A View from the Pew: A Day for All Saints

pumpkins_7387280_xsmFor years I thought the end of October was solely the devil’s territory.

Trick-or-treat, scary or revealing costumes, and general tomfoolery were reserved for Halloween leaving churches few good options for experiencing the season. They could either join in the revelry or offer whitewashed versions like fall family festivals, trunk-or-treats, or the edgier judgment houses which use scare tactics as an evangelistic tool.

That all changed about 15 years ago when the church my wife and I attended began to observe the tradition of All Saints’ Day the first Sunday in November. I won’t get into the long history of the liturgical observance here except to say the version our Baptist church began to celebrate involved a service of remembrance for all the members who had died during the previous 12 months. Suddenly, there was more to the season than bobbing for apples and hayrides.

Even if your church doesn’t recognize All Saints Day, there’s no reason you can’t do so personally on November 1. So as you stock up on candy to hand out to trick-or-treaters, here are five reasons to make an All Saints Day remembrance part of your spiritual disciplines:

1. Healthy grieving. Either in a formal service or a private devotional time, remembering the saints in your life can be helpful if you are stuck in the grieving process. We can get bogged down in grief if we suppress our feelings. Bringing thoughts of our loved ones back to our minds through such an acknowledgement may also bring back pain, but it’s a necessary step to move forward with our lives and resume our connection and engagement with the world around us.

2. Supporting the bereaved. Your church family is incredibly attentive when you lose a loved one. They bring meals, send cards, and visit. But it’s just human nature that the attention and care dwindles over time. By acknowledging the passing of your loved one again, you have the opportunity to receive care and support, even if it’s been nearly a year. A service of remembrance can be particularly helpful to remind your church family that you are still tender and could benefit from ministry.

3. Encouraging your own legacy. When I participated in such services in the past, I couldn’t help but think about the legacy these saints left behind. By calling to mind their passing in a service, I thought about all they had given to our church family and sometimes to me personally. I reflected on what they achieved in their discipleship and how they lived. It inevitably prompted me to examine my own life and those efforts that were lasting, those which might become my legacy. Remembering beloved followers of Christ gave me comfort and encouraged me to “love and good deeds” all at the same time.

4. Inspiring gratitude. The old adage “You don’t know what you had until it’s gone” rings with truth when we think about our church family. By reviewing their names and reflecting on their lives at an occasion other than their funeral, you have the opportunity once again to thank God for their contributions to your faith community. You can express your gratitude to God and their surviving family in a meaningful way that helps you and them with their grief. Gratitude has amazing restorative properties, and an All Saints remembrance brings out gratitude in abundance.

5. Adding meaning to your post-Halloween sugar crash. Despite my earlier characterizations, Halloween can be a lot of fun, particularly if you have small children or grandchildren at home. It’s fun to see how they use their imagination to choose a costume, and their enthusiasm for treats puts enough vicarious energy into our systems to fuel us all. But when all is said and done on Halloween, you’re left with a few nice memories and perhaps some positive experiences with your neighbors, but little else. Taking time to remember those we have lost gives us an anchor point, grounding our faith in God with a reminder that it is possible to live life well and leave behind a legacy with eternal consequences.

Halloween doesn’t have to be the final word on fall holidays, particularly for the church. I encourage you to explore this tradition and see if it will make a difference in your faith journey.

Lance Wallace_for_webLance Wallace is a Baptist layperson who does media relations for the Georgia Institute of Technology. He previously served as Director of Communications with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Lance blogs at newsouthessays.com.

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