself and the Father; both forgiven and redeemed.
He is also faith’s creator and its content. We believe in Him and by Him we believe. Our faith in the person and work of Christ is not only authored, but completed by Jesus Himself (Hebrews 12:2).
Now, Not Yet
All Saints’ Day calls us to “run with endurance the race that is set before us.” But, we run this race in a now-not-yet tension. By Christ’s death and resurrection we are forgiven. We are declared righteousness now. But we do not yet live complete lives. We still have “sin which clings so closely” (Hebrews 12:1). Sin which hampers. Sin whose every weight we are called to lay aside.
In this tension-filled race we again look to Jesus. He finished it first. He authored the path we run on. He pulls us forward; corrects our course; strengthens our faith; gives us endurance. We look to him because He is the basis and the goal of our faith; its beginning and its end (Kleinig, Hebrews, 601).
Death, Life, and a Great Cloud of Witnesses
All Saints’ Day brings out most fully the realities of what death and life in Christ mean. He did not die a spiritual death and rise a spiritual resurrection, though His death and resurrection do bear spiritual implications for us. He died a physical death and rose in a physical, bodily resurrection. In this way He laid out the path we follow by faith in Him. In our sin, we are spiritually dead and by our sin we earned a physical death we cannot halt. But now, in Christ we live a resurrected spiritual life, and by Christ we will be raised to a new physical life. Death is not the end. Where once it ruled, now it is powerless. We have hope in God’s final intervention in history. That Christ will return to restore all things and banish death forever from His creation.
Until our hope of Christ’s return is realized, we live with a parallel hope. A hope not rooted in speculation or wishful thinking, but based on God’s Word of promise. This hope says we will again see those who have died a physical death in Christ. Not only that, the author of Hebrews declares that these witnesses who have gone before us also surround us (12:1). Like an athlete running in a stadium, this great cloud of witnesses — parents, siblings, children, and friends lost to disease, old age, and tragedy — cheer us on.
Those witnesses who have gone before us no longer need the hope that we do. The life they hoped for they now have. They cheer us on in the hope we have, knowing the truth at the end of the race: in Jesus, the race’s first finisher, we have eternal life, freely given.
All Saints’ Day embraces all these complexities of who we are as justified sinners in Christ. The sin we have still clings closely to us, yet in God’s eyes, it is gone. As new creations in Christ, our old Adams and Eves are continually drowned in the waters of our baptisms. Though other believers have gone before we are not left behind.