The festival of All Saints is for the commemoration of the saints who have gone before us and have passed on to their eternal rest. Since it practically coincides with Reformation Day, it’s almost impossible to observe All Saints without recalling that the Reformers had some important things to say about the saints. We don’t have any ecclesiastical machinery for “canonizing” saints or for setting one off from another. We do not pray to or through the saints, nor are they objects of worship or even veneration.
But nevertheless, we can and we should remember them. This is a day for remembering together, commemorating the work of apostles, martyrs, and all the saints. Some such saints are named; but the vast majority are unnamed. We remember those who by their blood, sweat, and tears have left their mark on the church, the Body of Christ, to which we belong. And we cannot, I think, commemorate this day without a certain sense of awe and respect. Remember that when you enter the church you are ushered into the presence of this great host. You are inheriting their legacy.
But even though All Saints is a day for remembering the dead, it is not a day of mourning. It is a day of celebration! In the epistle lesson for today, John, the seer, presents us with a vision in which all the saints, all the redeemed, all those who are sealed are present (Rev. 7:1–17). Everyone who belongs is there. That certainly is the meaning of all the statistics and the number 144,000. Not, as some would have it, that the number is limited by arbitrary decree, but that everyone is there who ought to be there, 12,000 from all the tribes of Israel and Judah, and a great multitude from every nation of the earth, a multitude so great that no one can count it.
And the angels hold back the winds and the sea so that no one will be harmed. And what are the saints doing? They are clothed in white robes, waving palm branches and shouting: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:10). And everyone else, the angels, the elders, and the four living creatures cannot resist their contagious joy, so they all join in the chorus: “Amen! Blessing and Glory and Wisdom and Thanksgiving and Honor and Power and Might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen!” (Rev. 7:12)