November 2016

November 2016

Observing All Saints’ Day with Blessing

On the first Sunday of November, we typically observe All Saints’ Day, which falls officially on November 1 (hence the term for October 31 “Halloween,” i.e., “All Hallows’ Eve” or “All Saints’ Eve”). As a church holiday, All Saints’ Day has rather superstitious roots. It was intended as a day to lump together all of those saints who could no longer fit on the calendar of the Church Year, not unlike our Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The term “saints” was understood as referring to all those who had made it straight to heaven and, not being bound in purgatory, were able to work miracles for those on earth who prayed to them. By celebrating all the saints at once, it was hoped that the faithful could obtain the saints’ favor and assistance even without calling upon them individually by name.

By Luther’s day, there was an added superstition surrounding All Saints’ Day. Luther’s patron, Frederick the Wise of Saxony, held the largest collection of relics (body parts and mementos of the saints) in the world, and anyone who venerated, or payed their respects to, every relic in Frederick’s collection on All Saints’ Day would receive a generous indulgence, i.e., time off their sufferings in purgatory. This was why Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses on the eve of All Saints’ Day: he was calling into question the whole system of indulgences embodied in the collection of relics housed within the very church where he posted them.

Why, then, do we in the Lutheran Church continue to observe a holiday that involves so much superstition? The answer is that we have reinterpreted the significance of the holiday. No longer do we view it as a “catch all” for saints not listed on our calendar. Nor do we regard it as a special observance of those who are not in purgatory—we don’t believe in purgatory, because it has no foundation in Scripture. Nor do we take it as a time to earn indulgences by venerating the relics of the saints. No, we observe all saints by remembering the biblical use of the term “saint” as referring to everyone, living and dead, who by faith in Jesus Christ is holy (the word “saint” most simply means “holy”).

When we celebrate All Saints’ Day, we do so with the joyous understanding that we are still members of the Communion of Saints, the Holy Christian Church. When we receive the Lord’s Supper on this day, we are entering into fellowship with all the saints who feast on Christ by faith, including those who have departed this life. All Saints’ Day for us is a time to reflect on the heavenly reality that all Christians who have departed this life in the faith are now in paradise with their Savior, and that we are destined to join them if we continue in that faith.

God grant us all a blessed observance of All Saints’ Day, wiping away ever tear from our eyes, not through the deception of vain superstitions, but through the pure consolation of His sure Word. Amen.

Pastor Neuendorf